If you’re strength training regularly, there’s a good chance you’re already working your legs to some extent. Adding a few dedicated quad exercises to the mix, though, can ensure you’re maximizing this major muscle group. And that can really make a difference in your lower-body strength—which will benefit you in more ways than you may think.
That’s because the quads are kind of a big deal. You use these muscles, which are located in your upper thighs, pretty much every time you do any full-body movement. Walking, running, biking, squatting, lunging, climbing stairs, even just getting in and out of a chair—your quads have to fire to make it all happen. So, giving these muscles a little extra attention can help you move throughout life (and your workouts) more efficiently and comfortably.
Fortunately, there are tons of quad-strengthening exercises out there, including basic moves that you can do at home without weights, and some more advanced ones that can build serious muscle. Read on for everything you need to know.
What are the quadriceps muscles, and what do they do?
Your quads (technically known as quadriceps femoris) are a group of muscles in the front of your thighs, Ava Fagin, CSCS, assistant director of sports performance at Cleveland State University, tells SELF. They’re called quadriceps because they include four different muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
Together, your quad muscles are the primary drivers of knee extension, which is what’s happening when you straighten your leg—say, when you kick a ball. (If you have achy knees, weak quads could be a contributing factor, since they also support that joint, as SELF has previously reported.) The quads also play a big role in hip flexion, or when you bring your leg up toward your chest, Fagin explains (like when you pedal on a bike).
Your quads can weaken if you spend a ton of time sitting and otherwise don’t challenge them through regular strength work. But in general, most people tend to overuse their quads and underuse their glutes, says Fagin, simply as a result of typical daily movements: We’re usually moving forward, which uses the front of the legs more than the back. So while it’s important to address weak quads with strengthening exercises, just make sure you’re also spending some time training the back of your legs, including your glutes and hamstrings. (Because #balance.)
What’s the best way to strengthen your quads?
Pretty much any exercise that involves bending your knee will target your quads, says Fagin. If you’re a beginner, sticking to bodyweight leg exercises can be challenging enough, she says. But if you’re a more advanced exerciser, you’ll need to add external resistance like free weights—dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells are all great options—to really build strength.