The Best Quadriceps Exercises to Build Stronger Thighs

The quadriceps (or quads) describe the four muscles located on the front of the thigh. They contract together to help flex (or lift up) the hip and extend (or straighten) the knee.

The quads often become weak after an injury is sustained or surgery is performed on the lower leg or thigh. For this reason, it is important to learn how to strengthen this muscle group for a complete recovery. People with certain conditions often exhibit quadriceps weakness. These conditions may include:

Typically, a specific area of your quad called the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) may be weak or inhibited from contracting properly in these conditions. Your physical therapist (PT) can show you how to perform these quad exercises with a special focus on the VMO for maximal effect.

Some quad-strengthening exercises place significant stress on your knee joint. Your physical therapist can show you ways to minimize joint stress while still strengthening your quadriceps. Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider before starting these—or any other—exercises.

Straight Leg Raises

The straight leg raising exercise is a simple way to get your quad muscles working properly. Here is how it's done.

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface.
  2. Bend the knee of your uninvolved leg (the one that wasn't operated on, or the one you want to exercise) to a 90-degree angle and keep your foot flat on the surface. Keep your other leg straight without the knee bent and point your toes toward the ceiling.
  3. Slowly lift the involved leg 12 inches off the floor by contracting the front thigh muscles. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your leg to the floor. Relax, then repeat 10 to 15 times.

Things to Keep in Mind

The knee of the raised leg should remain straight throughout this exercise—totally straight. Focus on lifting by using the muscles on the front of your hip joint. This exercise can be made more challenging by placing a 2- or 3-pound cuff weight on your ankle before you lift or by placing a resistance band around both ankles.

Short Arc Quads

short arc quads
Ben Goldstein

The short arc quad exercise is a great way to really focus in on properly contracting your quadriceps muscles. Here is how you do it:

  1. Lie on your back and use a yoga block or basketball to prop your knee up.
  2. Slowly straighten your bent knee until it is all the way straight.
  3. Tighten your quad muscle with your toes pointed toward the ceiling and hold it tight for five seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your leg down.
  5. Repeat for 15 repetitions.

Things to Keep in Mind

Be sure to lift and lower your leg in a slow, steady fashion and make sure the back of your knee stays against the bolster. When your knee is fully straight, try to contract your quad and straighten your knee all the way. You can also make this exercise more challenging by adding a small two- or ​three-pound cuff weight to your ankle.

Wall Slides

wall slides
Ben Goldstein

The wall slide exercise works multiple muscle groups, including your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Here is how you do it:

  1. Stand upright with your back against a wall and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slowly bend your knees, sliding your back down the wall for a count of five until your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle. (Do not bend too much further than this, as it will cause increased strain on your knees.) Hold this position for five seconds.
  3. Straighten your knees by slowly sliding up the wall until you are fully upright with knees straight.
  4. Repeat the above steps 10 more times.

Remember, stop if you feel any increased pain or difficulty with this exercise.

Things to Keep in Mind

Be sure you lower and lift yourself in a slow, steady way. Make sure you do not squat too low; doing so may place excessive stress and strain on your knees. Squatting too low can also make it difficult to rise back up. Holding onto two dumbbells while you do the wall slide can make the exercise more challenging.

Terminal Knee Extension

terminal knee extension
Ben Goldstein

Terminal knee extension (TKE) is a simple yet effective way to strengthen your quads in a standing position. The TKE is considered a functional exercise, as your quads will be working while supporting your body weight.

To perform this exercise, you must first obtain a resistance band, like a Theraband, from your physical therapist. Once you have a band, you should be ready to start the exercise. Here's how you do it:

  1. Tie your resistance band around a stable object so it is anchored around the height of your knee. (The leg of a heavy table is a good place, but make sure it will not move.)
  2. Step into the loop with the leg you wish to exercise.
  3. Face the anchor point with the resistance band looped around your knee and your knee slightly bent.
  4. Slowly straighten your knee, placing tension on the band. The resistance band should provide some resistance as you try to fully straighten your knee.
  5. Once your knee is straight and the band has tension on it, hold the position for three seconds.
  6. Slowly allow your knee to bend slightly once again.
  7. Repeat the exercise for 15 repetitions.

How to Do the TKE Like a Pro

When performing the TKE exercise, be sure to move in a slow and steady fashion. Be sure your knee moves directly over your toes; it should not deviate from the plane of motion over your toes. Doing so can place excessive strain on your knee.

You can make the TKE more challenging by placing a small foam pad underneath your stance foot. You can also make this a balance exercise by doing it while standing only on one foot.

A Word From Verywell

Working to keep your quadriceps strong can help you maximize mobility and may decrease your risk of overuse injury in sports. Check in with your PT to learn which quad exercises you should be doing.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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