The Best Quadriceps Exercises to Build Stronger Thighs

The quadriceps (or quads) are the four muscles located on the front of the thigh. They pull together to help flex (or raise) the thigh and extend (or straighten) the knee.

The quads often become weak after an injury or surgery 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 have weakness in the quadriceps. These conditions include:

If you have one of these conditions, an area of your quad called the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) may be weak or may not contract properly. Your physical therapist (PT) can show you how to do quad exercises with a special focus on the VMO for the best effect.

This article presents four simple exercises you can do to strengthen your quads. It also provides pro tips and visuals to help you do them effectively.

Some quad exercises place a lot of stress on your knee joint. Your PT can show you ways to minimize joint stress while you strengthen your quads. Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider before starting these—or any other—exercises.

Straight Leg Raises

The straight leg raise 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 injured) to a 90-degree angle. Keep your foot flat on the surface. Keep your other leg straight without the knee bent. 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 5 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 totally straight throughout this exercise. Focus on lifting by using the muscles on the front of your hip joint.

Want a bigger challenge? Place a 2- or 3-pound cuff weight on your ankle before you lift. You could also place a resistance band around both ankles.

Short Arc Quads

Ben Goldstein

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

  1. Lie on your back. Use a yoga block or basketball to prop up your knee.
  2. Slowly straighten your bent knee until it is straight.
  3. Tighten your quad muscle with your toes pointed toward the ceiling. Hold it tight for 5 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your leg.
  5. Repeat 15 times.

Things to Keep in Mind

Be sure to lift and lower your leg in a slow, steady motion. 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 2- or ​3-pound cuff weight to your ankle.

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 put too much strain on your knees. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  3. Straighten your knees by slowly sliding up the wall until you are fully upright with knees straight.
  4. Repeat 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 too much 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

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. Your quads will be working while supporting your body weight.

To do this exercise, you'll need a resistance band, like a Theraband. You can buy one at a big box retail store or get one from your PT.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Tie your resistance band around a stable object so it is anchored. You want it to be about the same height as 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. Bend your knee slightly.
  4. Slowly straighten your knee, placing tension on the band. The band should provide some resistance as you try to fully straighten your knee.
  5. Once your knee is straight and the band is tight, hold the position for 3 seconds.
  6. Slowly bend your knee a bit once again.
  7. Repeat the exercise 15 times.

Things to Keep in Mind

When performing the TKE exercise, be sure to move in a slow and steady way. Be sure your knee stays directly over your toes; it should not shift forward so that it juts out 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.

Summary

Strong quads are essential for maintaining your mobility and balance. If you've been injured or had surgery, you can do targeted exercises to rebuild strength in your quads.

Straight leg raises, short arc quads, wall slides, and terminal knee extensions are simple but effective. You may want to work with a physical therapist to be sure you're doing the exercises correctly at first.

A Word From Verywell

Working to keep your quads strong can help you maximize your ability to move. It can also lower your risk of overuse injury in sports. Check in with your PT to learn which quad exercises you should be doing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes weak quadriceps?

    Certain injuries and conditions can cause weak quadriceps. Quadriceps paresis is one of the more serious conditions that affects the quads since it can cause drastic instability. Sports injuries are a frequent cause of weak quadriceps, with many quadriceps sports injuries often damaging the rectus femoris muscle.

  • Where are the hamstrings located?

    The hamstrings are located in the back of the thighs and consist of multiple muscles. They are connected from the end of the pelvis to the lower leg to help us extend our thighs backward as well as bend the knees. Wall slides are a great exercise that help strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

6 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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  2. Shamus J, Shamus E. The management of iliotibial band syndrome with a multifaceted approach: a double case reportInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(3):378–390.

  3. Chang WD, Huang WS, Lai PT. Muscle activation of vastus medialis oblique and vastus lateralis in sling-based exercises in patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome: A cross-over studyEvid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:740315. doi:10.1155/2015/740315

  4. Mikaili S, Khademi-Kalantari K, Rezasoltani A, Arzani P, Baghban AA. Quadriceps force production during straight leg raising at different hip positions with and without concomitant ankle dorsiflexion. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2018;22(4):904-908. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.11.006

  5. Taylor C, Yarlagadda R, Keenan J. Repair of rectus femoris rupture with LARS ligament. BMJ Case Rep. 2012;2012(1):1-3. doi:10.1136/bcr.06.2011.4359

  6. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. OrthoInfo. Hamstring Muscle Injuries.

Additional Reading

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.