The 7 Best Quad Exercises to Build Stronger Thighs

These exercises can help strengthen weak quads

The best quadriceps (quad) exercises target all four of the muscles that make up this muscle group. Located at the front of your thigh, your quads work together to help raise the thigh and extend straighten the knee. Strong quads make for better hip flexion and knee stability, allowing you to walk, run, jump, squat, and climb stairs with greater ease.

Examples of quad exercises that strengthen all four quad muscles include:

  • Straight leg raises
  • Short arc quads
  • Wall slides
  • Terminal knee extensions
  • Step-ups
  • Split squats
  • Walking lunges

While quad exercises are important for everyone, they are especially so for those with knee weakness and balance issues due to age, injury, surgery of the lower leg or thigh, or an orthopedic condition such as iliotibial band friction syndrome or patellar tendonitis/tendinosis.

This article provides a step-by-step guide to each of these simple quad exercises and offers tips to help you get the most benefit from them.

If you are recovering from an injury or surgery, it is crucial that you learn how to strengthen your quads appropriately and safely, ideally with the help of a physical therapist (PT).

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.

To get the most out short arc, be aware of your body position. Ensue that your hips are square to the ground as you lift your leg. In fact, make an effort to draw your hip down as you lift your leg.

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 Extensions

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.


The step-up is an excellent exercise for strengthening not only the quads but the hamstrings and gluteal muscles (hips and buttocks).

This exercise requires a stable platform, box, or bench that you can step up and down on.

Here's how to do the step-up exercise:

  1. Stand six inches back from the platform, box, or bench.
  2. Step up with the right foot, pressing through the heel to straighten your right leg.
  3. Bring your left foot up to meet your right foot.
  4. Bend your right knee and step back down with the left foot, planting your foot solidly on the floor.
  5. Bring the right foot down—with control—to meet the left foot on the ground.
  6. Repeat eight to 12 times.
  7. Switch legs and repeat steps 1 through 6.

As you get stronger, you can increase the height of the platform and/or hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand.

Things to Keep in Mind

When first starting out, use a very low step (6 to 8 inches high), particularly if you have stability issues or are recovering from an injury. You can also place the step next to a wall or the back of a sofa so that you can hold on for stability.

Be mindful of your posture as you step up, tightening your core muscles with each movement. You should never have to "lunge" up. If you feel the need to, the step is too high and should be lowered.

Split Squats

The split squat is an excellent quad exercise that strengthens one leg while stretching the other, improving not only your strength but also your overall stability. For comfort, you can do this exercise on a carpeted floor or an exercise mat.

The split squat simultaneously works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings of the front leg while stretching the quad and hip flexors of the back leg.

To do the split squat:

  1. Kneel with your back knee on the floor. Plant your front foot on the floor with your knee directly over your ankle at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Drive your body up smoothly to a standing position with your front leg as close to straight as possible. Pause.
  3. Bend your knees and lower yourself—with control—to the starting position.
  4. Repeat eight to 12 times.
  5. Switch legs and repeats steps 1 through 4.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you're new to this, do this exercise next to a wall or chair so that you can hold on for balance. For added stability, tuck your toes under your back foot so that you are on the ball of your foot.

If you experience knee pain, check your foot position; it may be that your forward foot is either too far forward or too far backward. Only go down as far as is comfortable.

As you gain strength, rather than rest your knee on the floor as you squat, simply tap your knee to the ground and immediately lift yourself without a break. Even so, do not rush or "bounce" as you go up and down.

Walking Lunges

This is a more advanced exercise for people whose balance and knee strength have improved. Walking lunges strengthen the leg muscles as well as the core, hips, and glutes.

The exercise should be done with a pair of good walking shoes on a flat surface long enough to allow you to take 10 to 12 lunging steps.

To do the walking lunge:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can place your hands on your hips or by your sides.
  2. Step forward with your right leg, placing your foot flat on the floor.
  3. Bend the right knee, lowering yourself down so that your thigh is parallel to the ground and your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Without moving your right leg, step your left foot forward, repeating the same movement.
  5. Continue "walking" as you lunge for a total of 10 to 12 reps on each leg.
  6. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

Things to Keep in Mind

It is important to maintain control while doing walking lunges. Keep your core muscles tight, your shoulders slightly back, and posture upright. If you ever feel wobbly, hold your arms out for balance.

Avoid taking overly long (or overly short) steps, as this can place excessive stress on your knees. You need to ensure that your thigh and calf are at a 90-degree angle during the lunge to avoid injury.


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, terminal knee extensions, step-ups, and split squats 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.

1 Source
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.
  1. 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.

Additional Reading

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