Whether you’re new to exercise or you’re a professional athlete, your quads are an important muscle group to pay attention to. Everything from getting out of a chair to walking or running requires these muscles to work.
Keeping your quads strong can help reduce stress on your knees and improve the stability of your kneecaps. It can also improve your athletic performance in many ways.
Fortunately, putting together an exercise routine for your quads doesn’t require much. In fact, many exercises that focus on this muscle group can be done with just your body weight.
In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the best at-home exercises to strengthen and tone your quadriceps muscles.
Your quadriceps, commonly referred to as your quads, consist of four muscles. The four muscles that make up your quadriceps are:
- Rectus femoris. This muscle runs from your hip bone to your kneecap and is the main muscle that helps flex your hip.
- Vastus lateralis. The largest of the four quad muscles, this muscle runs down the outside of your thigh. It connects your thighbone to your kneecap.
- Vastus medialis. Located on the front of your thigh, this muscle is used to extend your knee and to stabilize your kneecap.
- Vastus intermedius. Located on the front of your thigh, between the other two vastus muscles, this muscle is also used to extend your knee.
Regularly performing quad-strengthening exercises may help make it easier to extend your knee and flex your hip. Building strength in your quads may also:
You can perform all of the following exercises in the comfort of your home with no special equipment. If you want to make some of these exercises more challenging, you can use dumbbells or heavy household objects like books or jugs of water.
Before you start doing the quad exercises outlined in this article, it’s a good idea to perform a warmup routine for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Your warmup can include brisk walking or jogging or dynamic mobility exercises such as leg or arm swings.
If you’re a beginner, start with 2 sets of 10–12 reps for most of these exercises. Over time, as the exercises get easier to do, you can add more sets or reps to make them more challenging.
Bodyweight squats are one of the best all-around exercises for strengthening your core and lower body.
If at first you find it too challenging, you can make the exercise easier by reducing the depth of the squat.
Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, lower back
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes facing slightly outward. Keep your arms at your sides, on your hips, or in front of you.
- Push your hips back as if you’re sitting back into a chair while keeping your core tight and chest up.
- Stop when your thighs are parallel with the ground and pause for a moment.
- Push through your heels until you return to the starting position.
- Don’t let your knees collapse inward.
- Only go a low as you can without rounding your back.
- Try to keep your knees aligned with your feet.
The walking lunge is a simple exercise that helps boost your leg and core strength. You can make it easier by only lunging halfway down. You can make it more challenging by using dumbbells.
Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your hips, or if you’re holding dumbbells, keep them to your sides.
- Step forward with one foot and sink down until your front knee is at 90 degrees and your back shin is parallel to the ground.
- Pause for a moment before talking a lunging step forward with your opposite foot.
- Continuing alternating sides as you lunge forward.
- Avoid touching your back knee to the ground.
- Try to keep your knee aligned, but not over, your toes.
- Stop if you feel knee discomfort.
Step-ups are a great way to work on your knee stabilization. Using a lower box makes the exercise easier.
Muscles worked: Quads, hips, hamstrings, calves, core
- Find a box, step, or some other solid surface that’s about knee-high.
- Put one foot on the object and step up, aiming to keep your knee aligned with your ankle and not letting it collapse inward.
- When you step up, focus on driving through your heel and keep a tall posture as you push your opposite knee upward until it’s at the same height as your hip.
- Step back down and step up again with your opposite foot. Continue alternating throughout your set.
- Make sure the object you’re stepping on is solid and can’t move out from under you.
- Keep the space around you clear of any objects.
- Keep at least one hand free if you’re using a weight.
Bulgarian split squats put more emphasis on the stabilizing muscles of your knee and hip than traditional squats. You can make them easier by only going halfway down.
Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, hips, core
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart about two footsteps away from a bench, box, or another knee-high surface.
- Rest the top of one foot on the object behind you and your front foot forward enough that you can squat without your knee going past your toes.
- Leaning slightly forward, lower down until your lead thigh is almost parallel to the ground.
- Repeat for your chosen number of reps, then repeat on the other side.
- Make sure the object behind you is solid and stable.
- Don’t let your knee extend over your toes.
- Stop if you have any knee pain.
Along with your quads, the lateral lunge also helps strengthen your inner thigh.
Muscles worked: Quads, inner thigh, hamstrings, glutes
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms in front of you for balance.
- Take a big step to the right, bending your right knee as you squat down.
- Squat down as far as is comfortable or until your thigh is parallel with the ground.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Avoid stepping so far that you feel discomfort in your groin.
- Keep your knee aligned with your toes while squatting down.
- Avoiding twisting as you’re returning to the starting position.
Squat jumps are a great exercise for building your lower body power. For this exercise, you can start with 5 reps per set instead of 10.
Muscles worked: Hips, quads, calves, core
- Set up in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands in front of you.
- Squat down until your thighs are almost parallel to the ground and then powerfully jump upward.
- Lend softly with a slight bend in your knees before repeating.
- Avoid squats jumps if you have knee pain.
- Try to make your landing as light as possible by bending at the knees.
- When landing, don’t let your knees extend past your toes.
Box jumps are another great exercise for developing power in your lower body. It’s best to stick to about 5 reps for this exercise because your injury risk increases as you get tired.
Muscles worked: Quads, calves, hips, core
- Start by standing about a foot back from a solid box or another stable surface with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and drop your arms behind you until you’re in a quarter squat.
- Powerfully swing your arms forward, extend your hips, and jump upward onto the box.
- Land with a slight bend in your knees. Jump down and repeat.
- Avoid doing box jumps if you have knee pain.
- It’s better to choose a box that’s too low than too high, especially if you’re a beginner.
- Make sure to cushion your jumps on and off the box by bending your knees.
Reverse lunges are a variation of traditional lunges that make it a little easier to balance by giving you more stability in your lead leg. You can make them easier by only lunging halfway down.
Reverse lunges: Quads, hips, core
- Stand tall with your hands on your hips or holding dumbbells at your sides.
- Take a big step backward with one foot. Sink down until your lead thigh is parallel to the ground. Your back knee should almost touch the ground.
- Push through your front heel as you return to the starting position.
- Repeat for your chosen number of reps, switching sides each time.
- Avoid touching your back knee on the ground.
- Stop if you feel any knee discomfort.
- Keep your front knee over, but not beyond, your toes when lunging.
The single-leg raise targets your rectus femoris, the part of your quads that crosses your hip joint.
Muscles worked: Rectus femoris, hip flexors, core
- Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Slide one foot forward so that your knee is at a 90-degree angle.
- Keeping your core tight and leg straight, raise your opposite foot until your thigh matches the angle of your opposite thigh.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for your chosen number of reps, then switch legs.
- Keep your core braced.
- Avoid locking the knee of your straight leg.
The pistol squat is a challenging squat variation that requires strength, mobility, and balance. If you can’t get into a full squat position, you can put a chair behind you to limit how far down you go.
It’s best to only try this exercise if you’ve already mastered the bodyweight squat and want a more challenging variation.
Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, core, inner thigh
- Stand tall with your feet together and arms in front of you.
- Lift one foot off the floor, and keep it in front of your body with your leg straight.
- Squat down on your opposite leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
- Stop if you feel knee pain.
- Only go as low as you can without feeling discomfort.
- Only go as low as you can while still being able to control your knee.
Strengthening and toning your quads can help improve the stability of your knee, reduce your risk of knee injuries, improve your athletic performance, and make everyday movements easier to do.
Many quad exercises can be done at home, without any special equipment. Start slowly, and as you gain strength and the exercises become easier, increase the number of reps or sets you perform.
If you haven’t exercised before, or have an injury or chronic health condition, be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.