Taking the time to work your quadriceps, the group of four muscles in the front of your thighs, should be near the top of your strength-training to-do list. After all, your quads are responsible for extending your knees and supporting your knee joints. So, every time you take a step, stand up from a chair, climb stairs, run, jump or kick, they’re on the job. Exercises that specifically target and strengthen them can help reduce wear and tear on knee cartilage and will improve your hill climbing and biking power.
There are plenty of quad-strengthening exercises to choose from, but some good ones are squats and leg presses. They are classic, sure-fire ways to effectively target the muscles in front of your thighs, while simultaneously exercising the muscles in the back of your thighs (hamstrings) and your buttocks (glutes).
If you do nothing else to target your quads, be sure you at least rotate these moves into your routine. Do three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days.
- Before you begin, consider placing a chair or bench nearby. You can use it to sit back on to ensure that you do not go down too low, which can injure your knees. Pick something that ensures your knees are at a 90 degree angle when you sit down—if you go lower than that you put a great deal of stress on your knees.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms hanging freely at your sides.
(You can hold a dumbbell in each hand for a more intense challenge. Start with two- or three-pound weights and work your way up to heavier dumbbells.)
- Slowly bend your hips and knees, sticking your buttocks out as if you are sitting in a chair.
- Keep your abdominal muscles tight. Lower yourself as far as is comfortable, or until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause for a moment, then stand back up while squeezing your buttocks.
If you have back problems, do squats with your back against a wall for support. You can also do this exercise with a stability ball between your back and the wall.
- Sit comfortably with your back flush against the back of the seat of the leg press machine at your gym.
- Choose a weight level that will challenge your quads but not so heavy that you can’t complete 10 reps. Talk to your trainer or exercise physiologist if you need help.
- Position your feet flat against the leg press platform, about shoulder-width apart. Hold the handles, if provided, for support.
- Press the weight away from your body in a slow, controlled motion that equally challenges both quads.
- Slowly release the weight back to neutral position.
If you experience any knee pain during these exercises, be sure to consult your trainer or exercise physiologist for advice on how to alter your form or technique to minimize knee strain.