ThighsFrequently Asked Questions

What's the basic anatomy of my thighs?

There are two muscles that make up our thighs: hamstrings and quadriceps (or quads, as I’ll be calling them from here on out). The quads are the muscles at the front of your legs and the hamstrings are at the back. When you’re on an exercise bike, you’re working both muscles at the same time. But just like any other part of your body, you can also choose to isolate them to get bigger gains.

What are the benefits of working out my thighs?

Just because your thighs are already powerful (they lug your entire weight on a daily basis, in case you haven’t noticed), that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train them anymore! Now, we all know how tough leg day can be—very few people enjoy it—but there are so many benefits to having a good, strong pair of thighs that it more than makes up for the temporary suffering that leg day brings.

Before we talk about thigh exercises and workouts, let’s look at the benefits of working out those thighs.

1. It builds more muscle.

There are only a few things that can get your testosterone levels up like compound exercises do. Why would you want to raise your testosterone? Three words: more muscle mass. Doing squats, deadlifts, or any exercise that really pushes you—and nothing pushes you like leg day, I know—will have testosterone flooding your body faster than you can say, “Friends don’t let friends skip leg day.”

2. It burns more calories.

Compound exercises like squats and barbell lifts will also help you burn more calories. If you’re trying to lose fat and build muscle, doing these killer thigh exercises is a great way to do it.

3. It helps you lift more.

Your thighs and core have very important roles in your ability to lift weights. Remember: stronger legs = heavier lifts.

4. It helps reduce your risk for injury.

Nothing is as disappointing (or painful) as an injury that keeps you out of the gym for weeks or months, so I suggest you do everything you can to prevent this from happening to you. One of the best ways to lower your chances of suffering from an injury is to strengthen your legs. Strong legs improve your balance and mobility while also minimising your lower back pain.

What are the best thigh workouts and exercises?

Now let’s get to those thigh exercises and workouts I was talking about earlier. Some of these exercises are going to work out your different leg muscles, while the others will isolate your quads and hamstrings. Just make sure that you aren’t focusing too much on one area to the detriment of the others.

If you’re struggling with weak legs, make leg day your priority by devoting at least two days per week for it. Do loads of squats. Treat squats as your new best friends, and you will get rewarded.

You may also want to change the position of your feet so you can really work your thigh muscles from every angle. Didn’t know that you could do that? Well, now you do.

Narrow stances usually push your outer quads to work a lot harder, while wider stances target your inner quads. Before you do any thigh exercises, make sure your toes are never pointed inwards—and even when you’re doing sumo squats, don’t point them too outwards—as both could end up causing knee damage.

A last piece of advice before we move onto the thigh exercises—use low and high foot placement to your advantage. When your feet are elevated, you’re targeting those hamstrings. With lower foot placements, you’re working those quads. If you want to increase the tension in any of these areas, just use a higher or lower platform!

1. Lunges

For some gym buffs, lunges are the bane of their existence. For the others who are serious about leg work, it’s their favourite thigh exercise. Lunges are hard work, but they’re really effective at working the different groups of muscles in your legs. Just remember, when you’re lunging, you need to keep your shoulders down, your back straight, and your knees at a 90-degree angle.

If you want to add a challenge to this exercise, you can do it with a barbell or dumbbells—the choice is yours.

2. Single leg glute bridge

Lie down on your back for this one. Bend your knees and place your feet in a slanting position so that your heels are in contact with the ground. Raise one leg up into the air, push through your other heel as you lift your upper body and thrust your hips upwards. Keep your back as straight as you can. Make sure you make a full hip extension and that your heel is driving into the ground so you can contract your hamstrings.

3. Low squat jumps

Low squat jumps are more intense than ordinary squats because you need to lower your body further and push your entire body weight off the ground. Start off with your feet placed about hip-width apart and squat. Lower your hips and when you’re ready, jump! It’s best to keep the jumps low to create more tension in your thighs.

4. Side lunges

To do the side lunge, stand about hip-width apart, take a step to your right and then bend your right knee. Don’t let your knee extend past your toes. Start lowering your hips while keeping your left leg and your back straight. Pause and then lift yourself to go back to the starting position. Once you’ve finished those reps, do the same for your other leg.

5. The Sumo squat

Take a big step sideways and point your toes outwards, just like how sumo wrestlers do before the start of their fight. Then lower yourself down to a squatting position while activating your thighs and keeping your back straight.

6. The deadlift

You need a barbell to do this classic bodybuilding move. Start with your feet placed about shoulder-width apart and the barbell placed on the floor, just in front of your feet. Bend down at the knees, grab the barbell with an overhanded grip (make sure your hands are about shoulder-width apart too), and keep your spine straight. Lift the bar upwards until your knees and hips are fully extended.

Keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement and keep your core activated. Pause for a moment before you lower the barbell to the ground again. That’s one rep down.

What workout equipment can you recommend for my thigh muscles?

Now that I’ve shared with you some exercises that will fire up your quads and hamstrings, let’s head over to the thigh exercise equipment that can help you get faster and safer results.

1. Dumbbells

Dumbbells are great for squats and lunges, which are two of the most popular and effective thigh exercises. You can buy them as solid pieces of metal with the weights attached to them or you can opt for the adjustable dumbbells. The latter are more expensive, but they will save you more gym space.

2. Barbells

What makes barbells worth the investment? You can’t do deadlifts without them and your squats will be more intense with them. Of course, when you get a barbell, you also need to get a selection of weight plates to go along with it.

3. The squat assist machine

The squat assist machine helps you get your form right for your squats. It also allows you to choose how much resistance to work with. This means that if a standard squat is too much for you, the machine helps to lighten the load. Once you become stronger, you can increase the resistance until you’re squatting your full weight. This one is especially helpful if you have weak knees.

4. Leg press

The leg press is a machine designed to strengthen your legs. It allows you to leg press as much weight as you can simply by making some adjustments to the machine. This is a really great compound exercise that targets your quads, glutes and hamstrings.

5. Leg extension curl machine

The leg extension curl machine is great for working your hamstrings, which, in turn, stabilises your knees. So if your knees are weak, I suggest you use this machine to strengthen them. The sitting position also isolates your hamstrings and takes some of the stress off your calves.

6. Vertical leg press

The vertical leg press makes things a little more interesting by giving you the same challenge as the ordinary leg press, but this time, you’re lying down horizontally (instead of at an angle) while doing it. This machine doesn’t come with cords and pulleys, so it’s just you and the weights.

7. Thigh toners

Thigh toners come in different shapes and sizes. With closed-loop resistance bands, you just need to place them around your legs and then open and close your legs to get those thighs burning. With other tools—like the Thigh Master, for example—you need to place the device inside your thighs and then press your thighs together.

8. Kickback machines

Kickback machines are great for your hamstrings, glutes, and core. There are different types of kickback machines—some utilise a padded bar attached to weights, while others are attached to weights by cords. The latter gives you a greater freedom of movement, while the former helps you to get your form right before you go big with the weights. Regardless of which one you choose, make sure you’re not just kicking away like a donkey! Each movement should be controlled if you want to see results.

9. The Smith machine

Can we even talk about squats without mentioning the Smith machine? This machine lets you do squats with a weighted bar without having to worry about your safety. You may not have the same freedom of movement that you have with a free bar, but if you don’t have a spotter, the trade-off is absolutely worth it.

So there you have it! I just shared with you everything you need to get you started on your thigh workout. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with free weights or machines. What matters most when you are working your thighs (or any part of your body) is to do the exercises with good form. Trust me: transforming your thighs that look like chicken legs into powerful trunks is easier and safer with good form.

Do Squats target Quads?

Yes! One of the primary muscles worked during squats are the quadriceps muscles (quads), which are located at the front of the thigh.  

But it is not the only muscle group that is being worked during squats. The Glutes, hamstrings and calves are also being used throughout this movement. 

To get the most out of squats focus on your form and range of motion instead of the weight. As training through the whole range of motion with good form will bring you better results than trying to lift heavy. 

How to build Quad Muscles with Bad Knees?

People experience knee pain and assume there is something wrong with their knees. There might be. But the pain could also be caused by a whole lot of other issues. If you have bad knees the first thing you should do is go and visit a good sports physio. They would be able to give you a list of exercises and stretches to strengthen your knees.

Here are some tips on building quads that takes the load off the knees:

1. Low impact exercises – strength and muscle building are a slow and gradual process. So, you need to start with the exercises which have the least impact on your knees. Cycling, swimming, and using an elliptical machine are a great way to start your recovery and build up stronger quads.

2. Leg Curls/Leg Extensions – I would recommend starting out with resistance bands as they would allow you to train with the lowest load possible and only then switch to leg extension/lying leg curls as the starting weight of this exercise would be a tad heavier.

3. Partial Squats – You don’t need to go all the way to the ground to build big quads. Look at Lee Priest’s legs. He has won multiple bodybuilding shows without having to squat all the way down. You can try squatting to a bench or an elevated platform to prevent you from going too deep. Try them with no weight. Only add weight if you can perform the exercise without knee pain.

4. Leg Press – a leg press machine can help you build some serious quad size. It is far easier to isolate the movement thanks to the fact that you don’t need to worry about stabilizing the weight.

5. Leg Sled – some find leg sled machines to be far more comfortable compared to the leg press machines. The core differences between the leg press machines and leg sled machines is that you are in a more upright position and can go significantly deeper.

6. Warm up and stretch – a proper warm up and improved flexibility goes a long way in weight training. This combination helps you to reduce the risk of injury and can even improve recovery time.

Do Squats work Hamstrings?

Yes! Squats do work hamstrings although the primary muscle group used in this exercise are Quadriceps (quads) located at the front of the thigh as well as glutes.

Hamstrings act as a synergistic muscle during this movement. Meaning they do play a part in this exercise but to a certain extent.

If you want to build stronger hamstrings you will need to incorporate other exercises in your training routine. Such as deadlifts, lunges, lying or standing hamstring curls and Romanian deadlifts.

Do Leg Press work Hamstrings?

The primary groups working during leg press are quads, glutes, and calves while hamstrings are involved to a certain extent as a stabilizing muscle.

However, there is a way to target hamstrings training on a leg press.

In this video below Lee Priest gives a handy hamstring workout that involves combining lying leg curls with a leg press variation. Well worth a try.

Both High Volume and High intensity Training can build muscle, but different people respond better to different styles. Or enjoy one more than the other. Try both and see what works best for you! You can even alternate between both styles.

As a note, going too high on both volume and intensity is not optimal, as you may find it hard to recover from doing 20 sets with very high weights, for example. There is a happy middle ground between the two extremes, so again, experiment and find what works best for you.

How many Quad exercises per Workout?

The number of exercises for quads per workout will vary depending on where you are with your training. When you are first starting out you will see improvements from just doing leg press or squats. 

But as you progress with your training you will need to increase the volume of training to continue seeing results. 

Training effectiveness is individual as it depends on your genetics, recovery time, overall conditioning, and consistency.  Meaning that you will need to experiment on yourself with different exercises. You will also need to tinker with number of sets and reps.  

In saying that you shouldn’t do more than 4 quad specific exercises in one training session as this can lead to muscle imbalances. 

How to workout Quads with Dumbbells?

You can have a great quad workout with just a pair of dumbbells. Quad exercises would not be the first muscle group to spring to mind when thinking about dumbbells. However, once you read the specific exercises you can perform, you will have no problem creating a taxing quad workout.

1. Goblet Squats – Hold a dumbbell vertically close to your chest and squat down! This exercise target quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

2. Lunges – hold a dumbbell in each hand for balance and step forwards until the knee of the rear leg almost touches the ground. This exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

3. Step Ups– hold a dumbbell in each hand and step onto an elevated platform. Then step down. This exercise targets quads and glutes. It is almost brilliant for building up knee strength and stability.

4. Bulgarian Split Squats – hold a dumbbell in each hand with your rear leg resting on elevated platform. Squat down and slowly return to the starting position. This exercise targets quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings. And is one of the best exercises for building knee strength and stability.

5. Dumbbell Extensions – sit down on a bench or an edge of the bed. Place the dumbbell between your feet and extend your legs. You can try using a towel to make this exercise a bit more comfortable. It does a great job at isolating your quads.