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Front and Back Thigh Muscles: Leg Exercises for Quadriceps and Hamstrings

Updated on April 18, 2013

Quads and Hamstrings

Quadriceps or quads are muscles on the front of your thighs. They are used to move the upper leg and to straighten the knees. The hamstrings are a group of tendons and muscles at the back of your thigh. They are similar to the biceps on your arm in function. You use your hamstring when you bend your knees or extend your hip. The reason they are referred to as strings is because tendons are like strings.

The quads and hamstrings on your thighs are important because they are used for everyday activities like walking and your legs support your upper body along with anything you are carrying. Most people think about other muscles like their biceps when trying to improve their body but the thigh muscles should not be neglected. Extending refers to straightening the joint. Flexing refers to bending the joint. Warm up before doing intense thigh exercises.

Back of the thighs.
Back of the thighs. | Source


Activities like walking, running, sprinting, rollerblading, swimming, jumping rope and biking work you quads and hamstrings. Going up a slope, adding weight or going fast will work the muscles more. If you really want to give them a good workout I recommend sprinting or running uphill at a fast pace. However running is a high impact exercise. You are pounding the pavement. To reduce the impact you could run on an elliptical trainer. They are not meant for sprinting but you can increase the resistance and run at a fairly fast pace. Hiking, rollerblading and biking should be enough to give you strong quadriceps and hamstrings if you don't want to run.

Hip extensions are kickbacks. They work your hamstrings. Get on your knees and hands like you are going to do push-ups on your knees. Extend one leg behind you, raising it as high as your back. Then lower the leg and get back into the starting position before doing it again with the other leg. You can use ankle weights. This exercise may be too easy to achieve noticeable results.


The bridge exercise is a static exercise that works the hamstrings. You hold a pose. Get on your back with your legs extended and your hands at your side. Bend your knees so they are over your feet. Your feet should be flat against the floor. Raise your bum and back off the ground. Keep your shoulders and head on the ground. Hold the position for 30 seconds or more. Use your muscles to prevent your body from sagging. If you can't maintain proper form then stop.

Leg curls are a good stationary exercises for your hamstrings. You curl heavy weights with your leg. However they are not as convenient as bicep curls. It is not like you can grab the weights with your toes. There are special exercise machines you can use in a gym. At home I was able to curl a heavy duffle bag filled with books. If you experiment you should be able to find something to use or get someone to help you.

Another way to do curls is with a stability ball. Stability ball curls are one of my favorite hamstring exercises. Lay down on your back and dig your heels into the stability ball. Raise most of you body so only your arms, shoulders and head is touching the ground or exercise mat. Then alternate between curling the ball towards you and pushing it away. The position of your body is very similar to a bridge.

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

Towel slides are done with your back to the floor. Lie down and stretch out placing your feet on a towel. You may also want a towel under your body and head for comfort. Press your heals into the floor and lift your hips off the ground. Bend your knees as you move your feet towards your body. Then stretch out again while keeping your hips raised and do it again. Your hands should be at your side. The movement is very similar to leg curls using a stability ball. You slide a towel instead of rolling a ball. It is an exercise for your hamstrings.

Leg Raises are done on your back like towel slides but they work your quads. Get into position by laying on your back with your knees bent. Straighten one leg and slowly raise it off the ground about a foot. Hold the position briefly and then slowly lower the leg. Raise it 12 or more times and switch to the other leg. If you have them, I recommend using ankle weights but try the exercise without them first. Lifting your feet higher in the air does not give you a better workout.

Step Ups are when you step up onto something like a stair. Anything you could step on and step off of would work. Step on, step off, change feet, go forwards, backwards and sideways. I did step ups while playing Wii Fit. You can make it more difficult by stepping on to something higher and by increasing the weight. Wearing a heavy backpack or lifting weights and doing step ups on a chair can give your hamstrings a good workout. Low steps work your quads. High steps work your hamstrings more.

Squats and lunges should be included in a hamstring routine. You can do them with or without weights but if you really want strong thigh muscles I recommend using weights. If you do use weights start with light ones. Squats are like pretending to sit on a low chair. To do a lunge you step forward, kneel and then bring your self up and back. They can work your hamstrings and your quads.

Sumo deadlifts are wide stance deadlifts. Stand close to the barbell. Your feet should be significantly wider than shoulder width apart, under the bar and turned outward as much as you are comfortable with. Your arms should be hanging between your legs. They should remain hanging throughout the exercise. Lower yourself close enough to grab the bar by bending your knees and leaning over. Grab the bar with your hands shoulder width apart. Extend your hips so you are standing straight to lift the bar. The bar should be almost touching your body. It should never be away from your body during the exercise. Repeat the movement letting the weights gently touch the floor before lifting them again.

It is bad form to drop them and your feet are going to be close to the weights. So it is safer if you maintain control. The wide stance works the quads much more than a regular deadlift but the hamstrings are worked a little less. Regular deadlifts are not good for working out your quads and they are not the best deadlift for you hamstrings. They are more of a back exercise that also works the hamstrings and butt muscles.

Stiff legged deadlifts work your hamstrings because of the hip movement. During the exercise you keep your arms hanging and your knees slightly bent. Use a barbell for this exercise. If you don't have a barbell you can substitute dumbbells or anything else you think would work. Start with a light barbell. You can increase the weight after you have given your body time to adapt to the exercise. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend down and grab the barbell. Stand back up for a moment and then do it again but don't lower the barbell all the way to the ground. It is a lot like trying to touch your toes without bending your knees. People that are less flexible will need to bend their knees a little more to reach the barbell. This style of deadlift is for hamstrings.


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