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Everyone has different goals when they begin weightlifting. Some are looking to lose fat, some to gain muscle, and some to strengthen specific muscles. Building strength in large muscle groups first is a great way to improve your physical health, and one of the easiest areas to strengthen and gain definition is your quads, the tops of your thighs.

Exercises that target your quadriceps will improve your performance in other lower body exercises and increase your overall strength and muscle and bone health. For older individuals, quad muscle strength has been linked to a reduced number of falls.

Squats

When you squat, the quads provide balance and stability, especially as you're descending. While this exercise isn't as quad-focused as some, it does work three of the four quadricep muscles in the leg, along with the glutes and the calves.

Different types of squats target different areas; generally, a front squat with a barbell or dumbbells "racked" on your shoulders in front of your body will target quads most effectively.

woman doing squats with barbell on her shoulder Hirurg / Getty Images

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Step-Ups

Step-ups are great lower body conditioning exercises that target quads and hamstrings, as well as the glutes. They are challenging both with and without added weight, and beginners should start with bodyweight and using a lower step.

A higher number of repetitions per set will increase your endurance or stamina, but building muscle in your quads will require lower reps with more weight. If you don't have heavier weights, moving more slowly through each repetition is a great alternative that increases the challenge.

woman doing step-ups littlehenrabi / Getty Images

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Lunges

Reverse and forward lunges are good for improving balance along with quad strength. While many lifting and jumping exercises target the lower body effectively, lunges do this in a steady way that improves balance and skips the jarring impact on the joints.

You can perform lunges without weight or with dumbbells or ankle weights. Focus on good form, with the knee tracking over the toes and not falling in or out. Don't step farther forward than is comfortable, and feel free to place one hand on a ledge or bench until your balance improves.

Man doing lunges with dumbbells DragonImages / Getty Images

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Sumo Deadlift

A sumo deadlift requires the lifter to use a wider stance than they do when performing a regular deadlift, targeting the quads as well as the glutes, and calves at the back of the legs.

Sumo deadlifts can be dangerous, so always start out with a light amount of weight and focus on good form so you don't injure your back while you perform this exercise. Consider having someone spot you or staying nearby if you're increasing the amount of weight.

man doing sumo deadlift

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Bear Crawls

Bear crawls are a great overall body workout, but they especially target the core and quads. Like lunges, bear crawls will improve your balance and overall body strength, and they don't require any special equipment — just a bit of space.

Unlike lunges and some other lower body workouts, the weight in bear crawls is distributed throughout your body and moving on all fours also helps work your chest and shoulders.

man exercising at home gorodenkoff / Getty Images

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Wall Sits

Wall sits are one of the few exercises that put a lot of pressure on your quads to hold the majority of your body weight. The back of your legs and glutes are still in play with this exercise, but it will especially target your shins and core, along with your quadriceps.

Start with short wall sits, about 10-20 seconds, and work your way up as you become more comfortable. It's best to combine wall sits with other lower body exercises that require movement, like lunges or squats, since holding yourself in one position is not a common use for the quads.

woman doing wall sit exercise FreshSplash / Getty Images

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Cycling

Never underestimate the power of a classic bike ride or turn on a stationary bike when you're trying to build your quads. While cycling isn't an exercise that will grow your quads dramatically, it will strengthen them, and it's a great way to build muscle without putting too much pressure on your knees and other joints.

If you're using a stationary bike, short intervals of high resistance are a great way to build your quadriceps.

woman cycling skaman306 / Getty Images

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Box Jumps

This exercise can be a strain on your joints, so it's best to start out at a low height and work your way up. This explosive advancement of the step-up builds power in the quads and also increases speed.

Landing correctly is important with this exercise — try to gently land on both feet in a slight squat with your knees tracking over your toes, to avoid injuring your joints. Start with a low box height of six inches to a foot, and increase as you gain strength.

athletic woman in sportswear jumping on gym box in fitness gym S_Chum / Getty Images

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Leg Press

Leg presses require equipment but are a great way to take pressure off of your back and keep it stable while targeting your legs. This exercise is a good choice for people who are worried about injuring their backs while targeting their legs or who want a simpler exercise with less risk of incorrect form.

Getting a full extension on your leg presses is important to fully work your quadriceps.

Young man exercising on leg press machine at gym Westend61 / Getty Images

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Leg Extensions

This is another exercise that requires equipment, but is safe for people with weaker ankles and targets the front of the legs. Leg extensions do apply pressure to the ACL on the side of the knee, so people who have previously suffered a torn ACL or a knee injury should be careful when trying this exercise.

If you are predisposed to a re-injury, skip overworking this area.

Woman Doing Leg Extensions bulatovic / Getty Images

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.