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The 10 Best Exercises for Stronger Thighs

Build strong thighs with a trainer's favorite lower-body exercises.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Here is a timeless fitness truth: Whether you want to lose weight, build lean muscle, or improve your overall health, a strong lower body is essential. Yet the odd thing is, when you go to any commercial gym, you see people spend way more time strengthening their upper body than their lower body. If anything, you should target your legs more because they require more load to create results. (In other words, don't skip leg day!) I have you covered with 10 of the best exercises for stronger thighs to work into your daily regimen.

Your lower half is a very large muscle group. When you train it, you can burn more calories and create a larger stimulus for physical transformation. In addition, if you want to improve your conditioning, you'll need more leg strength because muscle size helps with muscular endurance. That's where exercises that focus on stronger thighs come into play.

Don't target only the front of your thighs (quadriceps); you need to train the outer part (abductors), the inner part (adductors), and the back of your thighs (hamstrings) as well. Otherwise, you won't get the maximum results, and you may increase your injury risk because you're not building balanced strength in your lower body.

I'm breaking down the 10 best exercises for stronger thighs. Add these to your routine, and I promise you will see a huge difference over time.

Front Squat

illustration of barbell front squat exercise

The squat is called the "king of exercises" for a reason: It targets so many muscles in your body and trains good movement, joint mobility, and overall endurance. For stronger thighs, I recommend starting with a front squat because it emphasizes your quads more than your hips, and it's easier to learn the technique.

Grab a barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and roll your elbows under and in front of the bar until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Take the bar out of the rack and let it rest in front of your neck on the meaty part of your shoulders. Keep your chest high and elbows up and squeezed together.

Stand shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly out. Start the movement by sitting backward and spreading your knees apart. Descend below parallel while keeping your lower back flat. At the bottom, drive through your heels and keep your knees apart. Keep your chest high and elbows up and squeezed together throughout.

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Reverse Lunges

reverse lunges

Lunges are fantastic for building stronger thighs because they're single-leg movements (i.e. you target one leg at a time). That way, you strengthen your quads and the inside and outside of your thighs because they must work to balance your body.

Take a long step back—long enough so that your knees make two 90-degree angles at the bottom—and pull yourself back up with your forward leg. Start with dumbbells and advance to a barbell in either the back squat or front squat position.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Dumbbell Split Squats

Take a lunge to the next level by balancing your back foot on a bench, which shifts even more of your body weight onto the working leg and creates more physical demand on your muscles.

Grab two dumbbells, stand facing away from a bench, and rest one foot behind you on the bench. Squat down with the forward leg, keeping that shin vertical. Lean forward as you go down, keeping all the weight on the heel of your forward foot.

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Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

illustration of dumbbell deadlift

RDLs are one of the best knee-friendly exercises to strengthen your hamstrings, eccentrically (muscle lengthening) and concentrically (muscle shortening), to get maximum benefits.

Start by holding a barbell or dumbbells. Brace your core and initiate the movement by pushing your hips backward, bending your knees slightly, and lowering your torso. Maintain the natural arch in your lower back as you descend, and keep your shoulders pulled back throughout. Go as low as you can while keeping your lower back flat, and rise by pushing through the ground and squeezing your glutes.

Trap Bar Deadlift

trap bar deadlift

The deadlift is one of the absolute best exercises for your entire body, especially the back of your legs. Using a trap bar makes it easier to perform the lift and puts less stress on your lower back because you'll be in the center of the weight as opposed to behind it.

Stand at the center of a trap bar with your feet hip-width apart and toes straight ahead. Keep your knees soft and bend at your hip, grabbing the handles. Keep your shins perpendicular to the ground and lower back flat. Drive through your heels and push your hips forward to stand straight up. Squeeze your glutes at the top. Reverse the movement to lower the weight.

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Goblet Squat

illustration of dumbbell goblet squats

You can't beat the goblet squat if you're new to training. Not only do you build strong quads and hips, but you also teach yourself the correct technique for squats.

Grab the end of one dumbbell in both hands and hold it by your chest with your elbows underneath. Stand shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly out. Start the movement by sitting backward and spreading your knees apart. Descend below parallel while keeping your lower back flat. At the bottom, drive through your heels and keep your knees apart.

Supine Hip Extension w/ Leg Curl (SHELC)

exercise ball leg curl

One of the best ways to target your hamstrings is to flex your knee (i.e. moving your foot toward your glutes). Rather than using a machine, a SHELC lets you do it with your body weight, which requires you to stabilize yourself and gives you more benefits.

Lie on your back with your feet on the top of a stability ball. Start by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips. Then, curl your feet underneath your knees while extending your hips and maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Remember: Every inch you curl your feet is another inch your hips need to rise.

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illustration of step-ups

Thigh exercises don't get any easier than this. It's put your foot on a box and step up. Repeat.

Place one foot on a box or bench. Pull all your weight on that foot and drive yourself up by pushing through your heel. Avoid pushing off with your bottom leg.

Lateral Squat

woman doing lateral lunges

The vast majority of exercises involve moving your body forward to backward, which is called the "sagittal plane." However, a lateral squat involves moving your body from side to side, which is called the "frontal plane." This plane gives you a different stimulus on your thighs for more variety.

Start with a very wide stance and your feet straight. Sit back into one hip and push that knee out. Repeat on the other side.

Reverse Sled Drag

The sled drag exercise is ideal for people with knee pain or back pain because there's very little range of motion in your knee joint, and you don't have to put external weight on your body.

Just attach some handles on a heavy sled, grab the handles, and pull the sled while walking backward and maintaining good posture. The sled should be heavy enough that your maximum pace is a slow march. (This isn't for speed; it's for strength.)

Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert featured in Esquire, GQ, and Men’s Health and the founder of GroomBuilder, the destination for men who want to transform their bodies for their weddings. Join the free 5-day course to burn fat and build muscle for the big day! Read more about Anthony
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