Top 3 Quadriceps Exercises with Free Weights

Step-by-Step Instructions and Videos

The following quadriceps exercises use free weights (dumbbells and barbells). Some can be done with no weights at all. They can be done at home or at the gym. Weight training equipment found at gyms will add extra variety to your workout routines.

Our quadriceps, or "quads," are the muscles at the front top part of our legs. They are also referred to as the front of our thighs or front thighs. The quads are composed of four muscles: rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis.

The exercises listed below are great front thigh exercises for women, plus many of them also engage the gluteus maximus so provide great butt exercises as well.

For exercises focusing on other parts of the leg, including calves, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs, see Leg Exercises for Women.

Forward Lunges with Dumbbells

Equipment needed: Two dumbbells

Targeted muscles: Quadriceps and gluteus maximus (buttocks)


  1. Stand with your legs hipwidth apart with one dumbbell in each hand; your hands hang at your sides.
  2. Inhale and take a big step forward; keep your chest and head upright.
  3. Pushing off with your front foot, return to the original starting position and exhale.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.

Quadriceps Exercises Tips

  • To protect your knees: (1) do not allow your bent knee to go past your big toe; (2) beginners should start with lighter dumbbells; (3) the back knee should not touch the floor.
  • Forward Lunges require balance; be sure to do the movement straight forward and straight back without leaning from side to side. You can work on the balance part of this lunge by doing it without weights to start out.
  • Instead of alternating legs after each movement, you can also continue with the same leg several times and then switch to the other leg.
  • Smaller steps forward will work the quads more. Bigger steps work the buttocks more, and give more of a stretch to the back leg.


  • Forward Lunges can be done without weights, just using your bodyweight.

Forward Lunges with a Bar

Equipment needed: Barbell

Targeted muscles: Quadriceps and gluteus maximus


  1. Stand with your legs hipwidth apart with the barbell resting behind your neck across your shoulders.
  2. Inhale and take a big step forward; keep your torso as straight as possible.
  3. Return to the starting position and exhale.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.

Quadriceps Exercises Tips

  • Lunges require a good deal of balance, so it's best to start with very light weights, or no weights at all.
  • Shorter steps forward will mostly engage the quadriceps; longer steps will mostly engage the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings, and provide a greater stretch for the back leg.


  • Lunges can be done without weights, just use your bodyweight and follow the above steps.
  • This lunge can also be done with a lightweight rod in place of the barbell. This is great for helping to get your balance, strengthening and stretching the muscles, and for warming up before working with weights.

Dumbbell Step-Up

Equipment needed: Two dumbbells, step or bench (basically something to step onto)

Targeted muscles: Quads


  1. With a dumbbell in each hand (hands resting at your sides), stand facing a step.
  2. Step onto the step with your right foot.
  3. Raise your body onto the step by fully extending your right leg.
  4. Place your left foot on the step so that you are now standing on the step.
  5. Step down with your left leg first.
  6. Return to the starting position by finally stepping down with your right leg.

Quadriceps Exercises Tips

  • This routine can be a little tricky at first until you get the hang of which foot you should lead with, but it will become second nature after a while. You can continue to step up with the right (or left) foot first for a few moves, then switch; or you can alternate legs each time you start from your initial position.


  • Step-ups can be done without weights, just use your body weight and follow the above steps.

Using Weight Training Machines

If you have access to a gym, you can find many different types of equipment to do front thigh exercises.

Here are a few quadriceps exercises that can be done with special weight training equipment at the gym:

  • Hack Squats
  • Single Leg Leg Extension
  • Leg Press
  • Leg Extensions with an Incline Machine
  • Squats with a Frame Guide

To ensure an effective workout and prevent injury, it's best to ask a trainer at the gym to show you the proper use of any weight training machines and equipment.

Going Beyond Quadriceps Exercises

Killer Quads workout program program written by 20-year female bodybuilding veteran, Karen Sessions.

Visit Karen's website to see if her program is right for you. To go to Karen's website, click on the link above.

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