Several exercises strengthen and tone your quadriceps, which are the group of four muscles that compose the front of your thigh. The muscles come together at the top of the knee. They work primarily to bend and flex the knee as well as your hip. As a major muscle group in your body, working them out will increase your heart rate.
Step-ups work the fronts of your thighs and require little equipment -- just a step that is about four to six inches high. While you can add dumbbells as you progress, start with only your body weight to ensure you can maintain correct form. Standing in front of the step, brace your core by pulling in your abdominal muscles and rolling your shoulder blades back and down. Step onto the step with your right leg and then your left leg. Step back down with your right leg and then your left leg. As you step, avoid bowing forward and put your entire foot on the step to avoid overbalancing. As you get stronger, step up with your right foot, tap the bench with your left foot and step back down.
Split Squat, Single Leg
While a normal squat uses both legs, a split squat focuses on one leg at a time, making it especially effective and challenging. To complete a split squat, you need only a bench upon which you can rest your non-working leg. While you can add dumbbells as you gain strength, start with just your body weight to ensure your form is correct. To complete a split squat, stand in front of the bench and place one leg on top of the bench. When you descend, do not extend your working leg's knee beyond your toes. Adjust your position relative to the bench as necessary. Once you've got the bench in the right spot, brace your core and descend until the knee of the non-working leg almost grazes the floor. Rise to standing and repeat.
A powerful upward motion requires the quadriceps muscles to work throughout the exercise. They support your body weight as you lower yourself down and then power the explosive jump motion as well. To try jumping, wear supportive shoes and jump in an area free of obstruction. Brace your core and descend into a squat position, as if leaning back into a chair to sit, and keep your head facing forward to avoid bowing. When you get low enough that you feel your heels are about to lift off the floor, explode upward, lifting your hands to aid the jump. Keep your feet next to one another and focus on landing softly to avoid injury to your knees, hips and ankles.
As you strengthen your quadriceps, you need also to stretch them. This not only helps minimize muscle soreness, it also helps minimize the potential for injury. If you don't stretch your quadriceps, you risk pulling the muscle, causing a strain and setting back your toning program. One of the simplest quadriceps stretches, which you can complete either standing or lying on your side, is to hold your foot and feel a stretch down the front of your leg. In either position, focus on bracing your core to keep your torso aligned. Keep your knees together to stretch the quadriceps to their full length and hold your foot, not your toes.