At the simplest, our quadriceps are responsible for straightening the knee. But this group of four muscles on the front of the thigh works together with other muscles like the hamstrings and glutes to power almost every movement in the legs. Strong and flexible quads bring stability to the knee joint and launch you forward as you walk, run, cycle, ski and move through your day.
Yoga can help strengthen your thighs. These poses require an isometric contraction that will power up your legs. Work up to holding each for 60–90 seconds.
A bread-and-butter pose found in almost every modern yoga class, warrior II is a vigorous and demanding posture. Tapping into your inner warrior, though, is worth it. The pose strengthens the quadriceps muscles, improves joint alignment, stabilizes the knee and strengthens the hamstrings.
The move: From down dog, step your right foot forward to a low lunge. Ground your left foot down so that it’s at a 90-degree angle, and you’ve created a straight line between the heel of your right foot and the instep of your left foot.
On an inhale, sweep your left arm up and around, bringing your torso and right arm with you. Arms stretch in opposite directions at shoulder height, palms down and parallel to the floor. Hips face the long edge of your mat.
Strengthen the pose from the bottom up. Press the outside left edge of your left foot into the ground and make your entire left leg strong. Make sure your right knee tracks over your right ankle. Glance down and see if you can spot your big right toe to make sure your knee isn’t rolling inward. Tuck your tailbone slightly and engage your abdominals. Roll your shoulders down your back and take your gaze over your right index finger. Relax your eyes and hold before moving to extended side angle (see below). When you’ve held each pose for 60–90 seconds switch sides and repeat with the left leg leading.
EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE
This pose has been known to turn legs to jelly. It’s a challenging pose that promotes strength and flexibility. The pose strengthens your thighs and ankles while stretching the groin, chest and side of the body.
The move: Begin in warrior II with your right foot forward. On an exhale, rest your right forearm lightly on your right thigh and sweep your left arm over your ear, creating a straight line from your left fingertips to your left ankle. Ensure your right knee is directly over your right ankle and engage both legs. Lengthen through the entire left side of your body, and, if it’s comfortable for your neck, take your gaze to the sky under your left armpit. Try to find length through the right side of your body and avoid sinking into your right thigh.
Deepen the pose by taking your right hand to a block placed inside your right foot or by taking your right hand to your right foot. Gently press your right arm into your right leg to open your hip. Keep spinning your chest toward the sky. If you find your chest turns to the floor, lift back up to the block or your thigh.
Chair is a killer move for the thighs and glutes. It strengthens the core, stretches the calves and builds support for the muscles and tendons around the knees.
The move: Begin in mountain pose. On an inhale, sweep your arms overhead. On an exhale, bend your knees and sink your hips back as if you were about to sit in a chair behind you. Sit low enough that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Engage your abdominals by pulling your low belly in.
Lengthen through your torso and relax your shoulders. If your shoulders are tight and inch toward your ears, widen your arms or take cactus arms, bending both elbows and turning your palms out. Relax your shoulders and broaden your chest.
Breathe here for 60–90 seconds and, on an inhale, straighten your legs and return to mountain pose.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with crescent lunge, also called high lunge. It strengthens the thighs, hips and butt, while opening your chest and shoulders.
The move: From down dog, bring your right foot between your hands to low lunge. From low lunge, inhale and lift your torso up. Sweep your arms overhead so your palms face each other. Make sure your front knee and ankle stay in a straight line and strongly engage your back leg to keep it straight. Contract the abdominals, stabilizing your core, lengthen through the whole torso and relax your shoulders.
Make it more challenging by leaning the torso forward to a 45-degree angle. This works the quadriceps even more and adds some core work.
Hold for 60–90 seconds. Then on an exhale, fold forward, frame your front foot with your hands and switch sides.
Squats can be a great way to tone your lower body, and goddess, also known as victory squat, is no different. The pose strengthens the thighs, particularly the quadriceps and inner thighs. It also works the core and stretches the hips and groin.
The move: From mountain pose, turn to face the long edge of your mat with your feet 3–4 feet apart. Turn your heels in and your toes out so your feet are at a 45-degree angle. On an exhale, bend your knees deeply and sink your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your knees over your ankles. Bring your arms out to your sides at shoulder height, bend your elbows, and turn your palms out to create a goal-post shape.
Keep your spine long and avoid hunching your shoulders forward. Engage your core. Hold here for 60–90 seconds then, on an inhale, rise up, straightening your legs and return to mountain pose.
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