Thigh Muscles: Anatomy and 2 Important Exercises

The thighs contain some of the largest muscles in the body that allow the lower limbs to bend at the knee joints.

They also support most of the body weight and keep the legs aligned. The thigh muscles work in synergy with those of the calves, buttocks and hips to ensure the balance of the whole body.

It is impossible to be very strong without having strong thighs.

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Functions of thigh muscle groups

Before going any further, it is important to understand why we are not talking here about the legs, but about the thighs. This confusion is indeed made in everyday language. In human anatomy, the legs represent the part of the lower limbs that goes from the knees to the ankles. We also often talk about calf muscles to define this part of the body.

This is why it is more appropriate to dissociate the the top part as being the thighs whose muscles are located along the femur, between the hips and the knees. 

The thigh muscles ensure the flexion of the leg (hamstrings) or its extension (quadriceps) from the knee. If we were to compare with the arms, the hamstrings play the role of the biceps (for pulling), while the quadriceps play the role of the triceps (for pushing).

Characteristics of the thigh muscles

These are skeletal muscles. They attach to bones with tendons and help move parts of the skeleton.

They are made up of bundles of muscle fibers containing blood vessels and nerve fibers. All components are held together by connective tissue.

These muscles are very elastic and can therefore stretch a lot when hot.

The different thigh muscles

This part of the lower limb includes 7 muscles that ensure the flexion of the thigh in human anatomy.

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Quadriceps (anterior or front part of the thigh)

thigh muscles anatomy

This muscle group includes 4 large muscles located at the front of the thigh: 3 vastus muscles and the rectus femoris or rectus femoris. They start at the pelvis and femur and extend to the kneecap and tibia bone.

The muscles that form the quadriceps femoris unite near the knee and attach to the patella via the quadriceps tendon. In turn, the patella is attached to the tibia by the patellar ligament. The quadriceps femoris is the main knee extensor.

The quadriceps are used to flex the hip (for example to squat or sit) or to extend the knee (to stand or extend the leg while walking).

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Here are some technical details about these lower extremity muscles:

wide lateral

Located on the front and side of the thighs, it is usually the most powerful and voluminous. This is the one that gives the rounded shape on the outer side above the knee when you do a squat or a leg extension.

Origin : Arises from the greater trochanter and the lateral lip of the linea aspera or rough line, a rough surface ridge on the posterior side of the shaft of the femur.

Shares: Extends the knee joint and stabilizes the patella.

innervation: Femoral nerve.

Vast Intermediate 

Also called crural muscle, it is a muscle of the anterior compartment of the thigh, between the 2 other vast ones. It is located in the deep plane, under the rectus femoris.

Origin : Anterior and lateral surface of the femoral diaphysis.

Shares: Extends the knee joint and stabilizes the patella.

innervation: Femoral nerve.

vastus medialis

Also called vastus medialis, this muscle is located on the inner side of the thigh.

Origin : The intertrochanteric line and the medial lip of the linea aspera.

Shares: Extends the knee joint and stabilizes the patella, in particular thanks to its horizontal fibers at the distal end.

innervation: Femoral nerve.


Right femoral

Previously called the rectus femoris, it is a superficial muscle on the front of the thigh. It is very long and extends from the pelvis to the knee passing between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis.

Origin : Arises from the antero-inferior iliac spine and the iliac area immediately superior to the acetabulum. It runs straight down the leg and attaches to the patella via the tendon of the quadriceps femoris.

Shares: It is the only quadriceps muscle to cross both the hip and knee joints. It flexes the thigh at the hip joint and extends at the knee joint.

innervation: Femoral nerve.

Hamstrings (posterior or back part of the thigh)

posterior thigh muscles - hamstrings

The hamstrings are a group of 3 muscles in the posterior compartment of the thigh: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris. They extend down the back of the thigh, from the hip to below the knee.

They allow the hip to be extended to move the leg backwards as when walking. They are the ones who raise the leg at the back to bring the feet towards the buttocks. So these are the only muscles that allow you to kick your butt 😂

Biceps femoris

Also called crural biceps, it is composed of 2 bundles: long head and short head.

These are the side muscles at the back of the thigh. You can feel the common tendon of the 2 bundles at the back of the knee, on the outside.

Origin : The long head arises from the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis. The short head starts from the linea aspera on the posterior aspect of the femur. Together, the 2 bundles form a tendon which inserts into the head of the fibula.

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Shares: The main action is bending at the knee. It also extends the thigh at the hip and rotates laterally at the hip and knee.

innervation: The long head biceps femoris is innervated by the tibial part of the sciatic nerve, while the short head is innervated by the common peroneal part of the sciatic nerve.


Located below the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus muscle is flattened and wide.

Origin : The place of insertion of the ligament comes from the ischial tuberosity, but higher than the semitendinosus and the biceps femoris. It attaches to the medial tibial condyle.

Shares: Flexion of the leg at the knee joint. Extension from the thigh to the hip. Medial rotation of the thigh at the hip joint and the leg at the knee joint.

innervation: Tibial part of the sciatic nerve.


As its name suggests, it is a largely tendinous muscle. It is located more in the center of the anterior part of the thigh than the biceps femoris and covers the majority of the semimembranosus.

Origin : Like the long head of the biceps femoris, it arises from the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis and attaches to the medial surface of the tibia.

Shares: It is also a knee flexor which participates in the extension of the hip. Medial rotation of the thigh at the hip joint and the leg at the knee joint.

innervation: Tibial part of the sciatic nerve.

A few words about the hip muscles

Hip and thigh muscles
The hip muscles work at the same time

These muscles are sometimes classified as thigh muscles because some of them run down the thigh. But the hip muscles do not participate in bending the leg at the knee. Their function is to move the leg from the hips. Here are the muscles involved:

  • adductor magnus
  • Adductor longus
  • adductor brevis
  • Graceful
  • Pectin
  • Iliac psoas
  • Sartorius or Couturier muscle

Another article will be devoted to them with their different actions, in particular as adductor muscles of the thighs (reconciliation). Abduction (spreading) movements mainly depend on the gluteal muscles.

How to strengthen thigh muscles

There are a lot of workouts for the thighs, and you will find many examples on this blog in the exercises section. However, here are the most effective basic movements for these muscles. Most focus on the quadriceps because the hamstrings are much less stressed in real life.

There are so many variations of these exercises that I couldn't list them all here.


This is of course the most important exercise in bodybuilding to target the thighs and buttocks. Best of all, squats mimic a natural movement that you use most of the day. Indeed, getting up and sitting down is certainly part of your daily life.

Plus, you can easily adapt them to your fitness level.

Start with bodyweight squats while standing with your feet hip-width apart. Squat down keeping the weight in your heels. To achieve this, you have to bend down as if you wanted to sit on a chair that is a little far behind you. The back must remain aligned throughout the exercise, neither rounded nor dug.

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When you've mastered the move well and can do at least 3-4 sets of 20, move into a goblet squat while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell against your chest (see video below).

Then you can do squats with a bar and rack, dumbbells, or a strong loop elastic band. If you train at home, give preference to dumbbells or elastic bands to limit the risk of injury (and the cost of equipment). There are also variants for those who want to progress without equipment such as sissy squats, the Bulgarian squat or pistol squats on one leg.


Lunges seriously tone the thighs, hips, and glutes. There are also many variations such as front, back or side lunges or even walking and jumping lunges.

Begin this exercise at bodyweight until you have gained the necessary balance and form before increasing the difficulty.

Stand with your feet together, then take a big step forward and lower yourself so that both knees bend at 90 degrees. Return to the starting position with both feet together, then do the same with the other leg. Aim for 10 reps per leg over 3 sets.

You can also do 3 sets of back lunges. It is even possible to alternate front and back lunges in the same series.

Side slits: Instead of stepping forward, step to the side and bend that leg to a 90 degree angle while straightening the other leg.

Walked slots: Lunge forward, but instead of returning to starting position, just step forward with your other foot. Walk around the room or garden walking this way. You can also do this in town if you're not afraid of ridicule 😅

Later, it is possible to increase the difficulty by holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell on your chest, or one on each side.

There are so many variations that I encourage you to watch some examples in this explanatory video:

Thigh Muscles: Conclusion

Due to their importance, the thighs should never be overlooked in workouts. A strong, muscular core won't do much good if your lower body is neglected.

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Related words: femoral condyles lesser trochanter middle adductor rectus gluteus maximus medial compartment cranial extremity upper thigh measurement of thigh circumference

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Last updated on 2022-03-03 / Affiliate links / Some images are sourced from the Amazon Product Advertising API

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