23 mins ago
If strong is the new sexy, the best place to show off your strength is your legs. We’ve rounded up the best leg exercise that strengthens and tone without adding bulk to your thighs.
You can create your own workout with these exercises! Just select one move from each category, and after a quick cardio warmup, do the recommended reps for each exercise. Do at least two sets — but even better do three — of the entire workout. Don’t forget to stretch your hamstrings and quads to cool down.
Quads: Goblet Squat
To really work your legs to their full potential, you need to go low in your squats. This variation strengthens the entire leg and works the quads through a very large range of motion. The goblet squat can be done with or without weights, but either way, you will be working your entire leg.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width with toes pointed slightly out. If using a dumbbell, hold it at chest level with both hands. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your elbows touch your knees.
- With your weight focused in your heels, push yourself up to the starting position.
- Do 15 reps.
Quads: Wall Sit
It may not look like you’re doing much — just leaning against a wall — but you’ll really feel the burn in your thighs. This is a great move to prevent runner’s knee, which affects more female runners than male. Plus, this exercise works the quad in a lengthened position to prevent the thigh from bulking up.
- Stand with your back against a wall, placing your feet about two feet in front of you. Feet should be hip-distance apart.
- Bending knees, slide your back down the wall until your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your knee joints should be over your ankle joints, so you may need to inch your feet farther from the wall to create proper alignment. Don’t let your knees fall into the midline of your body or sway outward.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Quads: Twisted Chair Pose
Yoga is great for toning the thighs and Chair Pose does just that. Your thighs will burn after this move, also known as Fierce pose. Like the wall sit, Chair Pose works your quads in a stretched position and squeezing your legs together also gets the inner thighs. Adding the twist turns this pose into a multitasking move by working the abs too.
- Stand with your legs together, and soften your knees. Reach your arms overhead, and touch your palms together as you fold your chest down toward your knees.
- Hold this position as you drop your tailbone down in a small pulsing motion 10 to 15 times.
- Keep your legs squeezed together for support.
- Then cross your left elbow over your right thigh, and hold here for five breaths. Rise up back to center, and twist to the left side for another five.
- Repeat twice more on each side to complete one rep.
This move strengthens the entire back of your body and works more muscles than the basic squat. Deadlifts also provide a nice stretch for the hamstring with every rep to keep the muscles on the back your legs flexible and lean.
- Stand holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells (or barbell) in each hand, arms at your sides, with your knees slightly bent.
- Keeping your arms straight and knees slightly bent, slowly bend at your hip joint, not your waist, and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight. Looking forward, not at the ground, will help you avoid rounding your back. Keep the weights close to, almost touching, your legs.
- Squeeze your glutes to slowly pull yourself up. Be sure not to use your back or around your spine!
- Do 12 reps.
We recommend taking a quick Child’s Pose to stretch things out after a set of deadlifts; it gives a great release to your back body!
Hamstrings: Leg Balance Warrior 3
This yogic variation on the deadlift challenges the core with every rep. Even with one leg off the floor, both hamstrings work on every rep.
- Stand on your left foot with your right leg lifted to 90 degrees and your right knee bent.
- Reach your torso forward as you lengthen your right leg behind you. Reach your arms overhead for balance as your torso and leg come parallel to the floor. Keep your left knee slightly bent.
- Hold this position for a moment, and reach through your right heel to engage the back of the right leg.
- Moving with control, bring your right leg forward and return to standing upright. This completes one rep.
- Do 10 reps on each leg.
Hamstrings: Single-Leg Bridge
This bridge variation shapes and strengthens the back of the thigh in a concentrated way. Working one leg at a time ensures that your weaker leg has to pull it’s own weight and can help with any strength imbalances you may have.
- Lie on your back, and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg off the ground.
- Pressing your heel into the floor, lift your pelvis up, keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor.
- Do 15 reps on each side.
Quads and Hamstrings: Step-Ups
This move is like a walking vertical lunge so it targets the entire leg with the focus on the quads, glutes, and upper fibers of your hamstrings. Concentrating on the heel pressing into the step will ensure that the back of the leg works as much as the front.
- Find a step or a bench that, when you place your foot squarely on it, your knee is at a 90-degree angle or larger.
- Place right foot on the step; press through the heel as you straighten your right leg to stand on the box while bringing your left leg forward like you’re marching.
- To return to the starting position, step down with your left then the right until ending with both feet on the ground.
- Complete 20 reps on each leg.
Inner Thighs: Sumo Squat
This squat variation focuses the work on the inner thighs as you straighten your legs. You might even feel a bit of stretch at the bottom of the squat.
- Stand with your feet wide, toes pointing out. Bend your knees, lowering your hips deeply, so your thighs are parallel with the floor. Make sure to keep your weight back in your heels.
- Then rise back up, straightening the legs completely and squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement to get the most from the exercise.
- Do 15 reps.
Inner Thighs: Gate Swings With Cross
This is a multitasking move strengthens and stretches the inner thighs. Crossing your legs at the top of the gate swing ensure that your inner thighs are getting extra work!
- Start with your feet in a wide, second-position stance with your toes pointed slightly outward. Bend your knees and lower into a squat, using your hands to help push your knees wide apart to deepen the inner-thigh stretch.
- Push off your knees to get leverage, and jump your right leg in front of your left, landing in a standing cross-legged stance.
- Immediately jump your legs back out to a wide squat with your hands at your knees.
- Push off your knees and jump your legs together, crossing your left leg in front of your right.
- Do 20 reps.
Inner Thighs: Slider Side Lunge
This exercise works the legs and glutes, but as you slide your leg back to center, your inner thigh does all the work. You can use a Valslide for this exercise, or a lid of a plastic container will work on carpet. Or wear socks and try it on a wood floor.
- Stand with your feet a few inches apart, with your right foot on the plastic lid. Make a fist with one hand and cup your other hand over it. Keep your hands in front of your chest throughout the exercise to help you stay balanced.
- Put weight into your left leg, and as you slowly bend your left knee and squat down, slide your right foot out to the side. Then as you slowly straighten your leg, slide the right foot back in. Most of your weight remains in the leg that’s not moving.
- Do 10 reps with each leg.
Outer Thigh: Basic Squat With Side Leg Lift
The outer thigh is a hard area to tone, but adding a leg lift to the basic squat will work the outer thigh and the glutes to tighten the saddle-bag area.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet parallel. Hold your hands out in front of you for balance. Bend your knees, lowering your hips deeply so your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping weight back in your heels.
- Then rise back up, straightening the legs completely and lifting the right leg out to the side, squeezing the outer glute.
- As you step the foot back into shoulder-width position, squat down again. Then stand up and do a side leg lift on the left side. Lower the leg back to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
- Do 20 reps alternating sides.
Outer Thigh: Curtsy Lunge
Adding the leg cross in this lunge variation focuses the work on the outer thighs and the glutes, giving a lift to the area.
- Start from standing and step your left leg behind you and to the right so your thighs cross, bending both knees as if you were curtsying. Take your time here and check your alignment and make sure the front knee is right over the front ankle.
- Return to standing, and switch sides.
- Do 20 reps, alternating sides.
Calves: Heel Raises
Don’t forget your calves! Not only are you strengthening your calves with this simple exercise, but you’re also challenging the muscles that support the ankle joint. If you wear high heels regularly, this is a great move to improve your stability.
- Position your feet hip-width apart.
- Slowly raise your heels until you’re on your tiptoes, then slowly lower back down to the ground. Take three slow counts to raise and lower your heels.
- Do 20 reps.