Are you struggling with stubborn thigh fat? Are you looking to tone up your legs? Take heart, you are not alone. We know it can be tough but trust us leg day workouts are so worth it.
Strong lower body strength is essential for your everyday functional movements. Whether it’s climbing up stairs, tidying your clothes from the floor, or reaching up to the top shelf to find your favourite snack, you require strength and stabilisation from your legs.
Although it is beneficial, there is absolutely no need to barbell squat twice your weight to up your leg game. You can simply do the simple, fun and effective exercises listed below at home or in the gym, and you’ll already see massive improvements to not only your gym performance, but everyday life. Never dread leg day again.
What are your leg muscles?
Knowing what and where your leg muscles are can provide you with the information you need to choose the right exercises to carry out. Having knowledge of your leg’s structure helps you see results from workouts.
Your legs are made up of four main muscle groups:
- Quadriceps; front upper leg muscles
- Hamstrings; back upper leg muscles
- Adductors; upper leg muscles towards towards middle of body
- Calves; lower back muscles
In most cases, leg exercises for women focus on the hamstrings, calves and quad muscles.
Leg Strengthening Exercises for Women
Say hello to slender legs, toned calves and perky glutes.
The exercises themselves can be implemented in so many different ways, depending on your skillset and equipment available, so you’ll never get bored. Either grab a plate, dumbbell, barbell, resistance band or simply use your own body weight as resistance.
1. Bodyweight squat
Everyone’s favourite, the squat! Squatting is not only loved for creating strength in your legs, but also improving your posture, engaging your core and being great for the hips and joints. Doing repetitive, controlled movements like squats can take you a long way toward your goals of well-defined legs.
To start, you should stand feet hip width apart, toes slightly turned, spine neutral. Move your shoulders up and down, keep your chest open, send your hips back, and bend your knees down as far as possible. For a tip, imagine you were sitting on a very small invisible chair. Hold for a couple of seconds, then press through your heels to stand back up again.
2. Sumo squat
This exercise is a slightly different challenge compared to the regular squat. It requires a wider stance and your feet turned at a slightly different angle. There has been a change to your support base so therefore different muscles are targeted. This wider stance puts greater emphasis on the glutes, inner thighs and abductors, and less on the lower back, which a regular squat would require.
To start, stand as if you were about to perform a regular squat, then take one large step with one foot to the side, so your feet are around 3-4 feet apart. Angle your toes at a 45 degree angle, then slowly squat down.
3. Crab squat walk
Add a little burn. Not only will this exercise tone your legs and glutes, it will also increase strength in your upper arms, shoulders and core. As well as helping you burn fat from the extra movement. What more could you want from an exercise?
Begin in standing position, feet hip-width apart, and drop into a regular squat and hold. The difference here is, instead of lifting back up, you instead step your feet out wide whilst still down low. Shift weight on that foot and recover your squat position, then continue this motion for 3-10 steps one direction, then repeat in the opposite direction. The key is to stay as low as you can in the squat position throughout, then simply feel your legs burn.
4. Jump squat
This leg exercise for women is great if you're wanting to spice up your leg day with a little cardio, and get your heart racing. A jump squat activates your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings in your legs, as well as your core and lower back muscles. Through explosive movements, your muscles will be used at their full potential for a shorter period of time.
Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out. Squat down as you would with a regular squat, but once you reach the bottom of your squat, tense your glutes tight and drive up as hard as you can through your legs and heels. As you launch up, your hips should be forward. Once you softly land, use the momentum to go right back into your next squat. Repeat!
Are you wondering how to perfect your jump squat? We got you covered.
When it comes to mixing up your home workouts, you can’t look past the lunge. Lunges are amazing for improving your overall fitness, and toning almost every muscle in the lower body; the hips, the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings, the calves, you name it! After adding lunges to your regular workout routine, you’ll also see an improvement in your mobility, stability and can assist in weight loss.
Start with your feet hip-width apart, engage your core and take a large step backwards. Bend your front knee to lower your body until your back knee kisses the floor. Keep your body upright and activate your glutes. Hold. To return to starting position, drive through your front heel and lift, then return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
To master the lunge read our “How to do Lunges Properly” blog.
6. Walking lunges
This exercise is just like a regular lunge, but with movement. It helps increase your range of motion, improve your flexibility and loosen up your hips and hamstrings, as well tone up your legs. You can make this exercise even more challenging by adding weight or a torso twist (simply turn your torso to one side when you are in the lunge position).
Sink down into your classic lunge, then once your knee is near touching the floor, pause, and without moving your front leg, move your back foot forward. Then repeat on each leg for about 5-10 steps each rep, as if you are walking.
7. Split squat jump
This exercise is as if squats and lunges had a heart pumping, leg burning baby. The powerful exercise builds muscle, coordination and improves your cardiovascular performance, but it can take some time to master.
The only difference between a split squat and lunge is your starting position. Instead of stepping your leg forward or backwards, you should start your split squat with one foot forward, with your feet facing forward. Then, simply engage your core, keep your head up and lower down so your knee is an inch from the floor. To split squat jump, lift up with power and drive your back leg in front of the other, quickly repeating on either side.
8. Wall sits
This exercise is a real quad burner. It successfully builds your leg strength and endurance in the quads, glutes and calves. It’s a simple, static exercise that will be easy to perform if you are a beginner to leg exercises.
First, start with your back against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Key is to leave enough space between you and the wall so you can successfully sit down. Engage your adductors and slowly slide your back down the wall until your knees are at a 90 degree angle/your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your back flat against the wall and hold the position for 20-60 seconds.
9. Calf raises
This movement targets the muscles on the back of your lower legs, your calves, and is commonly used by runners to improve their performance. It is loved for its ability to be carried anywhere and with ease. Every step we take puts strain on our calves, and is magnified when running. The most common injuries in runners is because of their calf strength, so doing exercises like these can reduce the risk of injury.
Simply stand up tall, put all the weight on your tiptoes and tense your calves, then lower back down. So quick and easy, but has so many benefits!
10. Hip bridges
This exercise is loved for shaping, forming and growing your glutes, strengthening your hamstrings and enhancing your core stability. It can be used as a warm up exercise or an easy set in your leg workout routine.
Lay down on a mat, rest your hands at your sides, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, beneath your knees. Tighten your abs and glutes, raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Then squeeze even more and pull your belly back towards your spine. Hold for 20-30 seconds then lower down to starting position.
Leg Workout Tips For Beginners
By now you probably know that toning up your legs is no easy task. It takes endurance, motivation and consistency - as they say “never skip leg day”. To help quicken up your road to toned, strong legs we have listed some tips below that will gain better results when working out your legs:
- Vary the leg workouts you do. Once an exercise becomes second nature to you, it is easy to not be as regimented or careful with your form, causing a higher risk of injury.
- Once you have got to grips with the bodyweight exercises, why not try grabbing a barbell and slowly building up your weight. Once you perfect your form, there is no need to hold on to your gym anxiety. View our weight focussed exercises for some tips.
- Be persistent and don’t give up, it is certainly not impossible to get your dream legs and glutes. Simply doing 10-20 minutes a day in addition to adding protein to your diet, will allow you to see amazing results. View our 20 minute leg workout for some inspiration.
- Attend a class. We have a number of strength building classes, where the instructor will talk you through the dos and don'ts of the exercises while you do them, in turn building your confidence. Les Mills Bodystep is a great bodyweight exercise class that helps tone your bum and thighs. Or, if you’re wanting to try out some extra resistance and add weight, our Body Pump class is amazing for anyone looking to get lean, toned and fit - fast. Or try one of our cycling classes to keep your workouts varied and interesting. The Les Mills RPM is a fun, low impact workout. Blitz calories to the rhythm of your favourite workout tunes!