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What Gym Workouts Are Best for Toning the Abs and Thighs?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Gym Workouts Are Best for Toning the Abs and Thighs?
Shape up your abs and thighs, and then show them off. Photo Credit FluxFactory/iStock/Getty Images

When you vow to improve your body's shape, your abs and thighs are often at the top of the list. While toning these areas won't directly cause you to lose fat, which covers up defined muscles, it will make you feel stronger and look more sculpted when you do drop those pesky extra pounds.

Target All Ab Muscles

Your abs are more than the front six-pack muscles that you show off in a bathing suit. Other, less-obvious muscles contribute to overall ab strength and muscular definition. Include the rectus abdominis, the superficial ab muscles you see in the mirror, in your training, of course, but also work the obliques at the sides of your waist and the internal transverse abdominis. Include at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions of all of these moves three to five times per week.

Moves to Work Your Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis activates when you flex and extend your spine, such as during crunches. The standard crunch is a move to include in your ab-toning workout, but you can increase effectiveness by performing them with your lower back positioned on a stability ball.

A hanging hip-leg raise also proved to be one of the most effective exercises to target the rectus abdominis, showed a study published in a 2006 issue of Physical Therapy. Do the move by inserting your upper arms into specialized straps hanging on a pullup bar, and grasp the straps with your hands. Allow your legs to hang free; then, hold your legs together as you pull your knees and hips up into your chest. Release to the original position to complete one repetition.

Engage the Transverse Abdominis

The transverse abdominis acts like a corset, making your whole middle tighter and helping you stand taller to show off your toned abs. Front planks, where you support your body on your toes and palms or forearms, with your torso rigid, are a classic way to target this deep internal muscle. Hold this move for 20 to 60 seconds, rather than perform multiple repetitions.

A stability ball glute bridge activates your transverse abdominis and, as a bonus, your thighs, too. Lie on your back on the floor and place the back of your heels on a stability ball. Lift your hips to create a long line from your feet to your shoulders. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Once you've mastered the stationary position, get your glutes and thighs more involved by bending your knees to draw the ball in and out toward your torso.

Tone the Obliques

The obliques, located at the sides of your abdomen, are responsible for rotation of your trunk and side bending. A stability ball and medicine ball are particularly effective at helping you train these muscles. The Russian twist challenges stability, too, because it's performed on a stability ball. Lie on the ball with your back on the ball, knees bent and hands pressed together as they reach up to the ceiling. Slowly rotate your shoulders and torso side-to-side, while keeping your feet grounded and hips elevated.

Use a medicine ball to do seated trunk rotations. Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent and the medicine ball grasped in both hands at the center of your chest. Keep the spine long and extended as your rotate the torso side-to-side. The ball should stay in the center of your chest at all times; avoid letting it drop to the floor.

Tone Troublesome Thighs

To reveal sculpted, lean thighs, cardio is paramount. It'll help you burn calories to lose fat and display the muscles you've worked hard for — especially if you make it a daily habit. Thigh-toning cardio workouts include 30 to 45 minutes of hill climbing or running, cycling and step mill sessions. Add intense intervals of sprints to a few sessions per week to kick up your fat-burning mechanisms and develop lean muscle.

Two to three times per week, hit the weight room floor to target your thighs. Start with at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions of these moves and over time, add additional sets and weight. Give your thighs at least 48 hours to rest and recover between workouts.

Squats

Squats and all their variations primarily work the top front of the thighs, called the quadriceps. Master the bodyweight squat first by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, bend your knees and hips to sit back toward the floor -- keep your knees behind your toes and chest erect. Rise back to a stand to complete one repetition. Over several weeks, add dumbbells to each hand that you hold alongside your hips as you squat to increase resistance and build more muscle definition.

Open your legs into a wide plie stance and then bend your knees and hips to squat down and up to emphasize your inner thighs. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands at your chest or hanging toward the floor for extra challenge.

Place a stability ball between your lower back and a wall, then press your back into the ball as you bend your knees — the ball rolls down the wall with you. This variation increases your challenge slightly because it allows you to bend deeper into the squat while still keeping proper form.

Single leg squats challenge your balance and require your ab muscles to activate to keep you upright. Stand with your arms extended and right leg extended forward. Bend the left hip and knee to lower your buttocks toward the floor. Return to a stand to complete one rep.

Keep your torso upright as you lunge.
Keep your torso upright as you lunge. Photo Credit blanaru/iStock/Getty Images

Lunges

Perform lunges to target your thighs from all angles. Stand with your feet hip distance, take a broad step forward and bend your front knee until the thigh is almost parallel to the floor for a forward lunge. Do the same move, but step backward with one leg for rear lunges. Side lunges involve stepping one leg to far to the side and bending into that knee while keeping the other leg straight. Start these moves without weights to perfect your form, then add dumbbells to increase resistance and encourage more muscle development.

Plyometrics

Kick up your workout by adding in one or two rounds of plyometric leg exercises at each workout. Plyometrics involve explosive, jumping movements that are higher intensity than traditional weight-training moves.

Jump squats raise your heart rate.
Jump squats raise your heart rate. Photo Credit blanaru/iStock/Getty Images

They are traditionally used to help athletes improve performance, but they also rasie your metabolism and build lean muscle in your legs. Jump squats, jumping split lunges and box jumps are examples of this type of move. Do a set, or up to three sets, of eight to 10 reps at the end of your workout to add shape to your thighs and boost to your caloric burn.

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