Whether you're looking to build powerful quads or toned thighs, these synonyms imply the same thing: You want strong and lean legs. But if you're spending hours on the treadmill or elliptical and doing nothing else, you're taking the wrong approach.
Strength-training exercises are the best way to sculpt a leaner physique. K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, and author of has your back. Whether you have weights handy or not, these five exercises are all you need to strengthen and tone your thighs.
1. Hip Thrust
- Start seated on the ground with the bottom of your shoulder blades aligned on the edge of an exercise bench or couch cushion.
- Bring your legs out in front of you, feet flat on the ground and knees up.
- Keeping your neck long, press into your heels and raise your hips off the ground into a tabletop position.
- As you bridge up, bring your neck and shoulders onto the couch.
- Pause here for a moment, then lower back down to the ground.
"You should feel this primarily in your glutes," Fetters says. "If your hamstrings are burning, scoot your heels just a bit closer to your hips. If your quads are on fire, scoot your heels just a bit farther away from your hips."
2. Single-Leg Squat
- Stand in front of your couch or a chair, arms extended straight in front of you in line with the shoulders.
- Keeping your core braced, raise your left leg off the ground and extend it straight in front of your body.
- Shoot your hips back toward the seat and slowly bend your right leg, lowering your body toward the couch.
- Lightly tap the couch or chair with your butt, then push into your right heel and return to standing.
- Perform all the reps here, then switch sides.
If this is too challenging, you can come onto your left toes, keeping as little weight on your left leg as possible.
3. Lateral Lunge
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides.
- With your left leg, take a giant step to the left (about three feet).
- Then, send your hips back and bend your left knee to about 90 degrees.
- Pause for a moment, then press into your left heel to return to standing.
- Do all the reps on your left side, then repeat on the right.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
- Stand three feet from the edge of your weight bench, couch or a chair, facing away from it.
- Shift your weight into your left leg and bring your right foot up onto the edge of the seat, curling your toes under.
- Bend your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Pause here for a moment.
- Push into your left heel to return to standing, keeping the right leg elevated on the couch the whole time.
- Perform all the reps on the left leg, then switch sides.
If you want to make this exercise more challenging, hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides while you squat. No weights handy? You can use household items as weights, too. Try holding two gallon water jugs.
5. Lying Hamstring Curl
- Lie flat on the ground with your feet on sliders, paper plates or a long towel, arms at your sides.
- Press into your heels and bring your hips up into a bridge position. Keep your hips here throughout the exercise.
- Slowly begin to slide your feet out and away from your body with the towel.
- Then, when your legs are fully extended, slowly bring your legs back to the starting position.
Reps: 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
The key to this exercise is control. Only slide your legs out as far as you can, returning to the start with control. If this is too challenging, modify by sliding one leg out while the other stays rooted, then switch sides.