Plenty of people consider their thighs "problem areas" — parts of their bodies they'd like to slim down. But exercising the inner and outer thigh muscles isn't about spot reduction — that's a myth.
Working the thigh muscles is more about increasing strength, as these muscles provide stability during everyday activities, as well as supporting any explosive movements, such as running or jumping, says Liza McAlister, CPT, personal trainer and owner of Levelled with Liza.
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"Hip flexion, internal and external hip rotation, hip extension, stabilization of the pelvis and also knee flexion, are part of the function of these muscle groups."
The muscles responsible for these movements are the hip abductors and adductors — aka the muscles of your inner and outer thighs. "An easy way to remember is that ADDuction is bringing together, or toward the midline, and ABduction is movement away from the midline of the body."
Try this 20-minute workout, designed by McAlister, to increase strength and flexibility of the inner and outer thigh muscles.
- Start with hip flexion by bending the knee and flexing the foot.
- Lift and rotate to the side, keeping hips facing forward.
- Return to center and release foot to the ground.
- Repeat on the other side. Keep alternating for 60 seconds.
- Keep feet flat and torso upright. Push your butt back and keep your weight driving from your heels as you rise and step together.
- Repeat on the other side, then continue alternating for 60 seconds.
Abductor (Outer Thigh) Exercises
1. Squat With Mini Band
- Stand with feet in a comfortable stance, slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Press into the bands without allowing your knees to fall inward (this will keep the abductors active).
- Sit back into a squat.
- Slowly return to standing, keeping weight in the heels and feeling the glutes engage.
- Do 45 seconds of work with a 15-second rest.
- Repeat for 3 sets.
Squats are a great, full body compound movement which also targets abductors, hip flexor and erectors, McAlister says.
2. Curtsy Lunge to Double Leg Lift
- Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart and hips facing forward.
- Step your right foot behind your left as you bend your knees as if you were curtsying. Go as low as is comfortable for you.
- Return to standing and lift the leg laterally (abduct) two times.
- Come back to standing and repeat on the same leg.
- Do 45 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest.
- Repeat 2 sets, alternating the working leg in each set.
Holding a weight is optional, but don't rest it on your body, McAlister says. Keep the arms engaged for added benefit.
3. Fire Hydrant to Straight Leg
- Come down onto all fours, elbows under shoulders, forearms extended along the floor and knees under hips. You may also prop yourself up on your hands, keeping your arms straight.
- Keep your spine long and neck relaxed by gazing at the floor just in front of you.
- Keeping the left knee bent, lift the left leg up to the side without dropping the foot or knee. Your foot should stay flexed to keep all the muscles engaged.
- Lower back down to the start.
- Do 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, then swap sides.
- After that is complete, add side leg extension by straightening your left leg. Hold, extend the leg, bend and release.
- Add the extension for 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest.
- Repeat 2 of each circuit on each side (normal hydrants and the extension each get repeated twice).
4. Side Plank With Leg Lift
- Supporting yourself on your forearm in a side-lying position, lift your hips off the floor. The bottom leg may be bent in a more supportive position or kept straight.
- Lift and hold your hips elevated.
- Press through the shoulder and forearm without sinking.
- Lift and lower the top thigh for 30 seconds with a 15-second rest on the floor.
- Do 2 sets per side.
Not feeling it as much as you want to? Add a band around your thighs or add some pulses at the top of the move for extra burn, McAlister says.
Adductor (Inner Thigh) Exercises
5. Lateral Lunge
- Stand with both feet on the ground and facing forward, torso as upright as possible.
- Step out sideways into a side lunge. Feel the adductors of the extended leg as you stretch into the lunge.
- Actively engage the adductors to draw the bent leg back to standing.
- Do 45 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest.
- Do 2 sets per side, alternating sides each time.
6. Wall Sit With Adduction
- Keep your back flat against a wall and sit so your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Use a soft ball, yoga block or cushion and place it between your thighs or knees.
- Squeeze the ball by engaging your inner thighs.
- Small squeeze and release for 30 seconds.
- Squeeze and hold for 30 seconds.
- Rest for 15 seconds, then repeat.
7. Side-Lying Inner Thigh Lift
- Lie on your side and support yourself with your bottom forearm or lie flat if it's more comfortable.
- Bend the top leg and place the foot on the floor behind the bottom leg.
- Flex the lower foot and externally rotate the thigh so the inner thigh faces the ceiling.
- Keep the hips facing forward (don't roll backward or you'll engage more of the muscles at the front of the thigh).
- Keeping the foot flexed, lift and lower the leg.
- Work for 45 seconds, then rest for 15.
- Do 2 sets per lef.
4. Supine Leg Lift
- Lie on your back and prop yourself up on your elbows. Don't sink into your shoulders.
- Bend one leg with your foot on the floor and extend the other.
- Flex the foot of the extended leg and externally rotate the thigh so the foot faces the side and inner thigh faces the ceiling.
- Lift and lower the leg (without touching the floor), then hold halfway and pulse the inner thigh toward the ceiling.
- Lift for 30 seconds and pulse for 30 seconds.
- Swap legs.
- Repeat 2 sets per leg.
With any of the exercises, ankle weights may be added for extra resistance, McAlister says.