Long, lean and shapely legs are the desire of many women who are looking to tone up and slim down bulky thighs or skinny calves. Although leg workouts might bring up images of the gym and machines such as the leg press that use weights for resistance, it is possible do leg workouts from the comfort of your own home. Furthermore, toning the legs at home can require little to no equipment other than your own body weight, balls or resistance bands. Consult with a health/medical professional prior to starting any new exercise program that could possibly lead to injury or affect any existing medical conditions.
Pilates is an exercise routine that centers around postural awareness and creating muscle balance to tone and lengthen the body. It's main focus is on developing core stability and strength while also incorporating arm- and leg-toning exercises. Pilates floor leg exercises include leg circles to tone muscles near the hip; clamshells to tone the gluteal, outer thigh and hip muscles; and bridging, which strengthens the hamstrings or back of the legs. Try bridging at home by lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent such that feet are flat on the floor. Feet should be roughly hip-width apart and arms should lie flat down by the sides of your trunk. Tighten the abdominal and leg muscles as you slowly start to raise your hips and roll each vertebra of the lower back off the ground. Stop near the top once hips are extended and the body forms a diagonal line from knees to chest. Slowly lower down one vertebra at a time until your buttocks are once again resting on the ground. This exercise particularly strengthens the hamstrings muscles, or muscles at the back of the legs. Avoid injury to the lower back muscles by tightening the abdominal region to help support the back as you lift and lower.
Tone legs at home with equipment such as gliding discs, which are round plate-like discs that easily slide across the surface of a floor. Try doing a lateral lunge glide at home by standing on the floor with legs hip-width apart. Place the ball of your left foot on a disc or, alternatively, try using a towel if you're on a hardwood surface. With your arms stretched out in front of you and standing tall, slide your left leg out to the side as you sit back, or squat down, on your right side. In the ending position you should have your left leg fully extended to the side while your right leg is parallel to the ground. Slide the left leg back to the starting position as you press your foot into the disc. Repeat 10 times before switching sides for a total of three sets. Tighten the abdominal muscles throughout the exercise to stabilize the low back and decrease risk of an injury such as a lumbar strain.
Use a stability ball to perform at-home floor leg workouts. A stability ball helps create an unstable surface for the body part that's sitting or resting on it. This helps increase core strength as well as leg strength by forcing the muscles to work extra hard to stabilize. Try a hamstring curl with a stability ball at home. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and the backs of your lower legs, near the ankles, resting on the surface of a ball. Slowly raise your hips off the ground as you roll the ball in toward your buttocks while contracting the hamstrings, or muscles on the back of your upper thigh. Hold one to two seconds before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of three sets. Practice this exercise with fewer repetitions initially to get comfortable with the stability ball and avoid rolling off of it, which could lead to injury.
Stretching is an essential part of any workout program, including leg workouts. Flexibility increases range of motion of the joints, decreases muscle soreness and decreases the risk of injury. Most leg stretches can be comfortably done from the floor of your own home. Try stretching the hamstrings by half-sitting on the floor with your back straight and legs stretched out in front of you. Keeping a straight back, gently lean forward to reach toward your toes until you feel a stretch in the backs of the legs. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds before resting. Repeat three times in total. Other leg stretches should include the quadriceps, or front of the legs, as well as the outer thigh and calf muscles.
Jennifer Andrews specializes in writing about health, wellness and nutrition. Andrews has a Master of Science in physical therapy from the University of Alberta as well as a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. She teaches yoga and pilates and is a recent graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.