Strong, toned thighs will give you enhanced stability and stamina, boost your confidence and of course make your jeans fit better. The thighs, which comprise the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors and abductors, are one of the body's largest muscle groups, and they respond enthusiastically and with noticeable results to a workout regimen of consistent, targeted exercises. The appeal of a program of daily exercises for your thighs is that you can accomplish plenty in a quick routine.
Thighs 101: The Cardio Component
For full-body fitness and to burn fat, include an aerobic, calorie-burning component to your daily exercise routine. (Your heart will thank you.) Excess fat on the thighs will obscure the muscles underneath, but cardio will work in tandem with strength exercises to give you gorgeous legs. Recommended cardio for legs includes brisk walking, jogging, stair-climbing, treadmill routines and cycling.
Fundamental Thigh Moves
One of the most effective thigh moves is the squat, and there are numerous variations on this time-honored exercise. The squat is perennially popular -- and effective -- because it targets the entire thigh, from front to back. One version involves placing a large exercise ball between your lower back and a wall. Keeping your feet at shoulder width, squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor; hold this position for several seconds, then stand back up straight. Plyometric squats begin with your feet at shoulder width; squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor and then jump straight up; land in the squat position with knees bent.
Leg Lifts: Thigh Sculpting
Pilates-inspired leg lifts are perfect for toning the thighs because they tap into the results-proven technique of controlled movement performed while contracting the muscles, which contributes to a lean, sculpted appearance while also improving leg strength. To perform a side-lying leg lift, lie down with your legs stacked on top of each other and your head and neck propped on your supporting arm. Drape your other arm across your torso. Contract your quads and slowly lift your top leg to approximately 45 degrees; then return to the starting position. Keep your leg straight, and don't allow the quads to release. Perform this exercise first with a pointed toe, then with a flexed foot. Don't swing your leg, as this will allow momentum to do the work instead of your thigh muscles. Go deeper into your thigh-building routine with straight-leg circles. Hold up your top leg and, with your foot pointed, perform small-diameter circles in one direction and then the other. Repeat with a flexed foot.
Ballet-Inspired Moves for Thighs
Ballet dancers are known for their trim, muscular legs, and even if you've never danced a step in your life, you can incorporate two simple but powerful ballet moves into your thigh workout. Perform the plié by standing with your feet a few inches wider than shoulder width, toes turned out at approximately 45 degrees. Raise your arms out to your sides and hold them straight with your palms down. Tuck your tailbone to prevent low-back strain, and slowly lower your body into a squat. Don't allow your knees to extend past your ankles. Move with deliberation and breathe deeply to focus your efforts. To give your thighs an extra blast, do small pulses while standing in the plié position. The plié tendu front exercise focuses the effort on the quads. Stand in plié and lift your left leg straight in front of you, raising it slightly off the floor with a pointed toe. Lower your leg and repeat, then switch sides.
Special Considerations: Knee Health
If you have any past or present knee injuries or a health condition that could potentially affect the stability and functionality of your knees, please consult your physician or physical therapist. Daily exercises that work the thigh muscles without straining the knees include seated leg extensions and swimming.
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- The Mayo Clinic: Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
- Ballet Beautiful; Mary Helen Bowers
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.