Toning up your legs doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t need any extra equipment and many moves can be done anywhere -- at home, in a hotel, even during your lunch break at the office. Together, squats, lunges and wall sits target all of the major muscles in your legs. There are several different ways to perform each of these moves to switch things up.
Leg Muscle Basics
To get a killer pair of legs, you need to train them evenly. Starting from your buttocks, you have your glute muscles, which shape your butt and move your hip joint. On the back of your thighs are your hamstrings; on the front are your quadriceps. These muscles help with bending and straightening your hip and knee. Running along your inner and outer thighs are your abductor and adductor muscles. They engage when you move your legs out to the sides and back. Down into your calves, you have your soleus and gastrocnemius. They assist with moving your knee and flexing your ankle. With the squat, lunge and wall sit, you can strengthen and tone all of these muscle groups.
The squat is a common strength-training move that primarily works your quadriceps but brings in your glutes, adductor, hamstrings and calf muscles to assist and stabilize your body during the move. Different ways you can do the squat with just your body weight include the traditional squat and the single-leg squat. To make this move more challenging, place a barbell across the back of your shoulders. To use your abs more, do your squats on a balance board.
Similar to the squat, the lunge primarily works your quadriceps, but it also uses a few more muscles to assist and stabilize your body. Other muscles used are your glutes, adductors, hamstrings, calves and obliques. The basic body-weight-only lunge can strengthen all of these muscles, but you can make it even more challenging by adding in a dumbbell or barbell. Other ways to switch up your lunge is to step backward instead of forward, step out to the side, continuously walk or lunge onto a balance board or a step.
You can think of a wall sit as a supported squat. Instead of moving up and down, you hold this move for an extended period. The primary muscle targeted is still your quadriceps. To do this move, place your back against a wall and lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. You don’t want to let your knees move in front of your toes. Hold this position until you reach muscle failure in your quads. For a variation, hold a weight to your chest, rest it on your thighs or hold it across your shoulders. If you want to make the wall sit easier, instead of lowering down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, lower until you have a 45-degree knee angle.
As with any exercise, if done incorrectly, squats, lunges and wall sits can lead to injury. These moves can hurt your knees or lower back. Always descend in a controlled manner and avoid bouncing or twisting. Avoid excessive forward movement of the knee past your toes during these moves. Never train when your muscles are overly fatigued; this can increase your risk of twisting your knee.
- ExRx.net: Squat
- ExRx.net: Quadriceps
- ExRx.net: Lunge
- Stack.com: Wall Sit
- Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma: Getting Ready for That Ski Trip
- The American Council on Exercise: Knee Movement & Proper Form during Lunge Exercises
- American College of Sports Medicine: Safety of the Squat Exercise
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.