Women believe lifting heavy weights will make them big and bulky; however, that cannot be further from the truth. In fact, most women rarely work their muscles to their full capability. This is because legs are predominantly composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which require heavier weights to be exercised. Thus, in order to work all the muscle cells in the legs, lifting heavy weights is a must. For toning legs, lower-body exercises can be classified as either "hip dominant" or "quad dominant." Hip dominant exercises work the glutes and hamstrings of the thighs, while quad dominant work the muscles on the front of the thighs. Simply put, if you're lacking a nice rear end, perform hip-dominant exercises. If you already have the bottom you want, focus on the quad-dominant exercises.
Hip-Dominant Exercise 1: Barbell Deadlift
The deadlift is the ultimate gluteus maximus and hamstring exercise. Thus, it should be performed regularly if a firm backside is your goal. To perform this exercise place a barbell on the floor and assume a shoulder-width stance. Once in this position, grab the bar with a overhand grip and lower yourself to the "hinge" position. The hinge position is synonymous to sticking your butt out and having an arch in your lower back. Last but not least, stand up with the weight and finish by squeezing your butt and hamstrings. Perform five repetitions and three sets.
Hip-Dominant Exercise 2: Stability Ball Leg Curls
The stability ball leg curl in an excellent exercise to target the hamstrings muscles. To perform this exercise, lie on your back and place your heels on a stability ball. Lift your hips up and bring the heels of your feet toward your glutes. Your hamstrings should really be feeling a burn during this movement. Once in this position, roll the ball back to the start position with your heels but also keep your hips up. Perform six to eight repetitions and perform three sets.
Hip-Dominant Exercise 3: Chest-Elevated Glute Bridges
This exercise is excellent for targeting the gluteus maximus muscle. To perform this exercise, lie face up and place your upper back on a bench or chair that is a few feet high. Next, assume a shoulder-width position with your feet. Make sure your legs are not too far out in front of you or too close. Finally, lower your butt to the floor and come back to the start position by squeezing your butt muscles. Perform six to eight repetitions and three sets.
Hip-Dominant Exercise 4: Barbell Romanian Deadlift
As mentioned earlier, the deadlift is a great exercise to target all the muscles on the back side of the thigh. However, this exercise has a second cousin that will make your hamstrings sore for days -- the Romanian deadlift. Approach this exercise like the deadlift except your knees will only have a slight bend in them. From here, the exercise is the same by pushing your rear end out until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Finally, stand up once the stretch is felt. Perform three sets of five repetitions.
Hip-Dominant Exercise 5: Barbell Sumo Deadlift
The final variation of the deadlift is the sumo deadlift. By having a wider stance, the gluteus maximus will predominantly be worked. Approach a barbell with a stance wider than shoulder width. Place your arms with a overhand grip and more narrow than usual. Lower yourself into the "hinge" position and stand up with the barbell in your hands. Literally think about using your gluteal muscles as you stand up. Do not hyperextend your lower back. Perform five repetitions and three sets.
Quad-Dominant Exercise 1: Walking Lunges
Walking lunges are a great overall lower-body exercise. However, they target the muscles on the front part of the thigh. To perform this exercise, you can use body weight if your strength is lacking or hold dumbbells for more resistance. From the standing position, take a moderate step forward and lower yourself until your trail leg is 1 inch from the floor. Once in this position, push off your front leg and immediately go into another lunge on the opposite side. Perform three sets of six to eight repetitions on each side.
Quad-Dominant Exercise 2: Goblet Squat
The name sounds funny, right? However, this exercise is great for developing your quadriceps muscles. First, grab a dumbbell and place the bell in both hands at chest level. Secondly, squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor by initiating the movement through your hips. Never let your knees cave in. Instead, push them out away from your body to prevent the collapse. Finally, stand up and repeat for three sets of five repetitions.
Quad-Dominant Exercise 3: Curtsy Lunge
Similar to the walking lunges, the curtsy lunge can be performed with dumbbells or body weight depending on your strength levels. From the standing position, step backwards and to the left with your right leg. Lower yourself to the floor until your right knee is 1 inch from the ground. Finally, stand up by pushing off of your left leg. Repeat on the other side and perform six to eight repetitions each and three sets.
Quad-Dominant Exercise 4: Bulgarian Split Squats
Find a bench or chair that is roughly 2 feet high. Face away from the bench and place one foot on the bench with your shoe laces pointing towards the floor. This position may feel unstable but that is expected. Finally, place your front leg roughly 2 feet from the bench or chair and lower yourself until your trail leg is 1 inch from the ground. Stand up and repeat six to eight repetitions and for three sets on each leg.
Quad-Dominant Exercise 5: Single-Leg Squats
The single-leg squat is a more advanced exercise but is great for quadriceps development. This exercise requires adequate mobility and strength. Thus, stay within your physical capabilities and don't go as low if your flexibility is not up to par or your strength levels need more improvement. While standing on one leg, place your other leg in front of your body. Lower yourself to the floor on the one leg and stand up once you have reached your range-of-motion limit. You will know when you have reached your threshold when you either lose your balance or you cannot go any lower. Perform six to eight repetitions and three sets.
Scott Gray is the owner of Scott Gray's Personal Training, where he has helped many clients reach their fitness and health goals.He is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and as a Russian Kettlebell Instructor.