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The 10 Best Thigh Exercises to Tone Your Legs Fast

This super-charged thigh circuit created by Danielle Natoni, founder of Fit and Funky, will have you checking yourself out in the mirror in just a few weeks.

Woman Jumping.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

How to get long and lean leg muscles

So what does it actually mean to have long and lean thigh muscles? You certainly can’t grow longer legs, after all. Danielle Natoni, Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) Personal Trainer and CEO and Founder of Fit and Funky, explains it for us: “The more you exercise, the more you will improve your flexibility, your power, and your posture, making you feel like your muscles have lengthened and strengthened. As for the muscle being lean, this is simply referring to the amount of body fat and the visible definition seen showcasing the muscles.” This super-charged thigh workout hits the inner and outer thighs, quads, hamstrings, calves, and (bonus!) the glutes for a total leg workout. Natoni recommends doing this circuit two to three times a week in conjunction with a more cardio-based workout. “If done consistently, along with a healthy diet, you should begin to see results rather quickly. Results may vary, but it’s fair to say that within two weeks you can begin to see visible changes.”

Woman with dumbbells.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Before you begin

You’ll need a medium set of dumbbells to complete this circuit. If you’re already using dumbbells in other workouts, like these for your upper body, shoot for eight to 15 pounds. If you’re just getting acquainted with free weights, try five pounds and work your way up to a heavier weight. If five pounds is still too heavy, don’t feel bad starting with no dumbbells. “Form is important, so be sure to choose a weight that is challenging yet doable,” says Natoni. Keep an eye on your form and range of movement throughout the moves. Start with five to 10 reps of each at first then graduate to doing each move for 45 seconds. Take short breaks when necessary. Repeat the entire circuit twice. 

Woman doing weighted squat leg lift.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Weighted squat leg lift

Holding a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Keeping the weights at your side, lower down into a squat (make sure your knees don’t extend past your toes). Keep your shoulders back and don’t let the weights pull you forward. As you press back up, extend your right leg out to the side, pointing your toe towards the front of the room. After one set on the right side, switch legs. To modify, simply lessen your range of motion, or you can do this move without weights. If extending your leg is too difficult, perform the lunge without it.

Woman doing side plank leg raise.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Side plank leg raise

Get into a side plank position, making sure your hips are lifted and your left elbow and shoulder are stacked in alignment. Lift your right leg up and down at a slow cadence, feeling the flex in your inner and outer thigh, and the extra resistance on the way up and down. Repeat with your right side during the second set of the circuit. If you need to modify this movement, drop your left knee to the ground while maintaining the same body positioning. If you feel pain or any kind of instability in your shoulder, modify the exercise or don’t do it. Planks are a tough-but-effective total-body toner, and there are many variations to keep your workout fresh.

Woman doing weighted curtsy lunge tap out.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Weighted curtsy lunge tap out

Holding the dumbbells at your sides, take your left leg back and then behind you as you sink into a curtsy lunge, keeping your hips facing forward. From the bottom of the curtsy lunge position, rise up and tap the left leg out all the way to the side of your body, extending the leg through the pointed toes. To modify the move, reduce the range of motion or do it without the weights. In addition to toning your lower body, this move also targets your obliques (sides of abs). Add some belly-flattening exercises to these moves for a well-rounded workout—no crunches required!

Woman doing skater jumps.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Skater jumps

This is an extension of the curtsy lunge: Jump to the left and land with your left leg behind you in the curtsy lunge position; hinge at the hips and reach your left hand towards the ground while your right arm goes behind your back. Now hop to the right and repeat the move with the right leg back, right arm forward, left arm back. Continue to hop back and forth in a speed skating motion. Be sure to keep your chest lifted and your back flat. To modify this movement, remove the jump and simply step from side to side. Because this is an advanced version of the curtsy lunge, try it only after you’ve mastered the curtsy at a fast pace. Skater jumps also provide a cardio boost: Find out how high-intensity interval movements like these can transform your body.

Woman doing weighted sumo squats. Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Weighted sumo squats

Hold the dumbbells next to each other in front of you, palms facing in. Stand with feet in a wide stance, toes pointed outward. Lower down into a sumo squat, dropping your rear towards the ground (make sure your knees don’t extend past your toes). Rise up and repeat. To modify the move, don’t squat as low, or do it without weights.

Woman doing sumo squat jumps.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Sumo squat jumps

Stand as you were in the weighted sumo squat move, feet in a wide stance with toes pointed outward. Sink into a squat. On the way back up, press off the balls of your feet and jump into the air. Land back into a sumo squat and repeat. To modify the move or lessen the impact on your knees, rise up onto your toes instead of jumping.

Woman doing weighted single leg deadlift.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Weighted single leg deadlift

Hold the dumbbells at your side and stand on your right leg, bending your knee slightly. Now lift your left leg back behind you as you lean forward, keeping a flat back. Balance the weights as you lean forward, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Return to the starting position and tap the back toe to the ground; repeat. After one set with the left leg, switch legs.

Woman doing standing leg lifts.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Standing leg lifts

Stand upright, hands resting on your hips, and extend right leg out in front of you, toes pointed. While keeping your right leg straight, lower and lift it, keeping toes pointed and maintaining good posture. To modify the move, don’t lift the leg as high. After one set with the right leg, switch legs. If you feel a little shaky doing this move, try these exercises to improve your balance.

Woman doing weighted front lunge kick.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Weighted front lunge kick

Holding the dumbbells at your side, step your right foot forward into a lunge position; make sure that your ears, shoulders, and hips are stacked and that you are creating a 90-degree angle with your right knee. Step back up from the lunge and then kick your right leg out in front of you. To modify, reduce the range of motion, or do the move without weights. After one set, switch legs.

Woman doing relevé squats.Courtesy Danielle Natoni

Relevé squats

In a squat position with your hands pressed together in front of your chest, sink into the bottom of a wide squat. Lift your right heel, then return it to the ground. Now lift your left heel, and return it to the ground. Finally, lift both heels simultaneously, return to the start position, and then start over. For the entire exercise, stay low at the bottom of the squat (to modify, simply don’t go down as far). Next, check out the best moves to end knee pain.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Brian Duscha, MS, on August 20, 2019