The Best Leg Workout For Women

Want to get your legs in shape? Here are some of the best exercises to tone all areas of the leg, whether at home or in the gym.

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Everyone wants nice toned and slim legs but sometimes a dreaded “leg day” coming up can make any women stick to the treadmill instead of doing some free weights. This simple workout will help you achieve all that and more.

To reach the ideal leg shape and tone you want, just jogging on the treadmill won't produce the results you want. Instead you need to combine cardio and weight training, whether with free weights or machines to reach the best muscle definition and tone you want. Despite popular perceptions, having toned and muscular legs won't make you look manly or gross, but instead, will provide you with legs to die for! So why not try out this range of leg exercises when you're next working out to get those luscious legs you've dreamed of. 

Area 1: Quads

Squats

Squat

No leg workout would be complete without a good squat routine! And despite doing wonders for the backs of your legs, squats engage mostly the quads and glutes. Plus squats can be done in many different ways, with many different pieces of equipment, in many different places. 

Starting Position - Place feet either hip-distance or slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Engage your core and keep your chest out and up. Spine is neutral with a slight arch in the lower back to push the glutes backward. 

Movement Down - Keeping the chest raised, and back straight with shoulders and chin up, bend your legs, leading with the bottom as you push it backwards. Keep the weight over the heels; you should be able to wiggle your toes without falling over- and ensure your knees don't go over your toes. To make sure your knees are in line with toes try watching yourself side on in a mirror to ensure your chest and knees are lifted. In the downward motion try and engage your glutes first and foremost, the same motion as if you are sitting down onto a chair.

Return Up - Push up from the heel keeping those toes light, and the back slightly arched to engage the glutes and avoid knee strain. The chest and head is lifted to ensure the back is supported and not strained. Slowly return to the original position but don't lock out the knees, instead keep the knees slightly bent with the core engaged. 

The brilliant thing about squats is they are so applicable to any lifestyle, whether you prefer gym, at home or outdoors exercising, squats can be done anytime anywhere. And once you've built up your leg strength, add on the dumbbells and bar weights for a more challenging workout and to build up your leg muscle. Bored of doing the same old squat over and over again? No problem! Single leg squats, pistol squats, duck squats, sumo squats, squat box-jumps, squat jacks, the list goes on and on of all the variations you can make to a simple squat routine. 

Lunge 

Lunges

Another brilliant quad workout, working not just one muscle but the entire thigh, inner, outer, hip, glutes and even your core, lunges are an ideal addition to any workout, engaging the muscles, burning calories and being less physically demanding on joints as squats and deadlifts can be. 

Starting Position - Feet hip distance apart, core engaged and back neutral and straight, try keeping shoulders down and chest high, looking forward with your knees slightly bent. 

Movement Down - Take a big step forward with your right leg, making sure you have a large stride, bending both knees so that the right knee aligns over the right toes, but make sure the knee goes no further over than the toes, as the left knee travels towards the floor. Keep the torso upright, with arms and shoulders relaxed and chest lifted. You should travel down from the centre of the hips to engage both legs, aiming to have both legs at 90 degree angles.

Return Up - Pause, then, pushing up through the front heel, straighten the legs and return to the start position. Feeling the burn most strongly in your front thigh. Next, take a big step forward with the left leg and repeat the action. Try to keep squeeze the glutes in when dropping down and returning up to keep your body upright and engage the muscles. From walking lunges, diagonal lunges and weighted lunges, there are many variations and additions you can make to your lunge workout, which will blast the legs making you feel extra sore and stiff the next day!

Resistance band adductor pull

This exercise is great for the inner thigh and hip muscles, perfect for shaping typically pesky areas of thigh weight. The only equipment needed is a resistance band and something sturdy to hook it onto, whether a door, equipment leg or bar. 

Starting Position - Once on something secure, stand side onto it and hook the other side onto the leg furthest away, for the purpose of this exercise we shall say your right leg. Move away from the attachment point so that the band is neutral and off the ground when your legs are hip distance apart.

Movement Out - Keeping the leg straight, move your right leg out to the side so that the band is pulled tight and taunt by your leg. Keep the toes forward, the knee slightly bent, the core and supporting leg engaged, do not dip or twist the left leg. Try and get the leg as far out to the side as possible to fully engage the muscles. 

Return In - Move the leg back into its neutral hip-distance apart position and repeat the movement for around 10 reps, then swap and work the left leg. If you don't have access to a resistance band this exercise can be easily done in the gym or at home by lying on your side and lifting the inside leg up toward the ceiling, this will still work the same muscles but just without the same intensity. 

Area 2: Hamstrings and Glutes

Supine bridge

Although you may feel a little silly doing this exercise, it is perfect to get those hamstrings and glutes working, easily done both in the gym and at home. 

Starting Position - Lie on the floor or exercise mat, back flat with your tummy tucked in with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Keep your toes off the floor, planting only your heels as a base. 

Movement Up - Using your glutes, raise your hips to the ceiling, making a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze the glutes as you do this motion and hold for a moment at the top. 

Movement Down - Lower your hips back to the original position relaxing the glues once on the floor. Repeat this movement for a full set, around 8-12 reps, keeping the motion slow and controlled. This exercise is ideal to keep the backs of your legs toned and tight. With many variations such as adding a weight to your abdomen for a tougher workout, or placing your feet on an exercise ball instead of the floor to engage your core, balance and get those muscles working harder. 

Romanian Deadlift

Romanian deadlift

Although deadlifts are commonly associated with the lower back, the romanian deadlift also engages the hamstrings and is an ideal exercise for the backs of the legs. All that's needed is a bar and weights, or even done without weights if you are a beginner. 

Starting Position - Hold the weights or bar by your thighs, keeping your shoulders down and chest lifted, with knees slightly bent and core engaged. Feet should be hip distance apart and the glutes squeezed in.

Movement Down - Keeping the spine straight and the back muscles engaged, lower the bar to your knees, or however far you can reach, pushing the bum out as you do and not bending the knees any further. You should feel a tightness in your hamstrings as your straight back and accentuated glutes will stretch out the hamstrings. Keep the chest and head lifted, shoulders back and watching yourself in the mirror to extend out your back and push the glutes out further. If you can touch your toes you are not doing it right, as the backs of your legs should feel tighter the lower you go. 

Movement Up - Slowly return back up to the original position, keeping your back straight and knees still, don't let your knees give in or back curve over as you come up. As you reach the top squeeze in the glutes to make them work harder and hit all the back leg muscles. 

Any form of deadlift will work your legs but the romanian deadlift particularly targets the hamstrings. Technique however is very important as if you curve your back over or don't push your glutes out enough it can cause strain to your legs and back. 

Glute kickbacks

Glute kickbacks

Ideal for any leg workout, this easy to do, easily varied exercise will hit those glutes hard, giving you that peachy, rounded derriere you've been hoping for. All that is needed is an exercise mat or comfortable floor surface, and a dumbbell if you fancy pushing your muscles.

Starting Position - Kneel on all fours, keeping the core and back engaged to make a tabletop position. The hands should be directly under the shoulders and knees corresponding with the hips, keep your head up, looking in a mirror or downwards, with your legs at 90 degree angles. 

Movement Up - Beginning with you right leg, lift your leg up until the hamstrings are level with the back, maintaining the 90 degree angle with your knee. Engage your glutes to help lift the leg and squeeze at the top for a second. The foot should remain flat while in the air to keep your glutes tight. 

Return Down - Keeping the 90 degree angle, return your leg back to its original position on all fours, repeat this 8-10 times for your full set and then swap to the left leg. If you aren't feeling the burn enough, put a dumbbell in the crook of your knee and hold it in place with your leg while you lift and return. This exercise can be modified by standing backwards on the leg extension machine or the lying hamstring curl machine.

Area 3: Calves

Standing calf raise

Arguably one of the best exercises to shape and tone your calves is a calf raise, with so many different alternatives and easily done, literally anywhere, this is the best way to add a bit of strength and definition to the bottom of your legs.

Starting Position - Stand on a step or box with one foot hovering either off or over, the other foot should only have the balls of the feet secured on the step, with the heel off the step to allow movement up and down. 

Movement Up - Using your tiptoes and any surfaces around you to support balance, rise onto your tiptoes, tightening your calf as much as you can.

Movement Down - When on your toes, in one smooth motion lower your foot stretching out the muscle so that the heel is hanging over the step. Then repeat the upward and downward movement for a full set and then swap legs. 

This upward and downward motion will tighten and tone the calf muscles, but remember to keep the movement slow and controlled to fully engage the muscles. If this simpler motion is not working you hard enough, add some dumbbells or use the calf raise machine in the gym to add on the weight and make the movement more challenging. 

Dumbbell seated one-leg calf raise 

Again, easily done whether in the gym or at home, this variation calf raise will isolate the muscle, making it work harder as there is no core or thigh support compared to the regular calf raise. A block and dumbbell is ideal, but any heavy item can suffice as a dumbbell and a large book will work just as well. 

Starting Position - Sit on a bench or step with one foot on the block, only the balls of the feet secured on the block with the heels able to dangle off. Place the weight on your thigh, just before the knee. Hold the weight in place but do not support or lift any of the weight off the leg. 

Movement Up - Similarly to the calf raise, push the weight up by raising onto your toes, tightening the calf muscle. You should push up as high as your calf can go and pause for a moment. 

Movement Down - In a smooth motion, lower the weight allowing your heel to dangle off the side of the block, stretching the calf downwards. Repeat these reps and swap legs over to work the other calf. 

Both legs can be worked at the same time, and if the weight isn't heavy enough for you, you can use the seated calf machine in the gym to work your muscles harder. 

Area 4: Full Leg and Cardio

Knee drive

Probably one of the best exercises to engage nearly all your leg muscles, get that heart pumping and even add in a bit of stretching. Working the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves, it also improves balance, coordination and fitness! Easily done whether in the gym to add a bit of weight or outside to both tone and warm up your legs before other exercise.

Starting Position - To establish balance, it is best to begin this exercise in a deep lunge. The right foot back and left foot forward. Both hips and feet facing forward and legs at right angles. 

Movement Up - In a smooth swinging motion bring your right leg forward and up, raising and bending the knee towards your left elbow. When doing this motion it is best to swing alternating arms to ensure balance whilst engaging the core. So as the right leg comes forward; the right arm goes back and the left forward to meet the knee. You can even add some dumbbells to get the arms working as well. 

Return Down - In a continuing smooth motion bring your right leg back down to its original deep lunge position. Repeat this and then swap legs to work your left muscles. 

This exercise is perfect as you can also add a little jump in when the knee comes up, this will engage the calves even more and put a bit of cardio into your workout. Imagine power walking but adding a lunge and a jump at the beginning of each step.

Tip toe squat

This is simply a variation of a regular squat but instead engages the glutes and calves as well. Most easily incorporated to a sumo or regular squat, this exercise can get the whole leg working by just adding one simple modification. 

Starting Position - Same as the squat; knees slightly bent with the core engaged and feet hip-distance apart.

Movement Down - Again the same formation of the squat; putting weight onto the heels, lifting the chest and pushing the glutes backwards. 

Movement Up - Instead of returning back to the neutral starting position as you push up from the heels at the bottom of the squat, when you reach the top, transfer the weight onto the toes and push up with your calves onto your tiptoes. You can then return down to the neutral position and repeat the entire movement.

Whether with a bar, dumbbells or simple body weight, this is a great exercise to combine the squat and calf raise, working the entire leg and all the muscles.

Some cardio alternatives

Tread water – When you are swimming, tread water after every four lengths for 30 seconds. Keep legs straight and toes pointed and ‘scissor’ your legs backwards and forwards as quickly as possible.

Breaststroke - Is a ‘below the belt’ firmer and burns 150 calories in 15 minutes (based on a 130lb (approx 60kg) woman).

In-line skating - Is a superb aerobic workout, burning 400 calories an hour, provided you can master the technique required to keep on the move and upright! Studies have shown that it works some muscles in the legs more effectively than running - particularly the inner thighs and hips.

The diamond-shaped thigh muscle that lies just above the knee isn’t dubbed the ‘soccer muscle’ for nothing. Any kicking action is great for toning and strengthening the front of the thighs, be it soccer or kickboxing.