Build strong-as-hell thighs with these moves and workout strategies

By Kylie Gilbert and Suzanne Schlosberg
Updated August 06, 2019
Peter Ardito

Forget complex weight machines and endless leg lifts. To sculpt strong thighs, you need to move in a new direction, says Violet Zaki, group fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness Club in New York City. Explosive, multidimensional exercises target your entire lower body in one dynamic shot, with a special focus on your outer thighs.

Zaki's outer-thigh exercise routine is a fusion of martial arts, yoga, dance, and strength training that can be done anywhere. For a bonus boost, each of the outer-thigh exercises demand focus and balance, engaging your core (here’s what that means!) as well as your legs.

How it works: Do two to three sets of this routine three or four times a week and you'll see stronger thighs in four weeks. Now that's a kick.

Equipment needed: None. But if you want to turn up the burn, feel free to hold a pair of 5-pound dumbbells during the outer-thigh exercises.

Roundhouse Kick/Squat

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft.
  • Hold fists under chin, palms in and elbows near rib cage, shoulders relaxed.
  • Pivot 45 degrees to the right.
  • Extend left leg out to side, pointing toes to the floor.
  • Do a roundhouse kick: Lift left knee as high as you comfortably can, turning outer thigh to face ceiling.
  • Extend leg, then retract it, keeping toes pointed.
  • Lower leg and pivot back to start, so toes point forward.
  • Squat down, keeping knees aligned with ankles.
  • Switch legs and repeat. (BTW, be sure to combine these outer-thigh exercises with our best inner-thigh moves for the biggest benefits!)

Do 15 reps per side.

Hip Extension with Circles

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, shoulder blades squeezed together, hands on hips.
  • Keeping right leg straight, knee soft, lift left leg behind body, pointing toes, until you feel a contraction in your glutes (don't arch your back).
  • Draw a four-point clockwise circle with your left toes, then repeat the circle counterclockwise.
  • Do all reps on left leg, then switch sides and repeat.

Do 15 reps per side.

Chair Pose + Back Lunge

  • Stand with legs and feet together.
  • Push hips back and squat as if you were sitting into a chair.
  • Keep knees over ankles, legs pressed together; extend both arms next to ears, keeping head in line with spine.
  • Hold for 5 counts.
  • Place hands on hips and step back with right leg into a lunge (see how to nail that lunge form), keeping front knee aligned over ankle.
  • Hold for 5 counts.
  • Return to start and repeat from chair pose, switching legs as you lunge.

Do 5 reps per side.

Plié Squat with Lifted Heels

  • Stand with feet twice as wide as shoulder-width apart, toes and knees turned out, heels slightly lifted.
  • Extend arms out to sides at shoulder height, palms down.
  • Squat down, pushing hips back slightly and keeping knees over ankles.
  • Straighten legs, keeping knees soft and heels lifted; repeat.

Do 15 reps.

Warrior Pose + Tree Pose

  • Stand with feet together.
  • Lunge right leg behind you, turning right foot out 45 degrees.
  • Bend left knee 90 degrees.
  • Lift arms out to the sides to shoulder height, palms down.
  • Hold for 5 counts, gazing over front hand.
  • Raise arms overhead and bring palms together, then lower to chest.
  • Bring feet together and lift right knee to hip height, resting right heel on inside of left thigh; place hands on hips.
  • Hold for 10 slow counts.
  • Switch legs and repeat from start.

Do 5 reps per side.

Curtsy Squat + Lateral Lift

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips.
  • Cross right leg behind body and to the left so that inner thighs touch.
  • Bend left knee 90 degrees, toes pointing forward, then return to starting position. Raise right leg out to the side as high as you can without shifting your hips; keep left leg straight and knee soft. Return to starting position; switch sides and repeat.

Do 15 reps per side.

3 Outer-Thigh Exercise Solutions

You can't spot-reduce, but you can fine-tune your fitness plan to build firm muscle in your thighs. Here are three highly effective solutions from Keli Roberts, personal trainer in Pasadena, California.

  1. Kickboxing. Few other workouts torch as many calories as a barrage of side, roundhouse, and crescent kicks. Plus, these moves really do double duty as inner- and outer-thigh exercises. This no-equipment cardio kickboxing routine will make you feel like a total badass.
  2. Stair-climbing. Climbing steps—real steps or the Stepmill (rolling staircase)—is a killer way to burn fat and build muscle. To max out the outer-thigh exercise power, walk two steps at a time and add lunges, squats, and deadlifts after your climb.
  3. Strength Training. Build muscle by working your thighs from all angles with several types of lunges: front, diagonal, side, and pivoting. Hold a heavy set of dumbbells (enough to make you feel fatigued by the eighth or tenth rep). To balance your upper and lower leg muscles, do one-legged calf raises. (Related: When to Use Heavy vs. Light Weights)

4 Lower-Body Cardio Boosts

Make the most of your cardio workouts by turning up the leg intensity. "Focus on increasing resistance to work more of the leg muscles," Roberts says. Here are four ways to burn calories while scoring some extra outer-thigh exercise benefits. (P.S. Here’s how to get the “afterburn effect” from your workout.)

  1. Hill Repeats. Find a hill that takes about 2 minutes to sprint up. Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, then sprint or speed-walk up 5 to 10 times, walking down slowly to let your heart rate recover. (On the treadmill: Run or walk for 2 minutes at a 9 or 10 percent incline; lower to zero and walk for 3 to 4 minutes.)
  2. Stair-climbing Intervals. Warm up for 10 minutes, then go hard for 1 minute, walking 2 steps at a time or running. Recover for 1 minute at an easy pace. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  3. Extended Climb on a Bike. Either on a spin bike or outdoors, pedal in the saddle with moderate to heavy resistance at 60 to 80 rpm for 15 to 20 minutes. Crank up to 80 to 90 rpm for 2 minutes at heavy resistance; recover at an easier resistance for 3 to 4 minutes. Do 5 to 8 times.
  4. In-line Skate Intervals. Find a moderately steep hill that takes about 2 minutes to skate up, sprinting as hard as you can. Turn around at the top and carefully skate down. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
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