You are here

The 10 Most Effective Thigh Workout Moves of All Time

Thigh Exercises You Need to Know

thigh workout jumping exercise

1 of 11

All photos

Right up there with getting six-pack abs, the thighs are a region that many women love to target in the gym. Here's the thing: You can't spot reduce. What you can do is develop more lean muscle in a targeted area. When combined with a healthy diet and overall weight-loss (if that’s necessary), these 10 thigh workout moves can help you build a strong lower body. (Related: A Love Letter to My Thighs)

These thigh exercises go beyond just your thighs, though; they'll strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and calves and even hit your core too.

How it works: Do all 10 in succession with no rest in between. Then repeat the circuit one or two more times. Do this full thigh workout three or four days a week. Or, pick three or four of your favorite thigh workout moves and add them into your existing routine for an extra dose of lower-body strengthening.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Side Shuffle Switch

side shuffle switch thigh workout exercise

2 of 11

All photos

This fast-paced move gets your heart rate up (bonus cardio!) and recruits your inner-thigh muscles to help you quickly switch directions.

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides.
  • Shuffle swiftly to your right by taking three quick steps to the side (right, left, right), and then lift your left knee up, swinging your right arm forward.
  • Immediately reverse your shuffle (left, right, left) and land with your right knee up, left knee bent, swinging your right arm forward.
  • Repeat 20 times in a row as fast as you can, alternating sides.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Plyometric Squat

plyometric jump squat thigh exercise

3 of 11

All photos

Jumping plyometric exercises strengthen every muscle in your legs (including your inner thighs) and torch major calories all at once. (If you have bad knees, try these plyo moves instead.)

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squat down, bending your knees to 90 degrees.
  • Now jump up and land softly again in the squat position. Use the strength in your legs and butt to jump up explosively.
  • Remember to land as softly as you can with your knees bent; keep your weight back, over your heels.
  • Do 3 sets of 8 reps.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Side Lunge Sweep

Side Lunge Sweep thigh workout exercise

4 of 11

All photos

Side lunges (also called lateral lunges) are stellar at strengthening your outer and inner thighs. The extra cross-over in this thigh workout move works your inner thighs even more and adds a balance challenge for the core (here’s why core strength is so crucial).

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet together, hands on your hips.
  • Take a wide step out to your left side and lower into a lunge, bending your left knee and pushing your hips behind you.
  • Push through your left heel and stand back up, crossing your left leg in your front of your body without touching the floor. Focus on squeezing your inner thighs as you cross your leg in front of your body.
  • Swing your leg back out to the left side and repeat.
  • Do 15 reps with your left leg, and then 15 with the right.

Photo: Peter Ardito

The Single-Leg Circle

single-leg circle thigh exercise

5 of 11

All photos

If/when single-leg circles get too easy, try spelling out the alphabet with each leg. That’s what we like to call thigh workout #goals.

Do it:

  • Lie back on the mat with your arms by your sides and your palms facing down.
  • Begin by pointing with your left foot, as if reaching out with your toes toward the ceiling, and rotate your leg slightly outward.
  • Inhale, and trace a circle on the ceiling with your left leg, moving your whole leg, but keeping your hips still. Don't lift your left hip off the floor.
  • Trace the circle on the ceiling 5 times in a clockwise direction. Repeat in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • Switch legs and repeat 5 times.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Dumbbell Squat

dumbbell squat thigh exercise

6 of 11

All photos

Not many moves beat the squat in terms of functional thigh exercises. Load up your squat by racking dumbbells—start light and go heavier as you get stronger—and reap all the benefits of lifting heavy weights.

Do it: 

  • Start standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, racked over shoulders.
  • Engaged core and sit hips back to lower into a squat. Keep chest tall and back flat and don't let knees move forward past toes. Stop when thighs are parallel to the ground or when form is compromised. 
  •  Press into the mid-foot to stand and return to start.
  • Try 3 sets fo 10 to 12 reps.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Lunges with Dumbbells

forward lunge best thigh workout exercise

7 of 11

All photos

Not only does this classic workout move set leg and thighs muscles ablaze, but it also works on your balance and coordination. (Try adding all these other lunge variations to your thigh workout too.) 

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a 5- or 8-pound dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lunge forward with your left leg, then straighten your leg. When you lunge, your right knee should come to about an inch above the ground without touching it.
  • Keep your torso perpendicular to the floor, with your weight evenly distributed between your legs. Align your front knee over your front ankle, keeping the weight in your heels instead of on your toes.
  • Continue these lunges for 30 seconds before switching sides and doing another 30 seconds on the other leg.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Ballerina Plié

plie squat thigh workout exercise

8 of 11

All photos

Channel your inner ballerina. The plié works your hamstrings, quads, abductors, and adductors—yep, your whole thigh.

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing out.
  • Bring your arms out straight in front of you and lower into a squat.
  • Come back up and repeat. Go as low into the squat as you can without letting your knees move past your toes.
  • Be sure to tuck your tailbone under and contract your glutes. Keep your torso tall, and don't let your knees creep past your toes.
  • Do for 1 minute. (After about 40 seconds, pulse at the bottom of the squat for 20 seconds.)

Photo: Peter Ardito

Low Lunge with Isometric Adduction

isometric lunge thigh workout move

9 of 11

All photos

This isometric contraction activates your inner-thigh muscles while also engaging the rest of your body—a much more effective way to train than those hip abduction and adduction machines at the gym. (Plus, it'll stretch out the hip flexor on the opposite leg.)

Do it:

  • Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides.
  • Take a wide step forward with your right foot and lower into a deep lunge position.
  • Place your hands on the floor on the inside of your right foot.
  • Press your right knee into the outside of your right shoulder. Squeeze and hold the contraction for 10 counts.
  • Release and push off the floor with your right leg to return to standing. That's one rep. Repeat with the left leg to complete 1 set.
  • Do 3 sets total.

Attitude to Side Extension

attitude side sweep thigh exercise

10 of 11

All photos

Another ballet-inspired move, this leg exercise forces your thigh muscles to engage to control the motion of your leg (without falling over).

Do it:

  • Stand on your right leg, right knee slightly bent, hands on hips.
  • Lift your left leg into an 'attitude' position by bending your left knee and lifting your leg up and across your body, turning your left heel up as you lift.
  • Next, open your left leg out to the side of your body, straightening your leg out into a full extension as shown.
  • Repeat 15 times with your left leg and then 15 times with the right leg.

Weighted Inner-Thigh Lift

weighted leg lift thigh workout exercise

11 of 11

All photos

This twist on a traditional inner-thigh lift uses your bodyweight to add an extra challenge. (Related: Master These Bodyweight Moves for Superior Strength)

Do it:

  • Lie on your right side with your right elbow bent below your shoulder and your left hand behind your head.
  • Extend both legs out and then bend your left knee up to the ceiling, placing the bottom of your left foot on the inside of your right knee.
  • Hover your right leg slightly off the floor with your foot flexed. Next, engage your inner thigh to lift your right leg higher.
  • Slowly lower your leg back to hover above the floor.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Comments

Add a comment