The 10 Most Effective Thigh Exercises of All Time

Get ready to fire up your quads and hammies with these thigh exercises. Add your faves to your current routine or combine them for a full workout.

model jumping into the air, photographed mid-jump

Right up there with getting super-strong abs, the thighs are an area of the body that many people love to target in the gym. If it's a thigh "slimming" workout you're after, know this: You can't spot reduce. But what you can do is develop lean muscle in a targeted area.

Enter: These 10 thigh exercises, which can help you build a strong lower body. These moves go beyond just your thighs, though; they'll strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and calves — and even hit your core too. Consider it your go-to butt and thigh workout when you're ready to break a sweat.

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

You'll need: A pair of 8- to 10-pound dumbbells

01 of 10

Side Shuffle Switch

instructor demonstrating side shuffle switch exercise
Peter Ardito

This fast-paced thigh exercise is easy to add to any leg workout at home. It gets your heart rate up (bonus cardio!) and recruits your inner-thigh muscles to help you quickly switch directions.

A. Stand with feet together and arms by sides. Shuffle swiftly to the right by taking three quick steps to the side (right foot, left foot, right foot).

B. At the last step, lift left knee up with right knee bent, swinging right arm forward.

C. Immediately reverse the shuffle to the left (left foot, right foot, left foot) and land with right knee up, left knee bent, swinging right arm forward. That's one rep.

Do 20 reps as fast as possible.

02 of 10

Plyometric Squat

instructor demonstrating plyometric jump squat
Peter Ardito

Jumping plyometric exercises strengthen every muscle in your legs (including your inner thighs) and double as intense cardio moves.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Then, squat down, bending knees to 90 degrees.

B. Jump up explosively, using strength in legs and butt to propel upward. Land as softly as possible with knees bent in the squat position, keeping weight back over heels.

Do 3 sets of 8 reps.

03 of 10

Side Lunge Sweep

instructor demonstrating side lunge sweep exercise
Peter Ardito

Side lunges (aka 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.

A. Stand with feet together and hands on hips. Then, take a wide step out to the left side and lower into a side lunge with left leg, beding left knee and pushing hips behind body.

B. Push through left heel and stand back up, crossing left leg in front of body without touching the floor. Focus on squeezing inner thighs.

C. Swing left leg back out to the left side and repeat.

Do 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

04 of 10

Single-Leg Circle

instructor demonstrating single-leg circles
Peter Ardito

Pro tip: If/when single-leg circles get too easy, try spelling out the alphabet with each leg.

A. Lie faceup with arms by sides and palms facing down. Lift left leg up and point left foot as if reaching out with toes to touch the ceiling.

B. Rotate left leg slightly outward. Then, inhale and trace a circle (as if drawing on the ceiling) with left leg, moving entire leg but keeping hips still. Try not to lift left hip off the floor.

C. Trace the circle 5 times in a clockwise direction, then repeat in a counter-clockwise direction. Switch sides; repeat.

Do 5 reps on each side.

05 of 10

Dumbbell Squat

instructor demonstrating dumbbell squat
Peter Ardito

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.

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, racked over shoulders.

B. Engage core and sit hips back to lower into a squat. Keep chest tall and back flat, and don't allow knees to move forward past toes. Stop lowering when thighs are parallel to the ground or when form is compromised.

C. Press into mid-foot to stand and return to starting position.

Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

06 of 10

Lunges with Dumbbells

instructor demonstrating forward lunge with dumbbells
Peter Ardito

Not only does this classic thigh workout exercise set leg muscles to work, but it also challenges your balance and coordination — plus, it targets your booty. (Try adding all these other lunge variations to your thigh workouts too.)

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

B. Lunge forward with right leg. Keep torso perpendicular to the floor with weight evenly distributed between legs. Align front knee over front ankle, keeping weight in heels instead of toes. Left knee should come to about an inch above the ground without touching it.

C. Straighten legs and return to starting position.

Continue for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

07 of 10

Ballerina Plié

instructor demonstrating ballerina plie exercise
Peter Ardito

Channel your inner ballerina with this thigh exercise move. The plié utilizes your hamstrings, quads, abductors, and adductors — yep, your whole thigh.

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing out.

B. Bring arms out straight in front of body, tuck tailbone under, and lower into a squat. Keep torso tall and contract glutes. Go as low as possible without allowing knees to move past toes.

Repeat for 40 seconds, then pulse at the bottom of the squat for 20 seconds.

08 of 10

Low Lunge with Isometric Adduction

instructor demonstrating low lunge with isometric adduction exercise

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.)

A. Stand with feet together and arms by sides. Take a wide step forward with right foot and lower into a deep lunge position.

B. Place hands on the floor on inside of right foot. Press right knee into outside of right shoulder. Squeeze and hold the contraction for 10 counts.

C. Release and push off the floor with right leg to return to standing. Switch sides; repeat.

Do 3 reps on each side.

09 of 10

Attitude to Side Extension

instructor demonstrating attitude to side extension exercise

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

A. Stand with weight on right leg, right knee slightly bent, and hands on hips.

B. Lift left leg into an "attitude" position by bending left knee and lifting leg up and across body, turning left heel up while lifting.

C. Open left leg out to side of body and straighten leg out into a full extension as shown.

Do 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

10 of 10

Weighted Inner-Thigh Lift

instructor demonstrating an inner-thigh lift exercise
Peter Ardito

This thigh exercise is a twist on a traditional inner-thigh lift, as it uses your bodyweight to add an extra challenge.

A. Lie on left side with left elbow bent below shoulder and right hand behind head. Extend both legs out and then bend right knee up toward the ceiling, placing bottom of right foot on inside of left knee.

B. Hover left leg slightly off the floor with foot flexed. Engage inner thigh to lift left leg higher.

C. Slowly lower left leg back to hover above the floor.

Do 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

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