Who doesn’t want great-looking legs? Although the abs seem to command the most attention, toned legs powerfully impact your shape – from long, lean runners’ legs to the muscular legs of gymnasts and speed skaters.
Genetics determine the length and shape of your legs, but your diet and exercise regime also significantly affects appearance. While you cannot change your genes, you can ensure that your diet is healthy in order to reduce accumulation of fat. Consume more fruits and vegetables; fiber; lean protein such as chicken, fish, eggs and beans; and water. Reduce consumption of high-fat, fried, processed and sugary foods; sweets; and alcohol, soda and juice.
Toned legs are a result of consistent cardio workouts and targeted strength training exercises.
Almost all cardio modalities benefit the legs, and variety is important for challenge, so don’t do the same workout every day, but mix up running, walking, cycling, swimming, the elliptical, cross trainer, stairclimber and rowing machine. If you don’t belong to a health club to access different machines, vary home regimens with whatever equipment you have, along with outdoor activities and workout DVDs/online sessions.
For strength training, the following simple exercises effectively target the legs, and can be performed with body weight only or using a barbell or dumbbells for additional resistance and progress. Try 5-10-pound dumbbells or a 15-30-pound barbell. Aim to perform at least 5 (or all 8) of the exercises two to four times weekly. Do 12-15 repetitions of each with slow, controlled motion and normal breathing; that amounts to one set, and do one to three sets. If you’re not certain how to perform them, ask a trainer or check online for proper execution.
- Squats – With feet hip width-apart, push back and down as you sit through your glutes, with your weight in your heels. Try to get your thighs parallel to the floor, and tuck your tailbone with a pelvic tilt when standing up. Place the barbell across your upper back and shoulders, or hold dumbbells alongside your body.
- Lunges – Step forward and keep your knee in line with your lower leg, with your knee over the ankle and shoulders and head level. Alternate right and left legs, trying to get the thigh parallel to the floor in the lunge. Place the barbell across your upper back and shoulders, or hold dumbbells alongside your body.
- Plies – With feet wide, turn your toes out and lower the hips as you bend knees, trying to get thighs parallel to the floor. As you come up, squeeze the inner thighs. Use a barbell or dumbbells.
- Deadlifts – Holding a barbell or dumbbells with feet together, hinge forward from the hip, keeping your back flat and reaching your hands toward your shins. Keep the back flat as you come upright.
- Calf raises — Holding a barbell or dumbbells with feet together, lift your heels so that your weight is on the balls of your feet; pause and lower.
- Abductions – Lying on one side with hips stacked, bottom leg bent and top leg straight, lift and lower the top leg to target the outer thigh. Rest a dumbbell or barbell on the top leg.
- Adductions — Lying on one side with hips stacked, bend top leg and cross foot over straight bottom leg. Lift and lower the bottom leg to target the inner thigh, and rest a dumbbell or barbell on the inner thigh.
Hamstring curls – From all fours, drop to your elbows. Lift the right leg parallel to the floor and bend and extend at the knee, pulling your heel toward glute.