During high school, I was on the track and cross-country teams. I often incorporated bakeries and fast-food joints that offered free treats along my running routes. In fact, I remember one occasion that a friend and I ran to her house five minutes away and baked cupcakes instead of the hour-long run our coach had assigned us. We ran back after the allotted time to finish our cool-down and core exercises, with astonishingly more energy than all of our other teammates. Needless to say, I was never a superstar. The nice thing, though, was being able to chow down on sweets without feeling guilty or sabotaging my figure. This was largely due to the variety of other workouts we did to tone and strengthen our bodies. A lazy girl at heart that I am, here are five of my favorite leg exercises that helped keep my naturally bulky thighs lean and toned.
Leg Lifts and Circles
This workout is so simple, and I always feel like Georgette from Oliver and Company when I use it. This move is best done on a padded surface – if you don’t have a yoga mat, a carpeted floor or folded towel work great. Simply lie down on your side and extend your legs out straight. Extend the top leg up towards the ceiling while keeping your hips and back steady. Lower your leg without rotating your hips forward or backward and repeat. Once you’ve mastered the basic leg lift, you can try different variations to target the different areas of your thigh. Go up into a side plank as you do your leg lifts to incorporate out your core. Add large or small circles as you rotate your leg clockwise for a set and then counterclockwise for another. Don’t forget to switch legs so that both sides get an equal workout.
Lunges are my personal favorite. To do a regular lunge, step one leg out in front of you at a comfortable distance and then drop your body straight down, keeping both knees at 90-degree angles. Make sure your front knee isn’t passing your front toe as you go down and try to keep your back knee off the ground. Keep your chest up and look forward as you lunge. You can stay on the same leg and do reps or if you have enough space, I always like to travel across the floor as I alternate my lunges. This makes it feel like I’m going somewhere and keeps my mind occupied instead of staying in one spot and focusing on the burn.
For a reverse lunge step backward into the lunge until your knee is almost touching the floor and then using that same leg, push off back into a standing position for a single rep.
The Dreaded Wall-Sit
I used to hate wall sits when I first started out, but I love them now. Whether that’s because my legs have gotten stronger or because you can do the wave as you wall-sit with a group of friends, wall sits are easy to build up to and they are super effective in toning those stubborn thighs. Simply lean against a wall from the distance of your lap and keep dropping until your knees form a 90-degree angle. Just as with the lunges, keep your knees behind your toes. Start with 30 seconds and work your way up in terms of endurance.
Squat, Jump, and Away!
Squat jumps are better than regular squats because they are as fun as they are effective. Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart and then lower into a squat (keeping your back straight, knees behind toes, and head facing forward). Push through your heels and jump up with as much force as you can, then land gently and go directly back into a squat.
Sumo squats are similar but you start with your feet positioned wider than your shoulders, toes pointing out. Keep your back upright and sit straight down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Use your heels to push off back into the starting position.
All of these exercises can be adjusted to fit your needs and stamina. You can add dumbbells to your routine (or fill a milk jug with water if you don’t have free weights, using the water to adjust the weight). Throw in some jumping jacks or high-knees in between each set to create a higher-intensity circuit. Start small and work your way up. Above all, listen to your body and pay attention to form so you don’t injure yourself. Please also consult a doctor if needed.