Today’s #LILWorkoutWednesday post complies all of my favorite exercises that I turn to time and time again when aiming to tone my legs. I’ve always enjoyed leg exercises more than arm exercises, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have been focusing more on my legs ever since I had Skyler, and I can definitely tell a difference when I don’t include at least a few of these exercises in my workouts.
Below you will find variations of my go-to exercises that I rotate around in my original workouts or throw in with a few other moves after a cardio session. My motto for working on my legs has always been when in doubt, include squats, lunges, or both to make sure you’re hitting the key muscles!
You can modify or advance most movements by dropping or adding weights, and there are more details on how to vary everything under the exercise descriptions.
While I wouldn’t recommend putting all of these moves in the same workout, feel free to add them into your workouts when you’re looking for a good booty and/or leg burn to complete your circuit!
- squats (bodyweight, squat holds, pulsing, goblet, jump squats)
Start with your feet a bit wider than your shoulders. Stand tall, then come down into a squat position with your thighs slightly higher than your knees. Hold here for a brief pause before returning to your standing position (air squat). You can also choose to do plie squats to target your inner thighs, glutes, and hamstrings. For this, simply turn your feet out to a 45-degree angle in a squat. (pictured below)
Options to advance: hold a set of dumbells, a kettlebell, or …
Pulsing Squat: Hold the squat position for small isometric movements (little inches up and down — say 20 reps) before returning to your standing position.
Jump Squat: quickly push yourself up into the air (your body should be straight), then land in the squat position and pause for a moment before repeating. Skip the turn out option on this one!
- side-lying hip abductions
(you can also try stability ball hip abductions)
Start by lying on your left side with your hips and shoulders squared off to the front. Place your right hand on your hip or in front of you holding your balance on the mat. Keep your bottom leg bent and on the floor while your top leg extends and straightens. This is your starting position.
Keeping your top leg straight, and foot flexed, make sure your ankle is in line with your hips and contract your glute to lift the leg. Hold the position for 1-2 seconds and return to your starting position. Avoid throwing your leg up and down, and concentrate on a slow and controlled movement engaged by your outer glutes. Complete 10-12 reps, then switch sides.
Options to advance: add a mini mand
You can also progress the movement by lifting the body off of the floor and then eventually get to a side plank with leg lift!
Complete 10-12 reps per side. That will feel like plenty!
- lateral walks (with resistance or mini band)
Start by standing in the middle of a resistance band. Cross the band so that you are holding the right handle with your left hand and the left handle with your right hand. Palms should be facing you. Slightly bend your knees and only slightly bend forward. Take a small step to your left, then follow with your right foot. Repeat for 10-12 reps, then return by taking a small step to your right, then follow with your left foot.
Keep your toes and knees pointed forward and start with a light resistance until you feel comfortable to bump up to a heavier band.
You can also use a mini band, and I actually prefer it to really feel the resistance!
- single-leg squat touches (bodyweight or holding dumbbells)
Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and right leg lifted, pointing forward. (You have the option to hold a dumbbell in your right hand to advance the exercise.) Keeping your back flat and core tight, lower by bending forward at your hips to lightly touch the ground (or touch the dumbbell to the ground). Make sure to keep your right leg close to your body and bent.
Return to the starting position by pushing through your left heel to complete one rep. Repeat for a set amount of time (like :30) or 10-12 reps, then switch sides.
- single-leg bridges (bodyweight, with a dumbbell, or on a BOSU)
Start by lying on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. They should be about hip-width apart. Arms should be resting by your sides. Lift your left leg off of the ground and flex the foot.
Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips and hold the position for about 2 seconds. Stay on the heel of your bottom foot and keep squeezing your glutes. Slowly roll through the back to lower your hips without touching the floor and repeat 10 reps on each side. You want to aim to keep your lifted foot in a stationary hovered position. Don’t let it drop up and down as you bridge!
Options to advance: hold a dumbbell below your belly button and above your hips or place your bottom foot on a BOSU ball for an extra instability challenge.
Options to modify: place both feet on the floor and complete a bridge on the floor or on a BOSU.
- lateral lunges (bodyweight with reaches or dumbbells)
Start standing tall with your feet together. Step out to the right and shift your body weight over your right leg, squatting to a 90-degree angle at the knee. The objective is to try to get low enough to “sit down” (squat), keeping your back as upright as possible. Push off and bring your right leg back to the center and starting position.
This is one rep. Remember to keep your weight on your heels. You can complete all of your reps on one side before moving to the next or alternate them. You can keep your hands in front of you (pictured) or reach the opposite arm down to your foot.
Options to advance:
Pick up a set of dumbbells and complete the lunges with weighted resistance.
- donkey kicks (bodyweight or with a resistance band)
Start by holding the band in each hand with your palms facing down. Get on the floor on all fours with your knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders. Place your right foot in the band and lift your right knee off of the mat to a hover. Tighten your core and push through your heel and extend your leg all the way straight. Hold for a second, then return to the starting position.
Focus on engaging your glutes throughout the exercise and keeping your back neutral. I have a slight arch in mine. (It’s inevitable!)
- walking lunges (modification – reverse or forward lunge)
Start standing tall with your hands by your sides, a dumbbell in each hand, feet under your hips. Step backward with your left leg, and lower your body until your right knee is bent at least 90 degrees and your left knee nearly touches the floor. Push yourself back to the starting position by pressing into the floor. Complete your reps on one side, then go to the other side. Aim to keep your front heel under your knee and avoid leaning forward or back! (You can drop the dumbbells and modify to bodyweight if needed.)
Similar to the reverse lunge, except step forward with your left leg and lower your body until your left knee is bent at least 90 degrees and right knee nearly touches the floor. Return to the starting position.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step forward into a lunging position with your right leg until your left knee nearly touches the ground. Make sure to keep your posture straight, shoulders back, and front knee above the front foot. Pushing through the heel of your front foot, push yourself back up and step forward either back to the starting position or directly into the next walking lunge on the other side with your left leg front and repeat. Start this one with bodyweight and add weights as you progress.
- dumbbell deadlifts
Start in a standing position with your feet under your hips. Holding two dumbbells by your sides, keep your arms straight and your knees slightly bent. Slowly hinge forward (bend at your hip joint – not your waist!) and lower the weights as far as you can without rounding or arching the back. Keep your shoulders pressed down and look forward, not directly at the ground.
As you lower, bring the dumbbells in front of your body and close to your legs. Squeeze your glutes and keep your core tight to pull yourself up quicker then you bent down.
- split squats (bodyweight, with dumbbells or Bulgarian)
Start standing tall with your feet hip-width apart holding medium – heavy weights by your sides. (This throwback picture shows them curled up by my shoulders for a shoulder press). Step backward with your right leg, and lower your body until your left knee is bent at least 90 degrees and your right knee nearly touches the floor. This is a reverse lunge position.
Keeping your chest lifted, perform 10-12 controlled split squats, then switch legs.
Option to advance: “Bulgarian” is just a fancy word for lifted. Use a sofa, step, chair, or anything to rest your back foot off of the floor. Get into a reverse lunge position and raise your back foot on the surface of your step. Perform twelve controlled split squats, then switch legs.
- alternating curtsey lunges
These are also called cross back lunges and target your quads and glutes. Start with your feet hip-width apart, and your hands on your hips or in fists in front of you. Take a big step back with your left leg, crossing it behind your right. Bend your knees and lower your hips until your right thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your torso upright and your hips and shoulders as square to the front as possible.
Return to your standing position and switch sides. This is one rep.
- wall sits
I would recommend starting with a 30 or 45-second wall sit, and eventually progress to 60 seconds or longer if you can!
Find a wall, press your back into it and come down into a squat position so that your knees are directly over your ankles. Sit down until your legs are at a 90-degree angle and make sure to keep your heels pressed into the floor the entire time.
Hold the squat position however long you can and come up to rest. You can advance the movement by increasing your time or holding a weight. Check out a video breakdown for a demo!
And ending this collection with a handful of favorites that I still do on the regular and love:
box jumps (love these variations!)
If you have a go-to leg exercise that I didn’t mention in this post, I’d love to hear what it is in the comments!
Question of the Day
Do you prefer arm workouts, leg workouts, or total body workouts the most?
Disclaimer: Although I am a certified personal trainer, I am not necessarily your personal trainer. The workouts I post are what work best for me, and might not be the right type of exercises for you. I always recommend consulting a doctor or health professional before making changes to your diet and/or fitness routine.
Thank you for your continued support on this blog.