The official start of summer is mere weeks away, and that probably means you have already begun to plan out your warm weather wardrobe. If you are considering hiding in jeans or maxi skirts all season, STOP! For one thing, I am willing to bet you look better than you think you do (we are always our own worst critics), and for another, leg workouts are fun, easy, and can give you great results in only a short time. So get back in that closet, and take a second look at all those shorts, skirts and sundresses you have.
Your legs are made up of some pretty large muscle groups. Your quadriceps, or “quads” are the four muscles present in you thighs, and are among the strongest muscles in your body. Even by working them for a short time, you will begin to notice big differences in shapeliness and firmness. In your lower legs, you have your calf muscles (those muscles on the back of your legs that look so great when you wear heels), and these can also firm up pretty quickly. If you are on your feet a lot, you could always benefit from stronger legs, and if you are stuck in an office chair a lot, concentrating on some leg workouts can help you undo those sedentary hours. Let’s take a look at some of the best workouts for strong, firm and sexy legs.
It does not get any more basic than this. There is a reason this tried and true exercise shows in every single leg workout plan: it works! Squats are fantastic because they are an exercise that can “grow with you” as your strength increases. Beginning with just your body weight, and moving on to barbell squats with more and more weight. (And whoever told you that working out with weights would make you “bulk up” is not telling you the truth. Firmer and stronger muscles? Yes! Huge, bulging muscles? Not without a crazy routine and lots of supplements.) So don’t let anyone scare you away from these amazing exercises.
To begin, stand with your legs hip distance apart. Keep your toes pointing straight ahead to the front wall, and square your shoulders and hips.
To perform the squat, bend slowly at the knee, while pushing back with your behind. It might help to imagine you are sitting down in a chair. To counter balance, lean forward slightly with your upper torso, and reach your arms straight out in front of you. Bend as deeply as you can, trying to get your knees to a 90 degree angle. Remember to keep your knees facing front, and not splaying out to the sides.
Straighten up slowly, returning to your starting position. Do three sets of 10 squats.
Something I love about lunges is that you can pretty much do them anytime and anywhere. I often try to sneak a few of these in while I am out in the back yard with the kids (much to their amusement), but your living room, your cubicle, or your hallway will work just as well as the gym would.
Also, since these movements put the main focus on one leg at a time, you can begin to get a feel for whether one of your legs is stronger than the other (a common issue), or if one gives you a little trouble, and might need to be babied a little. Always listen to your body while working out. Avoiding injury is important!
To begin, stand tall with your feet hip distance apart, and your hands resting on your hips. Starting with your right foot, step forward about three feet, and deeply bend your front knee to a 90 degree angle, if possible. The rear foot should be flexed, up on your toes, while the rear leg should be bent slightly. (See image) Do three sets of 10 reps.
Kettlebells have become wildly popular recently, because they used in a few more ways than dumbbells can. I would not really trust anyone to go singing a dumbbell around without potentially losing their grip, and that is why the design of the kettlebell is so versatile. The full handle allows you to securely grip the weight, and perform more challenging and kinetic movements.
To begin use an overhand grip to take hold of a kettlebell, and stand with your legs slightly wider than hip distance apart. Lift the weight slightly with one arm so that you are holding it in front of you, at about waist height. Allow your torso to pitch forward to a 45 degree angle as you bend your knees. Swing the kettlebell downwards, between your legs.
Now, the momentum of the kettlebell will probably take the weight behind you slightly, and that is okay. Use the natural speed you have going to reverse the swing of the kettlebell. Keeping your arms straight, push forward with your hips, and straighten your knees. Allow the kettlebell to swing all the way up to chest height.
As the kettlebell begins to descend again, squat back down, and swing it between your legs again. When you have a feel for how the weight acts in your hands, you can swing it more forcefully. If you need a modification, you can use both hands.
Balance Ball Hip Raise (Marching Raise)
Balance balls are awesome! You can use them in many ways for a great pilates workout, and one of the cooler aspects about them is that they can really work your legs in new ways. You may want a mat for this exercise, as you will be lying on the floor, and you will definitely want to be wearing shoes (to help grip the ball and keep it from rolling away)
To begin, lie on the floor, facing up, and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the balance ball. Use the strength on your core to bring your hips into a raised position, forming a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Stay here for a moment to make sure everything feels comfortable and steady before moving on.
When ready, lift your right knee, allowing your foot to come off the ball, and bring the knee as close to your chest as you can. Lower slowly back to your starting position, and repeat on the other side. Continue alternating sides for 20 reps, then rest.
Since the weather is turning warmer, that means local pools will be opening soon (if they haven’t already). What better excuse to get a workout in and have a refreshing, fun time? When working your legs, remember that swimming does not need to be about speed, but rather duration. Slow and steady is the best approach – and remember that becoming too tired too quickly in the water is never advisable.
Don’t have the freedom to swim laps in your apartment complex’s pool? Not to worry. Treading water for five minutes at a time is also a great, zero impact means of toning up those legs. As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about sweating in a pool!
All yoga is great, but definitely look into a “Wall Yoga” class, like the one available at Udemy. This three dimensional approach to working out takes advantage of walls, chairs and yoga blocks to mix a little extra strength training into the relaxing and invigorating yoga practice we all know and love. If you haven’t tried this method yet, check it out today!