The legs are the foundation of the human body. Not only are they the biggest overall muscle group, but they support and carry out major functions that we perform every day. From simply walking, to lifting things off the ground, to jumping, swinging a golf club, and carrying groceries, strong and mobile legs are crucial to overall functional capacity, vitality, and health.
That’s why it’s so important to not skip your leg workouts, and that you work out all parts of the leg, not just the parts that usually show (calves and glutes). Doing so can cause imbalances that lead to knee and hip problems, and an overall loss of function that will not keep you moving about with ease as you age.
So if you’re looking to get healthy, strong, lean and toned legs that will not only look good, but improve your health, check out these five exercises that all hit the mark.
It goes without saying that the squat is one of the best moves on this list or overall leg development. And the reasons are endless. Whether you are a beginner or expert, male or female, the squat is an essential part of any routine. The squat (and most of its variations) build strength in the hamstrings, quads, and glutes for an all-around leg workout. There are few exercises that work so many muscles in one move like the squat does.
When performing the squat with or without weight, it’s extremely important to ensure you are lifting with proper form. When loading your spine, excessive stress can be placed on your knees and lower back if you do not perform the movement with proper form, so make sure you take the time to learn it right so that you can continue to add more weight to further tone and define your legs.
Similarly to the squat, the deadlift works lots of different muscles as well. Most variations of this move predominantly work out your lower back and hamstrings, with accessory work in your quads. This move is crucial for overall leg tone and strength because deadlifts are one of the highest growth hormone releasing exercises you can perform, which stimulate muscle growth helping to tone up and strengthen your legs.
Again, this move requires a lot of practice, so make sure to start with light weight. For maximum leg tone, use the hexagonal shaped barbell that you stand inside of to perform the deadlift. This specific barbell places the most emphasis on your legs, helping to get them stronger and leaner, quicker.
If you want to tone up your legs, you’ll have to do exercises that work your balance and the smaller muscles that are tucked away and don’t get worked through machines, or standard squatting and deadlifting. Walking lunges (loaded or unloaded) force you to move slowly through the movement, and carefully balance on your way down and on the way up. Working your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves, this is a great way to round out a leg workout.
For this move, make sure to start with lighter weight and work your way up using dumbbells. If you want to work more of your quads, take a smaller step, to work your hamstrings and glutes more, take a larger step.
Paired with the walking lunge, step ups onto a block help add amazing definition to your legs while also providing another functional movement that promotes healthy legs, knees, and hips. To add maximum tone in your legs, it’s extremely important to start with no weight when stepping onto the box. Why? Because if you want to promote growth in the leg that’s stepping up on the block, you want to ensure that you’re not compensating by pushing up with the leg that’s on the ground. This ensures that the leg that should be doing the work, is doing the work so that you’re getting maximum leg activation in the appropriate areas.
True tone needs to come at all different angles, so you need to make sure you’re hitting your legs at all areas to maximize your look. Doing exercises only in the sagittal plane of motion (moving forward and backwards) can create imbalances that lead to injury. It also causes you to neglect the smaller muscles on the inside and outsides of your thighs that when developed, lead to a full and defined look.
Lateral lunges performed at high repetitions will be able to target your abductors and adductors as well as your glutes and quads to help prevent imbalance, give you a defined look, and to help with your mobility which will keep your knees and hips happy.
When it comes to building lean and toned muscles, it’s important to keep in mind the appropriate set and repetition scheme that will promote this kind of development. With any of these exercises, it’s best to perform 3-5 sets of about 8-15 reps to maximize muscle growth, leanness, and tone. After only a few short weeks, you’ll begin to see the legs and glutes you’ve always wanted.