6 of the Best Exercises to Tone Your Legs

These simple moves will sculpt your legs just in time for the beach season

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Even if you don’t normally wear mini-dresses or shorts in public, you want to have the perfect legs in case one day you have to. The only way to do that is by changing the ratio of muscle to fat, Nicholas Odorisio, voted Best Personal Trainer in Philadelphia in 2012 and founder of Nick’s Gym. “If you have excess of fat covering the muscle, you’ll never see the muscle,” he adds.

Toning refers to a firm body with muscular definition and shape and is a goal many people, especially women, have. How long it takes to achieve the objective is highly individual. It will be more challenging for a woman in menopause as opposed to a 25-year-old active person. “Diet is the most important thing,” Odorisio says. “You can see changes in six weeks, but you have to keep exercising.” Improving your body is a lifestyle choice, he adds. Working towards that goal never really ends.

Men don’t really like to train the legs, Odorisio says, “Which is a mistake because the body is a whole unit, not just parts.” The toughest parts of the legs for women to get in shape are the hamstrings and glutes. “They usually have more fat there, mostly for biological reasons,” he adds.

Odorisio likes “big, multi-joints movements” and doesn’t recommend the Smith machine for any type of workouts. “It leads to injuries because it doesn’t follow a natural movement,” he says. “It’s forcing a fixed path on the body.”

Equipment Odorisio says is not helping at all is the thigh abductor (inner/out thigh machine). “It’s really not good for the spine because it puts it in an unrealistic position,” he says. The body is in a weakened position while you’re loading it. “If you transfer the movement to standing position, there is nothing in the world that follows this motion,” he adds.

The best leg exercises are also very basic. You don’t need a gym to work out in.

Elevated split squat


“This is one of my favorite,” Odorisio says. The hamstrings get a great and challenging training. The glutes get activates too.

Put one foot on a bench or stair, Odorisio says. The other leg should be bent at 90 degrees of slightly deeper. Go down for five seconds until your rear knee nearly touches the floor, hold for another five and lift for five more. “It’s challenging but very effective,” he adds.

You can try holding a dumbbell in each hand to make it even more difficult, if you dare.

Goblet squat


This is a lower-body exercise that increases strength in the legs. Hold a kettlebells or a weight to your chest. Squat down as deep as you can, Odorisio says. Your back must be straight at all times or you risk injuring it. “If your feet are turning out on the bottom of the squat, you can elevate the heels a little bit,” he adds.

Deficit squat


Start on a bench. Step down behind you (reverse lunge). “That how you create the deficit,” Odorisio says. The exercise is an additional movement, with the benefit of increasing single-leg stability and flexibility throughout a larger range of motion. Make sure you don’t use a deficit that is too high (a common mistake). Two to four inches is plenty.


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Lunges are the go-to exercise for the legs. When done right, they can be very effective; otherwise you put unnecessary strain on your joints.

You can modify the exercise to fit your fitness level. Hold weights as you move.

You can hold a rubber band over your head and pull it apart. This added balance component activates the shoulder muscles, Odorisio says, giving you a nice line between the thighs and the shoulders.

Wall sits

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This is a timed static exercise because the muscles are contracting without movement, he says. It’s a good addition to your leg training because you strengthen two major muscle groups in the thigh – quadriceps and hamstrings.

As always, sit against the wall for as long as you can. Do several sets of 30 seconds or a minute.

Single-Leg Deadlift


The deadlift is great, Odorisio says, because it’s a functional movement. You can always progress it by adding weight.

This glute-building exercise is another one you can do while entertaining yourself with Netflix. Make the single-leg deadlift a little more intense by grabbing a pair of light dumbbells. Stand on one foot and lift the other behind you until it’s parallel to the ground. Hold that positions for 10 seconds and push back. Bonus: Your hamstrings get a great workout too.

More readings: 

6 Easy Exercises for a Strong Behind

The 20 Best Lunch Break Exercises to Get You through the Holidays

17 Most Common Fitness Injuries and How to Prevent Them