8 Best Leg Exercises for Women for Strong and Sexy Legs

If you are looking for a workout or exercise program, chances are you want a program that will help you improve your legs. You might want them to look better, or you might want to be stronger to be able to do the things you need to in your everyday life. Either way, we’ll show you the eight best leg exercises for women, and how to use those exercises to get the legs you want!

The Benefits of Strong Legs

Of course, there’s more to the benefits of strong, toned legs than just being fit and looking good, especially for women. Strong legs help with balance and agility, which can help prevent common conditions for women like sarcopenia, osteoarthritis or blood clots in the legs. Strong legs will help prevent falls and fractures, especially of the hip and knee. And of course, even if you aren't thinking about strengthening your legs for sport, strong legs will make your day-to-day life a lot easier!

The main muscle groups of your legs

Our exercises, and the program we describe, will work each of the major muscle groups of your legs.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of your thigh. They are critical for balance, speed, agility, and power, so no matter what you want to do, strong quads are essential.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are the long muscles down the back of your thigh. This is an area very prone to injury, so keeping your hamstrings strong is important. If toned thighs are important to you, the hamstrings are the place to start, as toned hamstrings hold your upper leg together, plus they add definition to your bottom too!

Calves

A lot of lower body workouts completely ignore the calves, yet for many women, toned calves are important. If you wear skirts or shorts a lot, chances are you’ll want defined and shapely calves. Our program includes a couple great exercises to tone and strengthen your calves, both the upper calf (Gastrocnemius muscle) and the lower calf (Soleus muscle)

8 Best Leg Exercises for Women

Exercise #1: Squat

Best Leg Exercises for Women #1: Squat

The squat is a simple exercise, yet one of the most effective movements for working and toning the large muscles of the legs. Not only that, but your glutes, calves, and even your abs get brought into play!

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Hamstrings

Execution method:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, and your back straight.
  • Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and lower your bottom toward the floor. Sink as deep into the squat as is comfortable to you - avoid tipping forward or backward.
  • Hold briefly, then raise yourself up to the starting position. Be sure to lift with your legs, and not to swing your hips forward to return to the standing position.

Exercise #2: Lunge

Best Leg Exercises for Women #2: Lunge

Another simple yet effective movement, the lunge not only works the large muscles of the upper leg, you will find your core gets a workout too as part of helping you keep your balance. You might also feel some beneficial stretching in your calves too, especially as your flexibility improves.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Hamstrings

Execution method:

  • Start in a standing position, with your back straight, your core tight, and your shoulders back, and your feet about hip width apart.
  • Step forward with your left leg, and keeping your spine perpendicular to the floor, bend your right leg and lower your torso toward the floor.
  • Sink as low as is comfortable for you. Be sure to lower yourself straight down, so your left knee doesn't move out in front of your left foot.
  • Hold briefly, then raise yourself straight up, stepping back with your left leg to the start position.
  • Repeat with your right leg.

Exercise #3: Split Squat

Best Leg Exercises for Women #3: Split Squat

The split squat can take a little practice as you need to learn to balance, but stand next to a wall or use a chair if you need help. The sooner you can complete this move 'hands free' the better though, as maintaining your balance will also engage your calves and core.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Hamstrings

Execution method:

  • Start in a standing position, with a chair, coffee table, or weight bench about two feet behind you. Position yourself next to a wall if you need help with your balance.
  • Place the top of your right foot on the seat of the chair or on the edge of the table or bench.
  • Bend your left knee to lower yourself to the floor, keeping your spine straight and perpendicular to the floor - don’t lean forward!
  • Sink as low as is comfortable for you, hold briefly, then raise yourself back up to the starting position, keeping your spine perpendicular to the floor.
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Exercise #4: Calf Raise

Best Leg Exercises for Women #4: Calf Raise

Most leg workouts concentrate on the large muscles of the upper leg, but strengthening and toning your calves is important. Strong, stable calves help prevent ankle and knee injuries!

Muscles Involved:

  • Calves - Gastrocnemius

Execution method:

  • Start by standing with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step board or on the bottom step of a staircase. Keep one hand on the wall, banister or a chair if you need help with balance.
  • Keeping your spine straight, your core tight, and your shoulders back, flex your ankles to lower your heels toward the floor.
  • Sink only as far as is comfortable - you should feel some stretch - and hold for a few seconds at the bottom.
  • Slowly straighten your ankles to raise yourself back up past the starting position, until you are slightly on your toes. Remember to keep your spine straight and perpendicular to the floor - try not to lean forward!
  • Repeat.

Exercise #5: Bent Leg Calf Raise

Best Leg Exercises for Women #5: Bent Leg Calf Raise

The muscles of the lower calf are often overlooked in most workouts, yet they help stabilize and protect the ankle joint. Keeping these smaller muscles toned also provides definition to your lower leg, and prevents puffiness and inflammation - or the dreaded 'cankle'!

Muscles Involved:

  • Calves - Soleus

Execution method:

  • Follow the same steps as the calf raise we’ve just described, however, this time, you will keep your knees slightly bent.
  • As you lower yourself down, you may need to hold onto a chair, the banister, or the wall to help with your balance. Allow your shoulders to be over your toes, but don’t lean any further forward than that.
  • This movement puts a lot of stretch onto your Achilles tendon, so while it’s great for increasing mobility and preventing injury, don't overdo it at first - only flex as low as is comfortable.
  • As you raise yourself back up, keep the slight bend in your knees. Once your heels are slightly higher than your toes, repeat by flexing your heels and lowering yourself down again.

Exercise #6: Modified Pistol Squat

Best Leg Exercises for Women #6: Modified Pistol Squat

The pistol squat - even modified - is a tricky movement, but it's very effective as it combines muscle strength with stability, control, and balance. When you get good at it, you will find that your calves, glutes, and core all get a workout too.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Hamstrings
  • Secondary: Quadriceps

Execution method:

  • The pistol squat is a very challenging movement, so for this exercise you will start with a chair, coffee table, or bench placed behind you, about six inches behind your heels.
  • Start as if you were going to do a squat, but with your feet about hip width apart. Raise your left leg straight out in front of you - you don't need to raise it very high, but your heel needs to be clear of the floor.
  • Lower yourself into the squat position until your bottom rests on the chair, table, or bench. Recover for a moment, and then raise yourself back up again, keeping your left leg in front of you and off the floor. Try to avoid throwing your shoulders forward as you lift yourself up; you are looking for a slow, controlled movement.
  • Switch legs and repeat.
  • This is a tough one, so don't be afraid to have a chair or a wall handy to help you balance (I like to do this movement in a doorway). Once you really get the hang of it, and you are strong enough, you can try it without the chair or bench!

Exercise #7: Step Up

Best Leg Exercises for Women #7: Step Up

Adding a little cardio to your strength workout is a great idea, as it keeps your circulation up and gets you a little extra calorie burn. You can mix up your approach to step ups to minimize or maximize the cardio effort. Slow it down and add hand weights or dumbbells to focus on the strength aspects, or lighten the load and pick up the pace to add more cardio.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Calves - Gastrocnemius

Execution method:

  • Stand facing a step board, or the bottom step of a staircase.
  • Keeping your core tight, your shoulders back, and your spine straight, step up onto the board or step, leading with your right leg. Place your left foot alongside your right.
  • Step back down again, starting with your right leg.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.
  • You can also add hand weights if you want a little extra effort!

Exercise #8: Lateral Reverse Lunge

Best Leg Exercises for Women #8: Lateral Reverse Lunge

The little bit of lateral twist you get in this movement adds an extra bonus - it's great for maintaining hip joint flexibility and stability, which is especially important for women.

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Quadriceps
  • Secondary: Abductors

Execution method:

  • Start in the same position as for the squat, with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart.
  • Take your left leg, and step slightly behind and outside your right foot, lowering your bottom to the floor.
  • Keep your spine straight, just like for the squat. Step back and out only as far as is comfortable. It’s a lot like a ‘curtsey’ movement.
  • Pushing up on your right leg, raise your body and allow your left leg to return to the start position.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Your Leg Workout

The exercises we’ve described don’t require you to go to the gym or buy a lot of equipment. You will need a chair or low table, and if you have a step board that’s great, but if not, an actual step will do! You might want to add some hand weights to your workout, but even if you don't have fancy ones, you can use frozen water bottles or canned fruit or veggies instead. We won't be adding a lot of weight to these movements because the program is about toning, not building bulk muscle.

To get the maximum toning benefit, and help you improve overall strength and mobility, the program is based on three sets of ten to fifteen reps, completed three times a week. It’s important that you complete all the movements correctly, and if you load yourself down with heavy weights you risk losing your form or not completing all the reps and sets. To help you get a real workout and some calorie burn, our program alternates the muscle groups targeted by each movement. This keeps the blood moving from one muscle group to the next and back again, but it also helps you maintain form by letting one muscle group rest while you work another.

A sample program might look something like this:

  • Three circuits of ten to fifteen reps of each exercise, done three times a week (you can increase reps, sets, or even weights as your fitness improves).
  • Make sure, for the single leg exercises, that you do the same number on each side. Completing the movement once for each leg counts as one rep.
  • Start with a simple warm up, with 20 seconds each of jumping jacks, butt kicks, and knee raises.

Here’s an example leg circuit sequence:

  • Squat
  • Calf raise
  • Modified pistol squat
  • Lunge
  • Bent leg calf raise
  • Split squat
  • Lateral reverse lunge
  • Step up

Allow yourself a minute or so between circuits to take a drink of water, and shake out your legs.

Finish with a cooldown of simple quad, hamstring, and calf stretches.

Conclusion

The eight best leg exercises for women will get each of the major muscle groups of your legs working, stretching, and toning. If you want to be stronger for your daily activities or your favorite sport, want to prevent hip, knee and ankle injuries, or just look better in skirts and shorts, then these exercises will help you out!

Let us know if you’ve found a great leg exercise, or if you try our circuit of leg exercises, tell us about your results!

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