Sometimes the simplest exercises can be the most effective. Although climbing stairs might not be the most glamorous means of training, it is highly productive. When you walk or run up and down stairs, you get both your fat-burning cardio and your muscle-building strength training in one. So whether that means taking the stairs at work, getting on a stair machine at the gym or simply running up and down your steps at home, take every opportunity to do so.
This amped-up version of the old-school squat makes the traditional move fresh. Begin with your feet hip width apart. Lower your bum in the same way you would to sit on a chair, but rather than immediately returning to a stand-up position, pulse a few inches up and down three times, and then stand. You'll maximize the exercise and get in a little extra thigh work while you're down there.
Many of the strength exercises you do likely involve repetition, so throwing a static pose into the mix can be an invigorating and effective change. Begin with your back flat against the wall and your feet hip width apart, angled in front of you. Bring your bum down in line with your knees. Readjust your feet if necessary so your legs form a 90-degree angle. Time yourself to see how long you can hold the position before you have to stand up. This is an easy way to test the strength of your legs. If you do this exercise a few times a week, you'll be surprised and impressed at how much longer you're able to hold the position over time. You can also do this exercise with a stability ball to make it more challenging.
Ballet dancers have some of the most envied legs in the world. And although you aren't going to train six to eight hours a day to achieve their lean, toned gams, it doesn't hurt to incorporate one of their primary training moves — the plié — into your routine. Begin with your heels together and legs straight. Turn your toes as far outward as you comfortably can. Slowly lower your bum while bending your knees out. Continue the plié as far down as you can without letting your bum go lower than your knees, and then return to standing position. Keep your bum tucked in and in line with your upper body. Use the back of a chair or a railing for support if necessary. Keep the movement as slow and controlled as possible for maximum effect.
Squats are effective for developing leg muscles, but to really get your thighs working, do your squats one leg at a time. The added challenge of trying to stay balanced and do the move without the help of the other leg is a whole new level of workout. Begin with your legs hip width apart and knees loose. Extend one leg in front of you as high as you can comfortably hold it without bringing your hips out of line. Bend your standing leg as you would squat normally, and return to standing. Repeat 12–15 times, then switch and do the same on the other leg. Repeat the set two more times.
These exercises will help to strengthen and tone your leg muscles, but remember that even though it's possible to target muscles, it isn't possible to target fat, explains personal trainer and fitness instructor Holly Greene. Just because you're working your legs doesn't necessarily mean fat will come off in that area to create a leaner look. So if you're trying to get rid of a little extra weight on your thighs to show off your toned muscles, combine cardio and sensible nutrition with your strength training, and you'll achieve the results you desire. Consult a personal trainer or fitness instructor to ensure you continually keep your muscles guessing and that you do each move correctly and safely.
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