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Leg Exercises Real Personal Trainers Recommend For Your Next Workout

Uninspired when it comes to your workouts? If you’re feeling disenchanted with your routine, it might be time to add in some fresh new moves. And if anyone is going to know how to ramp up a workout, it’s going to be a trainer who works out everyday. From strength training to barre to yoga, top trainers shared with SheKnows their workouts for the holy trinity — arms, core and, for today, legs. 

To start, welcome to leg day! Your legs are homes to some of your body’s strongest and largest muscles. In addition to looking good, your legs take you from place-to-place and giving them a bit of exercise TLC is a great way to up your endurance, reduce back pain and improve your day-to-day mobility.

Not sure where to start with leg exercises? Here’s what our elite trainers recommend:

Katelyn DiGiorgio’s Pure Barre

Pure Barre’s VP Training & Technique, Katelyn DiGiorgio, shares her favorite ballet-inspired workouts for legs that will lengthen and tone your body like a dancer. 

Extension in Turnout

“Extensions help to strengthen the inner and outer thigh muscles, while also challenging you to improve your balance,” says DiGiorgio. “You should also focus to engage your lower abs to maintain a neutral spine.” 

  • Stand a couple inches in front of a barre or counter/wall, with your back to the barre or wall. Place your hands wide and light on the barre or wall behind you.
  • Bring your heels together and toes apart. Extend your right leg towards hip height and point your toes.
  • Engage your lower abs to maintain a neutral spine.
  • Lower your leg to tap the floor, then lift it back up. Repeat 2 sets of 15.
  • Hold your leg towards hip height and slide the leg outside of the frame of the body slightly before sliding it back in. Repeat 2 sets of 15.
  • After the final set, hold your leg still (isometric hold) at your highest point for 15 seconds. Try to reach one or both arms forward to challenge your balance.
  • Switch legs and repeat.
  • Avoid sitting back towards the barre or counter and work to maintain a tall posture by engaging the core.
  • Focus on using strength over momentum to create movement; watch for a contraction in the thigh muscles with each move.

Wide 2nd

“The wide 2nd position, similar to a sumo squat that you may see in other types of workouts, is a staple position in Pure Barre classes,” says DiGiorgio. “ It targets the inner and outer thighs and helps to strengthen the hips, while also challenging your core and back muscles to maintain a proud chest throughout.

  • Walk your feet out wider than your hips, with the toes turned out slightly. Bend your knees, sinking your seat towards knee level.
  • Engage your core to maintain a neutral spine and avoid an arch in your lower back.
  • Alternate lifting your heels to come to the tippie toes, while you keep your seat low. Repeat for 2 sets of 15.
  • Stay on your tippy toes. Lower your seat down a few inches, then lift it back up. Repeat for 2 sets of 15.
  • Balance for 20 seconds as you reach your arms up overhead.

Pro Tips:

  • Make sure the knees stay stacked over the ankles.
  • You can work near a counter or wall, with one hand placed on the wall to help with balance and stability. 

Mindbody Fitness Specialist and NASM CPT Keegan Draper

Compound movements

Squats, lunges, step ups and any variations of them are all great leg exercises,” says Draper. “The reason I love these three specifically is because they all use virtually every muscle in your legs. These compound movements really help set a foundation for strength and for overall training.”

Step Ups

  • Find a step, chair, or bench that when you place your foot on it, your knee bends to a 90-degree angle. A sturdy kitchen or dining room chair can work too.
  • To start, place your entire right foot onto the bench or chair. Press through your right heel as you step onto the bench, bringing your left foot to meet your left so you are standing on the bench.
  • Return to the starting position by stepping down with the right foot, then the left so both feet are on the floor.
  • Repeat for 12-15  steps leading with the left foot, then repeat another 15 steps leading with your right foot. Complete three sets.

Blink Fitness personal trainer Lexes O’Hara 

“The best exercises to target your legs are going to be movements that focus on the major muscles within the legs, primarily the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstring complex,” says O’Hara. “The best movements to target these muscle groups would be a squat and deadlift variation.

because they are compound movements; multi-joint movements that target multiple muscle groups at a time.” For example, the squat builds both the quads and the butt while the deadlift builds both the hamstrings and the glutes.

Deadlift

  • Holding the barbell (or two dumbbells at your side), keep your arms straight and knees slightly bent.
  • Slowly hinge at your hip, and lower the weights as far as possible, keeping your back straight and neutral and shoulders down. Keep your gaze just past your toes to keep your neck aligned.
  • Keep the barbell close to your upper thighs, almost touching them.
  • Squeeze your glutes to pull yourself up. Do 12-15 reps , repeat three times. 

Squat

  • Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees and chest straight.
  • Hold a weight in front of your chest or two in each arm.
  • Bend the knees and lower into a squat, hinging at the hips, as though you’re about to sit in a chair.
  • At the bottom of the movement, contract your glutes and stand up, still squeezing the glutes. Do 12-15 reps, repeat three times.

HelloYoga’s Samora Suber

“Chair pose (utkatasana) is perfect for strengthening quadriceps, gluteal, and calf muscles while activating the core,” says Suber. “A great way to make chair pose a part of your regular exercise routine is to hold the pose for 20-second intervals with five seconds of rest in between.”

Chair Pose

  • Stand with your feet together with weight evenly distributed between each leg.
  • Exhale as you bend your knees, sending your buttocks behind you as you sit on an imaginary chair. Engage your legs and hips by gently pressing the legs toward each other and keeping the hips toward your midline.
  • Raise your arms overhead, with your palms facing each other. Be careful that you don’t overarch your lower back as you remain in the squat and keep your shoulder blades against your back.

Before you go, stock up on the best leggings for leg day and beyond:

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