Training your legs will not only help them look great in shorts and skirts, but it also helps provide better support for your upper body.
Your legs support you in everyday activities like walking. Building strength in your legs also helps you improve your common movements, balance, posture, and even back pain.
But the type of leg exercises you do matters as well. You want to include both lateral and unilateral exercises for muscular balance.
Bilateral exercises are movements that train both sites of your body at the same time. Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, chest presses, and rows are bilateral moves.
They are great for building strength. Unilateral exercises are great for addressing muscular imbalances, strength, and core stability.
Many imbalances often go unnoticed with bilateral exercises because of the body’s natural tendency to compensate.
Over time, those imbalances can lead to movement faults, muscle weaknesses, and potential injuries.
Single leg squats, single-leg bridges, and one-arm dumbbell presses are some good examples of unilateral exercises.
The three best leg exercises below address both unilateral and bilateral training.
3 Best Leg Exercises to Strengthen and Tone Your Legs
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Let’s get started.
1. Hip Thrusts
Compared to the king of glute exercises, squats, and hip thrusts are relatively newer exercises.
Because those two exercises mainly target the same groups of muscles in the lower body, they are often debated which is a better exercise.
Rather than putting them on a scale, it’s more productive to combine both exercises to produce the muscle stimulus you need to tone your lower body.
If your usual leg workout consists of squat or squat variations, it’s time to mix it up with hip thrusts.
How to perform hip thrusts:
- Start by setting up a bench and make sure it’s secured and sturdy. Sit on the bench with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward and slightly out.
- Rest your upper back on the edge of the bench and if you are using weights, hold them on top of the pelvis.
- Squeeze the glutes and tighten the core. Press the hips up so the shoulders to your knees are forming a straight line. Let the bench support your mid-back and push through your feet to drive the power.
- Pause at the top for a second and release. Slowly lower your hips toward the ground and stop when it’s just a few inches off the floor. Complete 10-12 reps Aim 2-3 sets.
2. Reverse Lunge
A reverse lunge is a lunge variation in that you step back with one leg to perform a lunge.
It’s a lower-body exercise that targets the front and back of your thighs, glutes, hips, and even the entire core.
This is a functional move that trains for coordination, balance, and stability while making your legs stronger.
It can be performed with just bodyweight, exercise bands, or free weights like dumbbells and kettlebells.
Reverse lunges are effective in shaping the legs and even reducing the appearance of cellulite.
Because the move is performed one side at a time, it aids in correcting muscle imbalances between your right and left legs.
This improves your body symmetry.
Compared to squat, the lunge is one exercise that requires far more balance and coordination. If your goal is to increase your activity performance, the lunge is an excellent choice.
It mimics the walking movements and trains for function, flexibility, and strength.
How to perform a reverse lunge:
- Stand straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and engage your core.
- With your right foot, take a step backward and land on the ball of the foot and keep your body balanced. The heel of your right foot should be pointing up.
- Tuck in your hips and tighten your core. Lunge down by bending both knees to 90 degrees. You can have your hands on your waist or out in front of you. Whatever makes it easier to stabilize your body, you can do that.
- Press through the heel of your front foot to come up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on the side before you switch and complete 10 on the other side. Aim 2-3 sets.
3. Side Lunge
If I could name one lower-body exercise that’s underutilized, it’s this side lunge or lateral lunge.
It’s a lunge variation in that you step out to the side with one foot and lower into the lunge, pressing on the lunging leg.
Because you lunge sideways with this exercise, you get to engage the muscles you don’t normally target with squats and deadlifts.
The side lunges primarily work your hamstrings, quads, abductors, adductors, glutes, and hips.
To maintain balance and stability, it also works your core and back muscles.
If inner thighs are your target, this is a must-do exercise in your lower-body routine.
If you are an athlete, this lunge variation is also critical.
Unlike the reverse lunge, the side lunges are done in a fluid movement that mimics many athletic movements.
Like tennis, if you play sports where lateral movements are part of your performance, this variation is a great fit.
This is also another example of a unilateral workout that works each leg independently. If you have any imbalances in your legs, this is a great addition that encourages correction.
How to perform side lunges:
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms in front of your chest.
- Tighten your core and keep your back straight and flat. Take a wide step out to the side of you with your right foot and shift your weight to the right leg. Make sure your toes are pointed forward.
- Bend your right knee to lower yourself into a lunge while keeping the left leg straight. It should feel as if you are trying to sit on a chair that’s behind your right leg.
- At the bottom, pause for 1-2 seconds and push off on your right foot to return to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps and switch sides. Complete both sides and aim 2-3 sets.