Fitness: The best exercises for toning your legs

Fitness: The best exercises for toning your legs

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Training your lower body can often feel more gruelling than all those arm, chest and ab workouts, simply because you’re working some of the largest muscles in your body. Plus, the recovery period can feel longer and more painful.

Despite this, if we want to take on whatever hills, mountains or broken lifts life throws at us, we need our legs to be strong and mobile, which requires spending some time building power in our lower body.

Personal trainer Aimee Victoria Long shares three key moves for getting your legs into great shape…

1. Fire hydrants

How to do them: “Start in a kneeling position on all fours with your wrists stacked directly under your shoulders and your hips over your knees.

“Keep your belly button drawn in toward your spine, with a neutral back and your right leg bent at 90 degrees. On an exhale breath, lift your leg out to your side, stopping at hip height and ensuring you can feel the connection in your glutes and not your lower back. Inhale to draw the leg back to the ground. Repeat 12-15 times on each leg.”

Why are they effective? “Being in this box position mimics your most foundational gait; the crawl. When you’re on all fours, you truly switch on your core stabilisers and strengthen your base. Although it looks like a fairly easy move, it works more muscles than you might think. Aside from your abs, this move primarily targets the glutes; chiselling them from all angles.”

2. Barbell squats

How to do them: “Before attempting this move, I recommend getting a qualified personal trainer at your gym to show you how to safely use the barbell.

“Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell across your upper back using an overhand grip (a common mistake is allowing the bar to rest on your neck). Hug the bar into your traps [the trapezius muscle, across the upper back] to engage your upper back muscles.

“De-rack the barbell and move a few steps back so you have enough space to perform the move. Slowly squat down with your head up and back straight. Lower yourself until your hips are aligned with your knees, with legs at 90 degrees. Drive your heels into the floor to push yourself back up, and keep good form until you’re stood up straight. Do three sets of 12-15 reps.”

Why are they effective? “Barbell squats directly strengthen your posterior chain; the hamstrings, glutes, and the adductors [hip muscles]. They’re also a whole body move. Your legs work to move the weight of the barbell and create a squat. Your abs and lower back muscles stabilise your trunk, and your upper back, shoulders and arms are working to balance the bar.”

3. Bulgarian split squat

How to do them: “Stand two to three feet (depending on your height) in front of a bench or chosen elevated service, such as a sofa or chair.

“Extend one leg behind you and rest your toes on the bench. Toes can be flat or tucked, and you should ensure your hips and shoulders are square to the front of the room. Keep your torso upright and engaged by relaxing your shoulders down and actively pulling your navel to spine. Then slowly lower your back knee down towards the floor.

“Your front knee will form approximately a 90-degree angle creating a lunge position. Ensure your front knee doesn’t rotate inwards, and try to disperse the weight throughout the front foot. From here, drive yourself up to standing and squeeze your glutes at the top. You can hold a weight to make this move harder. Repeat 12 times on each leg.”

Why are they effective? “Split squats are a unilateral lift that not only improve strength but also balance, hip mobility and tone. By focusing on one side of the body at a time, you can work to build strength and resilience – especially on the weaker side of the body.”