For many women the thighs are the biggest problem area. The tummy, butt and hips are all in good shape, but the thighs seem to give up the fight. If you have been struggling to keep the fat off your thighs then this page is just for you. Here we will look at the best way to tone both the inner and outer areas of your thighs and take a look at the diet and lifestyle factors which can help make a big difference fast (if you are also looking for info on trimming down your waist, read how to lose belly fat next here).
Best ways to tone your thighs
Toning – firstly this is a term created by the big media who felt that talking about muscle would put women off exercise. To tone is to build bigger and better muscles, while cutting some fat. So, to tone, you need to do exercises which best help to develop your thigh muscles, while also eating a diet to encourage fat reduction.
What are thighs?
Before we explore the methods to tone your thighs it is important to explain what they are. The thighs are the muscles (and fat) which surround the upper leg, and are made up of mostly the quadriceps femoris, or more commonly called the quads, which is a group of 4 muscles which are:
- Rectus femoris – this muscle is at the center and front of the thigh – it sits on top of the other 3 muscles;
- Vastus lateralis – the outer thigh muscle
- Vastus medialis – the inner thigh muscle
- Vastus intermedius – the front thigh muscle which sits on the femur under the rectus femoris
There is also the sartorius, which runs from the hips downwards and around the leg to the knee – this is a thin muscle but also the longest muscle in the body. This is used to turn the leg at the hip.
Best exercises to tone your thighs
By far the most important exercise for thighs is the lunge. These mostly work the front and outer thighs, which is why they are the most important thigh exercises for toning – they are the muscles which are most visible.
Lunges can be performed either with your own bodyweight or by adding additional resistance, either with a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell supported across your shoulders.
Standard forward lunge
To perform a lunge you stand upright with your feet approximately shoulder width apart and then take a long step forwards, ensuring that your upper body remains upright and that your leading foot is pointing forwards and in line with your knee.
You bend both knees to lower your bodyweight towards the ground. If on a soft surface (carpet, gym mat, grass etc.) you can allow your rear knee to touch the ground before you then push up with the leading leg to return to the standing position.
Ensure that your leading knee does not extend beyond your toes as to do so puts too much strain on your knee and can cause injury.
It is best to perform a set of lunges on one leg and then a second set on the other leg, e.g. 10 lunges stepping forward with your right leg, and then 10 with your left leg. Perform 2 to 3 sets for best results.
A popular variation on the standard lunge is to perform walking lunges. Rather than stepping backwards after the lunge to return to the standing position, you push off and forwards to step into a new lunge. Again, you can do these with bodyweight or with weights. For most people bodyweight is sufficient. This allows you to alternate the leading leg for each lunge to provide a balanced workout – you do not need to worry about counting the reps. However, you do need more space to perform them, which makes them more popular in martial arts classes, circuit training and fitness in the park.
A reverse lunge starts in the usual upright position, but rather than stepping forward you step backwards. You should end in the normal lunge position, with your knee touching (or just off) the floor and your torso upright, feet pointing forward. As with standard lunges perform sets of 10 on each leg. You an alternate, but when carrying a weight it can be better to focus on a single movement.
Exercise to tone inner thighs
All of the above exercise work all the thigh muscles. However, if you wish to focus on your inner thighs (you really are probably best of working the whole thigh though) then these exercises will target the Vastus medialis.
It is a good idea to strengthen your Vastus medialis regardless of whether you are toning, as a weak Vastus medialis is a common reason for injuries to the knee.
Rather than stepping forwards you keep your feet in the same position (same distance as with a lunge) but just lower and raise your body.
Bulgarian split squats
Bulgarian split squats are a natural progression from normal split squats. To do them you simply place your rear food on a bench, chair or stability ball, and perform the same squat movement. By raising your rear foot you put most of your bodyweight on one leg, forcing yourself to work harder. Perform sets of 10 reps before changing leg.
While squats are mostly used for working your glutes (read all about squats here) they are also useful to develop the inner thigh. Ball squats are performed by placing a gym ball behind your back against a wall. Then you squat with your toes turned outwards (sumo style) and go deep. Ensure that you push your backside back towards the wall so that you are squatting down, not leaning forward.
These are possibly the easiest exercise to do as you can start by stepping up one staircase step, before progressing to a taller step. Focus on contracting your muscles around the knee, keeping your toes pointing forward. Perform sets of 10 on each leg, or alternate legs. If you can do 20 easily then start to increase the range / height of the step.
Tip: Tone all your muscles
While it is important to build some healthy and lean muscle on your thighs, it is equally important to work your whole body. By developing a fitter physique you help your body to burn total body fat, and also by getting fitter and stronger exercising becomes easier and you get better results!
Whether you are trying to get thinner thighs, a slimmer waist or more tone backside, you should never limit yourself to a single exercise, or even a single group of exercises, but instead work on total body fitness. If you wish to start a full body workout to target typical problem areas for women, take a look at our article Strength Training For Women.
What about thighmaster?
The Thighmaster, which was advertised mostly during the 1980s and 1990s in TV ads featuring Suzanne Somers, can provide some toning for the thighs. It provides a very isolated exercise and unless you are already performing a variety of other exercises you will probably not see any significant results from this alone. The real key to toned thighs is to work the whole muscle group and also to reduce fat. Simple exercises such as side lunges and squats will probably tone more effectively and help to burn off some fat too.
Losing the fat around your thighs
Building muscle is only one part of toning your thighs. You also need to reduce fat on your legs. While these exercises will help to burn more calories and also increase your metabolism, you will still need to focus on a fat loss diet – eating less food, eating healthy food with plenty of lean protein, healthy fats and nutritious carbohydrates (mostly fruits, vegetables, pulses).
Cardio helps to increase your daily calorie deficit which is required for fat loss. For more advice on losing weight see our weight loss section.
So, you can now say goodbye to your “thunder thighs” and “ham hocks” and enjoy slim and slender legs once again.