How to Tone Your Thighs

Learn which thigh workouts are best and discover the 3 steps you need to follow to get better thighs.

Ben Greenfield,
July 16, 2012
Episode #026

How to Tone Your Thighs

If there’s one part of the human body that can be too skinny, too thick, too soft, too weak or too baggy, it would be the thighs. Whether you want to trim your outer or inner thighs to look better in your clothes (or out of them), or you want a bit of extra strength in your quads and hamstrings, this article is for you.

How to Tone Your Thighs

The thigh is the area from your pelvis, which is the hard bone surrounding your hips, down to your knee. Although technically that means that the butt could be classified as a part of your thighs, this article will primarily focus on the front, back and sides of the upper legs. For a butt specific article, read How to Tone Your Butt.

The thighs are comprised of several different groups of muscles. On the front are your quadriceps, which are actually made up of four different muscles, the vastus lateralis (outer quad muscle), vastus medialis (inner quad muscle), vastus intermedius (the muscle in between the lateralis and medialis) and the rectus femoris (runs down the inside middle of the quads). Congratulations to any Latin students who have just realized that those late-night Latin study sessions have finally paid off. I’d give you even more thrills, but let’s make the rest of the thigh muscle lesson a quick one: the hamstrings are made of three primary muscles, and are located on the back of the thighs; the adductors are comprised of two primary muscles and are located on the inner thigh; and the abductors are comprised of two primary muscles and are located on the outer thigh and butt.

The Best Way to Tone Your Thighs

As you may have guessed, the best thigh workout targets each of the four major muscle groups of the thighs:

  • the quads,

  •  the hamstrings,

  • the adductors, and

  • the abductors. 

When you want to make a muscle group like the thighs look better, you need to perform multiple sets for that muscle group, preferably in the range of 3-6 sets.

Whenever you are seriously attempting to make one specific part of your body look better, it works well to incorporate two workouts per week that mainly focus on that part. That is because a muscle group will take an average of 3-4 days to recover from a hard workout. If you work the thighs every day, you’ll over train them, be constantly sore, and make concerted efforts to avoid anything that remotely resembles a flight of stairs--but if you don’t work the thighs often enough, they’ll simply lose fitness and muscle tone in between workouts.

In addition, when you want to make a muscle group like the thighs look better, you need to perform multiple sets for that muscle group, preferably in the range of 3-6 sets. For each set, you should perform a repetition range that stimulates the growth of new muscle fibers, which is 10-15 repetitions. If you don’t understand what a set or repetition is, then read “How to Start Weight Training.”

Finally, no amount of work for the thighs will make them look better if they are covered with a layer of fat. So be sure to also read How to Tone and Lose Fat in One Body Part.


The Best Exercises to Tone Your Thighs

Now that you know the best thigh workout involves 3-6 sets of 10-15 repetitions with exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors and abductors, it’s time to learn which exercises to choose. Here are the best moves for better thighs (for videos, visit http://www.pacificfit.net/exercises.php)

Quadriceps: Squats, Lunges, Leg Extension Machine, Bicycling

Hamstrings: Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Leg Curl Machine, Stability Ball Curls, Kickouts, Treadmill Incline Walking

Adductors: Lateral Lunges, Cable Inner Leg Raises, Side Planks With Leg Raises

Abductors: Lateral Lunges, Cable Outer Leg Raises, Side to Side Elastic Band Shuffles

Here’s a quick and dirty tip: You may have noticed that the inner thigh machine and outer thigh machine were not included in the list of exercises above. That is because these machines can actually hurt your lower back, because your inner and outer thigh muscles are not functionally designed to move against resistance while in the seated position.

The 3 Steps to Better Thighs

Simply printing this article and heading to the gym with a laundry list of exercises could be a great way to either waste your time, or have sore thighs until next Christmas, so here is a sample workout for better thighs:

Step 1: Warm-up on the bicycle with 5 minutes of easy pedaling, followed by five 30 second hard pedaling efforts with 30 seconds rest between each.

Step 2: Do the following exercise circuit 3-6 times through, with 10-15 repetitions of each exercise and minimal rest between exercises:

    1. Squats or Lunges

    2. Deadlifts or Romanian Deadlifts

    3. Leg Curl Machine

    4. Leg Extension Machine

    5. Cable Inner Leg Raises

    6. Cable Outer Leg Raises

    7. Lateral Lunges

Step 3: Finish by walking up a treadmill at the steepest possible incline for 5 minutes.

Do this workout twice a week, with each workout separated by at least 3 days, and within 4-6 weeks, you’ll be looking at a completely different set of thighs in the mirror and smiling at what you see!

Woman Doing Lunge Exercise image from Shutterstock