9 Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Legs

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Beasley on May 21, 2020
  • Young smiling woman warming up and stretching her legs
    Exercises to Tone Your Legs at Home
    Keeping your legs toned has big benefits because leg exercises work your largest muscle group. Leg strength improves balance and coordination, protects your joints from injury, and boosts your metabolism. As you age, leg exercises can become even more important for keeping your ankles, knees, and hips in good shape. Though walking is great exercise to get your heart rate up, it doesn’t build as much muscle tone as focused leg exercises.

    Try adding leg exercises to your strength training routine twice a week. Your goal should be 10 to 15 repetitions per set and two to three sets per workout. Because leg muscles are large, you should notice improved muscle tone quickly. If you have any joint problems, talk to your doctor before you add a leg workout to your fitness routine.
  • Low Section Of Woman Exercising At Gym
    1. Alternating Knee Lifts
    It’s smart to start any strength training workout with an exercise that doubles as cardio and a muscle builder. Alternating knee lifts get the job done by toning your hamstrings, quads, and glutes while increasing your heart rate and improving balance. The other benefit is that they’re simple to do. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift your right knee to hip height. Lower your knee and do the same motion with your left knee. Repeat the sequence for one to three minutes. You can also get the same effect but doing step ups on your stairs.
  • Pregnant woman exercises in her home
    2. Squats
    Squats are a classic leg strengthener that target hips, thighs, and glutes. Beginners may want to start with chair squats and graduate into standing squats. For chair squats, stand in front of a sturdy chair as you’re about to sit in it. Place feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Focus your weight in your heels and bend your knees to slowly lower your buttocks towards the chair. When you get close to the chair, quickly press back up to standing. Standing squats use exactly the same movement, without the chair. Aim for 10 to 15 squats per set.
  • Unseen woman doing leg lunges
    3. Lunges
    When you want to work all of your leg muscles at once, go for the lunge. It works glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward with your right foot while you drop your back knee toward the floor. Push off your back foot to return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg. You can also do reverse lunges where you step backward instead. Either way, you always drop your back knee toward the floor. If you want to add variety, try doing forward lunges while moving forward each time you lunge.
  • trained legs with muscular calves
    4. Calf Raises
    Your calves may not be as big as your other leg muscles, but they still need toning, so they can support your ankles and help you balance. Calf raises are simple, but effective. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. It’s easiest if you stand near a chair, counter, railing, or wall for support. Push up onto the balls of your feet, like you’re standing tippy-toe, and hold for three seconds. Then slowly lower your heels back down to the floor. Do two or three sets of 15 raises.
  • Smiling sportive senior woman leaning against a brick wall
    5. Side Hip Raises
    For this exercise, you can use the same chair you’ve been using for squats and calf raises. The side hip raise strengthens your hips, thighs, and glutes. The movement also helps keep your hip joints flexible. Stand behind a sturdy chair with feet planted and toes facing forward. Keep legs straight, but don’t lock your knees. Slowly lift your right leg to the side. Then return to the starting position. The slower you do this movement, the better. Repeat with your left left and do this sequence 15 times on each leg.
  • Man closing velcro strap of an ankle weight
    6. Knee Extensions
    Knee extensions target the quadriceps and strengthen the knees. You can do this with or without ankle weights. If you don’t have ankle weights, try draping a bag of rice over your foot. Sit all the way back in a chair with your feet almost touching the ground. Lift your feet with a rolled towel if you need to. Flex your right foot and slowly lift your toes up towards the sky until your leg is completely extended. Then slowly bend your leg to lower it. Remember to keep your foot flexed and move slowly. Do 10 to 20 reps.
  • Modern athlete stretching outdoors
    7. Knee Curls
    This exercise works the hamstrings in the back of the upper leg and makes walking and climbing easier. You can do this with or without ankle weights. Stand behind a sturdy chair for support and place feet almost shoulder-width apart. Flex your foot and slowly bend your right leg, so your heel moves toward your buttock. Then slowly, lower your leg back to starting position. Repeat with your left leg. Do this 10 to 20 times for each leg. You can alternate legs or work one and then the other.
  • Woman stretching in dining room
    8. Leg Extensions
    Leg extensions tone the muscles in your buttocks which help support your lower back. Stand behind a chair and rest your hands on it. Place your feet a little less than hip-width apart. Lift your right leg backwards, keeping it straight. Think about lifting your heel behind you and don’t arch your back. You should feel your hamstring and glutes working. Once your leg is as far back as feels comfortable, hold it for five seconds. Lower your leg back to starting position and repeat with the left leg. Do this sequence 10 times and work up to three sets.
  • Seniors following teacher in yoga exercise class
    9. Leg Balance
    This final exercise tones your legs, but is also an opportunity to rest and recover. Stand with your knees slightly bent. Keep your chest up and back straight with hands on the hips. Slowly lift your knee up, like you did with knee raises, but hold it there for 15 to 60 seconds. You should feel your opposite leg working to keep your balance. Repeat three times per leg. To make it more challenging, try closing your eyes.
Best Exercises for Legs | At-Home Exercises to Strengthen Legs
  1. Weight training exercises. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multimedia/weight-training/sls-20076904?s=7
  2. Strengthening and Stability Exercises, for Your Hips, Knees, and Ankles in Standing. Kaiser Permanente. https://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/Images/010526-034CL_tcm75-133788.pdf
  3. Strength Training for Older Adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf
  4. Cleveland Clinic. How to Strengthen Your Quads to Potentially Reduce Your Risk of Knee Osteoarthritis. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-strengthen-your-quads-to-potentially-reduce-your-risk-of-knee-osteoarthritis/
  5. Strength exercises. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-exercises/
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Last Review Date: 2020 May 20
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