Leg muscles are actually pretty easy to tone up quickly. So we asked certified fitness instructor Amanda Vogel to round up three routines to firm your thighs, calves and butt. Do one or two of the routines, two or three sets of each exercise. Work out three to four times per week, ensuring at least a day’s rest in between. Since we’ve included exercises for both outside and in, the workout is flexible enough that you can tone up your legs even while on vacation. No excuses!
In the pool, lake or ocean
“Water is ideal for strength training as its resistance challenges your thighs, hips and butt,” says Sandra Starrett, an aquatic fitness master trainer and owner of Physical Expressions Training & Educational Resources in North Vancouver. She designed this water workout.
First two minutes: Jog, lifting knees high, in water that’s waist- to underarm-depth, moving in all directions. Keep abs tight. (Water’s buoyancy will make jogging easier than on land, and cushions the impact.)
Next three minutes: Walk in all directions in shallower water. (It’s harder than on dry land.)
Water move 1: Cross-country ski
Works: hips, thighs, butt (Bonus: shoulders, core)
A.Stand in chest-deep water or float vertically in deeper water.
B. Tighten abs. Begin with legs together, then jump up and “scissor” legs, landing with left leg bent in front at 90 degrees, with knee over ankle. Right leg is extended straight behind (right heel may lift). At the same time, extend right arm in front and left arm behind.
C. Jump from leg to leg and swing arms as if cross-country skiing (but remain in one spot). Do 24 to 40 reps total.
Tip: Wear water shoes for better traction and to protect your feet in lakes and the ocean.
Water move 2: Pendulum
Works: hips, thighs (Bonus: shoulders, core)
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides in waist- to underarm-depth water.
B. Extend left leg out to the left side, keeping it straight with toes pointing straight ahead. Standing on right leg, reach both arms to right side at chest level or lower. Push the water to create resistance as you sweep arms across your body.
C. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do 12 to 20 reps; switch sides.
Tip: In the ocean, check that surf conditions are safe, and exercise with a buddy.
Water move 3: Russian kick
Works: hips, thighs (Bonus: core)
A. Stand in water that’s level with breasts. Cross arms over chest. Tighten abs and bend knees as if sitting down onto a chair.
B. Bend left leg in front to 90 degrees, knee level with hip. Straighten left leg as if kicking a ball; avoid hyper-extending knee.
C. Return to starting position; alternate between sides. Perform 24 to 40 reps total.
Tip: If you are a strong swimmer, exercise in water where your feet can’t touch the bottom.
In the backyard or park
“Exercising on different terrains in the great outdoors boosts fitness because you’re always challenging your muscles in new ways,” says Tina Vindum, author of Tina Vindum’s Outdoor Fitness. The San Francisco-based fitness instructor created these three fresh-air workout moves.
First minute: Rotate ankles three times each. Then bend one knee toward chest, with thigh parallel to ground; straighten leg and balance on other foot. Do this three times for each leg. Do hip circles three times (as if using a hula hoop) with hands on hips and feet shoulder-width apart.
Next two minutes: Roll your shoulders back and down; lift your ribcage; and do knee lifts, extending arms in front of you at shoulder height.
Park move 1: Tree stand
Works: thighs, butt (Bonus: core)
A. Stand about three feet (one metre) away from a fence, tree, post or building to provide balance if needed. Face the object.
B. With abs tight and spine straight, lift your right leg behind you and at the same time bend forward from your waist until your torso is parallel to the ground. Reach arms in front of you to touch the object with your fingers and keep right leg extended, creating a “T” shape with your body. Keep your arms, legs and torso straight.
C. Raise your right leg about three inches (eight centimetres) higher into the air, squeezing your right butt muscle (keep torso parallel to the ground). Hold for two seconds. Do eight to 12 reps. Then release and return to the upright starting position. Switch sides.
Tip: Avoid exercising in extreme heat or smog, or when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Park move 2: Forward lunge
Works: thighs, butt
A. Stand on flat terrain with your feet hip-width apart and hands on hips.
B. Take a large step forward with left leg, bending it to 90 degrees and aligning knee over ankle. At the same time, bend right leg, lowering knee toward the ground and balancing on the ball of right foot, heel up.
C. Push off right foot to return to the starting position; alternate between right and left sides. Do 16 to 24 reps total.
Tip: Before you work out, look out for loose rocks, sprinkler heads and other hazards.
Park move 3: Hill squat
Works: thighs, inner thighs, butt
A. Stand on grass, dirt or a walkway that has a slight incline; face down the slope. With arms by your sides, place feet wider than hip-width apart, toes angled out slightly.
B. Bend legs, keeping knees in line with ankles, and lower hips into a squat. Your tailbone moves back and down. At the same time, reach arms straight in front of you.
C. Hold for three seconds, then press through your heels and return to standing. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: Exercise in footwear made for outside, as the soles of gym shoes may slip.
In a gym or home gym
Exercising in air-conditioning is a nice option when the weather’s not cooperating. And using a stability ball challenges your legs, hips and butt, plus its wobble means you target muscles (including abs) in a way that more stable exercises don’t. Here are Amanda Vogel’s favourite moves.
First two minutes: Hold the stability ball and step from side to side, gently swinging the ball in the direction you are moving. Step a little wider than hip-width apart each time.
Next minute: Perform half-squats, holding the ball at chest height.
Gym move 1: One-legged lunge
Works: thighs, butt (Bonus: core)
A. Stand about one leg’s distance in front of the ball, facing away from it. (Hold on to a wall or sturdy object for balance, if needed.)
B. Tighten abs and place left foot and ankle, shoe’s sole up, on ball. Left leg should be bent. Bend right leg, aligning knee over ankle, and lower hips toward the floor. The ball will roll slightly back and away.
C. Hold two seconds, straighten right leg. Do eight to 12. Switch sides.
Tip: Select the right-sized ball: When sitting, your legs should bend to about 90 degrees.
Gym move 2: Wall squat
Works: thighs, butt
A. Stand with a stability ball between your back and a wall. As you lean against the ball, take a step forward, making sure heels are farther away from the wall than hips. Reach arms straight out at chest height.
B. Tighten your abs and bend your legs until your thighs are about parallel to the floor and your knees line up over your ankles.
C. Hold two seconds, then straighten legs, rolling ball up the wall. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: Avoid a deflating workout-roll the ball away from sharp objects, including corners.
Gym move 3: Rolling hamstring curl
Works: thighs, hips, butt, calves (Bonus: core)
A. Lie on your back with legs straight, heels resting on top of ball and arms on the floor.
B. Tighten abs and lift hips off the floor until your body forms a diagonal line from shoulders to heels. With back straight, hold hips high and bend legs so ball rolls toward you; the soles of your shoes touch the ball.
C. Straighten your legs but keep hips raised. Do eight to 12 reps.
Tip: Stability balls are fun to use and are widely available. They cost from $20 to $40.