Coach Jan, MS, BS, NASM, ACE
Jan Green is a personal trainer and health coach certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. She also has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in health promotion. Jan is passionate about helping others thrive. She's dedicated to teaching that health, joy, and quality of life are inextricably connected. A true science geek who is unabashedly authentic, she's a spunky mix of fact and fun.
 Evidence Based

10 Best Leg Exercises for Women | LadyBoss®

Would you like leaner legs? Check these 10 best leg exercises for women that build strength and define shape.

#NeverSkipLegDay. You’ve probably seen the popular hashtag. Do you wince when you hear or see the phrase because, well, you don’t remember ever having a leg day? Oops.

Maybe you don’t have the fancy equipment generally associated with a leg workout, maybe you’ve got bad knees, maybe you simply don’t know where to start. Never fear! You can still have the lean legs you want. We’ve put together the best leg workouts for women just like you. Leg Day, game on!  

Leg Movements

leg movements for leg workouts

Pretty lady, you’ve already got fantastic legs. Not only do they keep you standing tall, they allow you to move in so many different ways. Try these movements with me:

Leg exercises

These are essentially all of the movements that make up great leg strengthening exercises, which we’ll get to further below. Quality leg workouts for women will utilize all of these muscle actions.

Hips

hips in leg exercises

We’re ladies. Our hips don’t lie, it’s common knowledge. The structure and complexity of our lady hips, however, is not-so-common knowledge. Our legs have such a wide range of motion because of the fantastic ball-and-socket joint that the top of the femur, or thigh bone, creates with the hip bone.

Bones

  • Hip Bones – The hip bones work together with the sacrum and coccyx to create the pelvis.  
  • Femur – Also known as the thigh bone, the femur is the longest and strongest bone in the body.

Muscles

  • The Glutes – The gluteal muscles–maximus, medius, and minimus–are the anatomical structures that create that beautiful booty of yours. Check out some great hip and glute exercises to perfect that peach HERE.) 
  • There are other muscles in the upper leg, such as the iliopsoas, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, deep rotators, and others that we will address in more detail below that assist in hip actions.

* ACE Fitness and ExRx.net help us out with the following tables of muscle actions

muscle in legs workoutMuscles in leg exercises

Upper Leg

Upper leg workoutsYou’ve got your thigh, right? What else is there? Tons! 

Your upper leg spans the length of the hips and knees–major joints with many related muscles to create a great variety of movements. You’ve got three major muscle groups surrounding your femur. The quadriceps are in front, the hamstrings in the back, and the adductors make up your inner thighs. (Check out some great inner thigh exercises right HERE.)  

Bone

Femur – Referred to above.

Muscles

  • Quadriceps – Called the quadsfor short, the quadriceps are used to straighten the legand assist in hip flexion. They are made up of four muscles: vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.
  • Hamstrings – The hamstrings, a.k.a hammies, are used to bend the knee and help to extend the leg backward. They are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
  • Adductors – Essentially your inner thighs, your adductors work to bring your leg in toward your body. There are five muscles used in adduction, including the pectineus and gracilis.

Knee

Knee in leg exercisesThe knee is the joint where the upper leg and lower leg come together. It is a hinge joint that allows for bending and straightening. 

The knee is the largest joint in the body. It’s incredibly complex, and, as you may know from experience, prone to injury.

Are you avoiding leg exercises because of your knees? Girl, if you’ve got knee problems, the leg exercises below are the best thing that you can do for them! As said by OrthoInfo, strengthening those upper leg muscles that support the knee will help to absorb shock and reduce stress on that joint.

Bones

    • Femur – The thigh bone, referred to above.
    • Patella – The kneecap, the largest of the sesamoid bones, works to protect the complex joint and provides extra leverage for knee extension.
    • Tibia – The shin bone, referred to below.

Ligaments – Connect Bones to Bones

  • Cruciate ligaments – The anterior (ACL) and posterior (PCL) cruciate ligaments control the back and forth motion of the knee.
  • Collateral ligaments – The collateral ligaments control the side to side motion of the knee.

Tendons – Connect Muscles to Bones

The quadriceps tendon connects the quadriceps muscles to the patella and the patellar tendon (which is actually a ligament) extends beyond the patella to the tibia.

Knees in leg workouts

Lower Leg

Lower leg exercisesWho doesn’t want great calves! Whether you’re a flats kind of gal or you love to rock those heels, the legs workout below will help to shape and strengthen those lower legs to give you confidence to strut in any shoes. 

Your lower leg spans the distance between the knee and the ankle. It includes the bones the tibia and fibula, and the familiar calf muscles along with many more.

Bones

  • Tibia – The shin bone, the longer of the two bones in the lower leg, is the main weight-bearing bone.
  • Fibula – The tibia’s side kick, serves as a place of attachment for many of the muscles of the lower leg.

Muscles

  • Gastrocnemius – The upper half of the calf muscle, works with the soleus to plantar flex the ankle (many refer to this action as ‘pointing your toe’) and it assists in bending the knee.
  • Soleus – The lower half of the calf muscle, works with the gastrocnemius to plantar flex the ankle and bend the knee.
  • Anterior Tibialis – The anterior tib as its name suggests is on the front side of your leg. It dorsiflexes the ankle (pulls the toes back toward the shin).
  • There are other muscles in the lower leg, such as the plantaris, popliteus, peroneus muscles, and more that assist in knee and ankle actions. 


AnkleAnkle in leg exercises

The ankle is the joint where the lower leg and foot meet. Did you know that your ankle is actually made up of three separate joints? Crazy, right? The main ankle joint is a hinge joint like the knee and allows for the muscle actions described above–plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. 

Bone

The bones in your ankle are the ends of your tibia and fibula bones mentioned above and the talus, or heel, of your foot.

Ligaments

Deltoid and Lateral Ligaments in the ankle work to maintain stability and prevent you from rolling your ankle.

10 Best Leg Exercises for Women

Alrighty, it’s time to stop sitting and do a legs workout! Among leg workouts for women, this one is super user-friendly. Nothing needed but your capable body, a can-do attitude, and a little bit of space. Choose from three on up to all ten exercises, aiming to complete at least three sets. You got this, Girl!

Squats

The basic squat is a leg-strengthening staple because it is a functional multi-joint action that utilizes just about every major muscle group in the leg. Leg workouts for women

The Muscles: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and send your hips backward as if you were sitting down into a chair, keeping your weight back into your heels. Your torso will naturally come forward. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  3. Stand back up and repeat for 12-15 reps.

Sumo Squats

The sumo squat builds on the basic squat, but adds in some lateral rotation for some extra inner thigh work and emphasizes different aspects of the quadriceps.Leg exercises for women

The Muscles: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart. Your feet will be turned out about 45 degrees.
  2. Bend your knees, being sure to track your knees in the same plane as your toes. Your body will remain upright. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  3. Stand back up and repeat for 12-15 reps.

Lunges

Lunges are very similar to squats in their muscle action and functional movement. They add in an additional stability challenge as you shift your balance from one leg to another.Leg strengthening exercises

The Muscles: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start standing with your feet together. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  2. Take a large controlled step backwards with your right foot, keeping the heel lifted, planting the ball of your foot down.
  3. Lower your hips until your front thigh becomes parallel to the floor, maintaining your knee over your ankle. Think of creating a 90-degree angle with both the front and the back knees.
  4. With control, step the right foot back forward and come back to your starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Alternate by stepping the left foot backward.
  6. Repeat alternating for 20-30 reps.

Calf Raises

Don’t let the simplicity of calf raises fool you. These babies burn. You’re also challenging your stability and balance, giving your core an extra challenge.

Leg workout for women

The Muscles: Gastrocnemius, soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart.
  2. Maintaining your posture, elevate your heels off the ground and come onto your toes.
  3. With control, lower yourself back to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for 12-15 reps.

 

Single-leg Squat

Also known as the pistol squat, this bad boy works the entire length of your leg one side at a time. These are especially great if you have any sort of muscular imbalances. Most of us have a preferred, easier side.One-leg squat

The Muscles: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your weight supported on your right leg. Your left leg will hover above the floor.
  2. Bend your right knee and send your hips backward as if you were sitting down into a chair, keeping your weight back into your right heel. Your torso will naturally come forward. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  3. Stand straighten your right leg and repeat for 10-12 reps.
  4. Repeat on the left side

Forward Kicks

Hiya! Forward kicks are great for developing strength in your hip flexors as well as building strength in your core and stability through your ankles.Forward kicks

The Muscles: Iliopsoas, quadriceps, gastrocnemius

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart, arms bent held up in front of you. 
  2. Raise your right thigh with a bent knee and then extend your right leg straight, pointing your toes.
  3. With control, lower your right leg back down to starting position. This is one rep.
  4. Alternate back and forth between right and left legs for 16-20 reps.

Reverse Kicks

Also known as donkey kicks, this exercise is fantastic for strengthening through the hamstrings and for perking up those buns. As with the front kicks, it also engages core strength and builds stabilization through the ankles.Reverse kicks

The Muscles: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, anterior tibialis

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart with a soft bend in your knees, arms held up in front of you.
  2. Pick up your right foot, bringing your heel toward your bottom and then extending your leg straight–like a donkey.
  3. Carefully place your right foot back down to the starting position. This is one rep.
  4. Alternate back and forth between right and left legs for 16-20 reps.

Duck Walks Forward

Yeah, they’re kind of goofy, but duck walks are super effective! It’s a traveling squat that places particular emphasis on the quads.Duck walk

The Muscles: Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus, Adductor Magnus, Soleus, Anterior Tibialis

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and send your hips backward as if you were sitting down into a chair, keeping your weight back into your heels. Your torso will naturally come forward. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  3. Staying low, step forward four paces.
  4. Turn around and step forward four paces.
  5. Repeat for 20 paces.

Duck Walks Backward

Doing the duck walk backward places more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. Make sure you’ve got plenty of space behind you with nothing to trip on!Backward duck walk

The Muscles: Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus, Adductor Magnus, Soleus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and send your hips backward as if you were sitting down into a chair, keeping your weight back into your heels. Your torso will naturally come forward. Hands can be in front of you, at your hips, or raised above your head.
  3. Staying low, step backward four paces.
  4. Turn around and step forward four paces.
  5. Repeat for 20 paces.

Single-leg, Stiff-leg Deadlift

Are you ready? This ‘simple’ movement is quite the balance challenge! Along with toning your backside and hamstrings, this exercise is great for building knee and ankle stability.Stiff-leg deadlift

The Muscles: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus

The Movement:

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted about hip-width apart with a soft bend in the knees.
  2. Begin to shift your weight to your left leg as you extend your right leg behind you. Your torso will come forward as your leg lifts until both are parallel with the floor, maintain one long line from the top of your head to the bottom of your foot. 
  3. With control, lower your right leg back down simultaneously lifting your torso back up to the starting position. This is one rep.
  4. Repeat 10 reps on both legs.

Conclusion

If you loved these exercises, be sure to check out the FREE LadyBossⓇ 7 Day Experience for many more workouts just like this!

Coach Jan, MS, BS, NASM, ACE

Jan Green is a personal trainer and health coach certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. She also has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in health promotion. Jan is passionate about helping others thrive. She's dedicated to teaching that health, joy, and quality of life are inextricably connected. A true science geek who is unabashedly authentic, she's a spunky mix of fact and fun.
Coach Jan, MS, BS, NASM, ACE

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