Toning Your Body -- and Your Thighs

By Miriam E. Nelson, PhD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

For many people -- particularly women -- hips and thighs are trouble spots. Efforts to achieve slim, trim thighs can seem futile, especially since exercise and diet won't necessarily reduce fat in the places you'd like. Though you target your stomach, the excess fat may come off your bottom, or vice versa. Still, dedication to exercise combined with good nutrition will trim fat throughout your body and help you tone all over, including your thighs.

Cardiovascular and Aerobic Exercise

Not only does aerobic exercise keep your heart and mind strong, but it can also help to make hips and legs more shapely and stronger. Exercise can't change your DNA; it can only do so much to counteract a genetic disposition to, say, cellulite or a particular leg and hip shape. But a good sweat will keep you healthier and firm up whatever you have inherited from your parents.

Try weight-bearing forms of aerobic exercise such as running, jogging, and brisk walking. If you can't do weight-bearing exercises, the stationary bicycle may suffice. Aim for at least three sessions of 20 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each week, according to the American Council on Exercise. If you're going after long-term weight control, work your way up to at least four sessions of 45 minutes of activity each week. And seek out opportunities for physical activity throughout the day: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk or bicycle to work instead of driving.

Strength Training

Many women trying to trim down shy away from strength training because they fear they will "bulk up" -- exactly the opposite of what they want. But unless you are eating a very high-calorie diet, bulking up -- which requires heavy weight lifting -- is unlikely. The benefits of strength training for hips and thighs are twofold: Your legs will look and feel more toned and shapely. You will be stronger so that aerobic exercise, as well as daily physical activities, will be easier and more fun.

Strength training is a type of weight training that emphasizes low weights and high reps, as opposed to the "bulk-up" type of weightlifting. Strength training helps to burn calories more effectively, enabling you to trim body fat. In addition, you'll burn more calories during your aerobic workout and even when you're sleeping because you have more muscle, which is metabolically active.

Going for It

There are a wide variety of exercises you can do at a fitness center or with strength-training equipment. Using machines such as the leg press, leg (knee) extension, leg (knee or hamstring) curl and the hip abductor/hip adductor are great ways to get started.

If you don't have access to equipment, you can use your own body weight as resistance during lower body exercises, which can be very effective in toning and firming calves, hips, and thighs.

Below are a few strengthening exercises to get you started. If you have a health condition that limits your activity, check with your physician before doing any form of exercise. You might also want to consult with an expert trainer at your gym, who can show you how to use the machines safely and effectively.


"If you're going after long-term weight control, work your way up to at least four sessions of 45 minutes of activity each week."

Step Up

  • Muscles working: Front and back of thighs.
  • The position: You will need a stable staircase for this exercise. Stand close to the bottom stair and use the handrail for support with your head up, looking straight ahead.
  • The Move: Step completely onto the first stair with one foot. Keeping your weight supported on the front leg without letting your knee come over your toes, bring the other leg up and tap the toes of the back leg on the step and then slowly return to starting position. Repeat while alternating the starting leg until you have completed eight on each leg (one set), rest for a couple of minutes and then repeat one to two more sets.

Side Leg Raise

  • Muscles working: Hips and thighs.
  • The position: You will need to lie on the floor on your side with your legs straight and together for this exercise. Bend your bottom leg up behind you slightly (keeping your hips stacked) and put your outside hand out in front of you for balance using your inside hand to support your head.
  • The Move: With toes pointing straight ahead, slowly lift your top leg as high as possible, while maintaining straight hips. Then slowly return back to starting position and repeat eight times. Then switch to the other side and do eight repetitions. This is one set. Repeat for a total of two sets.

Originally published November 27, 2002.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:42:22 PM



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