Almost all leg exercises involve a straight forward or straight sideways motion, which is fine except most people twist and pivot. When you turn around, when you turn your leg outwards or inwards, and in many other actions you’ll rotate your leg at the hip joint. So why don’t more leg exercises mimic these movements? Because people like to do simple exercises that target one muscle group at a time. This is not the way to train for functional strength or sexy thighs. Tack some rotation onto popular leg exercises though, and you’ve just upped your game.
Leg Raises With a Twist
Aerobic videos from the 80s and 90s always had a woman lying on her side and kicking her leg up to the beat of questionable music. Slow this motion down and you have a decent thigh exercise. Side-lying leg raises target the outer thigh muscles called the abductors. An easy way to remember this muscle group is to think of alien abductions. If you get abducted by aliens, you get taken away. The abductors move your legs away from the body in a sideways direction. It isn’t a perfect analogy, but the image of a UFO hovering over you as you lie on your side and fixing a tractor beam on your leg to pull it up will stick with you for a long time.
Bad alien analogies aside, the abductors perform a second action most people forget about it: external rotation. To remember external, think extraterrestrials. Laugh all you want, it works. Instead of raising your leg up into the air and bringing it back to earth, add an external rotation at the top for a bonus.
Starting position: Lie on your right side propped on your right forearm. Check that your right hip bone is pressing into the floor. Use an exercise mat if you’re uncomfortable. Rest your left arm on the floor next to your right hand. Do not round your back or shoulders. Your left hand is there to assist your balance.
Action: Slowly raise your left leg as high as you can and then turn it outward to point your toes at the ceiling, or as much as you can without moving any other part of your body. Reverse the motion. After 8 to 15 repetitions, roll onto your left side and repeat.
Tip: All throughout the exercise, you must keep that bottom hip bone pressing into the floor. If you roll backwards and rest on your butt, you’re cheating yourself out of an effective thigh workout.
Opposite Leg Raises With a Twist
Leg raises with a twist strengthen the abductors, but on the inside of your thighs is a muscle group called the adductors that need work too. Adductors “add” to your body mass by bringing your legs toward the center of your body in a sideways direction. These muscles also assist with internal rotation. By doing the leg raises with a twist using the opposite leg, you tone the adductors instead.
Starting position: Assume the same starting position as above, except bend your left leg and rest your left foot on the floor in front of your right leg.
Action: Raise your right leg as high as you can toward the ceiling. Give it a slight inward twist at the top of the movement. Lower your right leg. Do 8 to 12 reps, and then repeat on the other side.
Tip: Don’t try to raise your bottom leg as high as your top leg during the second leg exercise. It simply won’t work. Also, keep your hip bone in contact with the floor in this exercise too.
You may have heard of plie squats, and if not you’ve at least seen a ballerina do a grand plie. By turning the feet outwards during squats, you give your outer thighs an extra challenge. The same goes for the inner thighs if you turn your feet inwards.
Starting position: Stand with your feet greater than shoulder width apart and point your feet outwards. Hold your arms out to your sides for balance.
Action: Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor without bending forward at the waist. Stand back up in the starting position. Perform 10 plie squats, then bring your feet a little closer together and turn your toes inwards slightly. The distance between the feet that is comfortable varies per person. Bend your knees slightly into a squat and stand back up. You won’t be able to squat nearly as low, and that is fine. Repeat 6 to 10 times.
Tip: Check after every couple of squats that your toes haven’t crept out of position to point straight ahead.
You don’t have to do these leg exercises during every workout for sexy thighs, but try to include some rotational movement at least once a week. Stop if you feel any pain in your knees and consult a physician.