7 Best Exercises for Strong, Lean Thighs

By Julia Sullivan, A.C.E.-certified trainer, senior fitness specialist |

Build lower-body strength while burning fat and boosting your balance and stability with these easy thigh exercises.

Best Exercises for Strong, Lean Thighs

When it comes to movement, your legs are the key players. That’s because they contain some of the largest, most powerful muscles in your body, including the glutes, hamstrings (back of leg), and quadriceps (front of leg).

But those three muscle groups aren’t the only ways your lower body harnesses power and drives momentum. Your inner and outer thigh muscles — aka adductors and abductors, respectively — play a major role, too.

Together, they help your body move seamlessly in every direction:

  • Forward, as on a walk
  • Side-to-side, say, when you’re shuffling through a narrow theater aisle
  • Up-and-down, think climbing and descending stairs
  • Pivoting, for those times when you need to bend over, twist, or lift

Building strength in your inner and outer thighs can help you stay steady on your feet while you’re going about your daily routines.

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How to Use These 7 Thigh Exercises

You don’t need to target your adductors and abductors in every lower-body exercise to achieve a stable, strong lower body. But it’s important to add them into your workout rotation two to three times a week. This will set you up for better-fueled workouts and more ease in your everyday activities.

For these exercises, all you need is a comfortable pair of sneakers. If you have a resistance band at home, you can use that to provide added resistance for some of the exercises — but it’s optional. Set yourself up near a wall or sturdy piece of furniture for support, if needed.

Tip: As you do each exercise, focus on engaging (or contracting) the target muscle(s) as you go through the movements.

As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

1. Step Out and In
Primary muscle focus:
Adductors and abductors

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet slightly apart, and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Step to the right 7 times and left 7 times for a total of 14 steps.
  3. Pause, then repeat for 2 more rounds.

2. Toe-Touch Jacks
Primary muscle focus: Adductors, abductors, shoulders

How to do it:

  1. Perform a modified jumping jack, without the jumping, by tapping your feet four to six inches out to the side one at a time.
  2. Tap to the right 7 times and left 7 times for a total of 14 taps.
  3. Pause, then repeat for 2 more rounds.

3. Traveling Side Squat
Primary muscle focus: Adductors, abductors, and glutes

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and hands on your hips.
  2. Step your left foot out to the side. As you land, lower into a squat, bending at your knees and hips.
  3. From there, squeeze your butt and press through both heels to stand back up, bringing your right foot in to meet your left foot as you do. Immediately step your left foot out to the side as you squat once again.
  4. Perform 5 squats leading with the left leg.
  5. Pause, then reverse directions with 5 squats leading with the right leg for a total of 10 reps.
  6. Repeat for 2 to 3 more rounds.

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4. Glute Bridge
Primary muscle focus: Glutes

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks.
  2. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.
  3. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
  4. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement.
  5. Pause, then slowly lower your hips. That’s one rep.
  6. Do 10 to 12 reps, or as many as you can with good form.
  7. Rest and repeat 2 to 3 more times.

5. Forward Lunge
Primary muscle focus: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and adductors

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How to do it:

  1. Stand beside a sturdy chair for balance support (if needed), with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on your hips.
  2. Take a big step forward with one leg, and slowly lower your body until your front thigh is parallel with the floor (knee is at a 90-degree angle).
  3. Make sure that your front knee doesn’t extend far past your toes. If you have troublesome knees, you can lean slightly forward from the waist to reduce stress on the joints. 
  4. Pause, then press through your heel to bring your front foot back to start.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Continue to lunge, alternating sides, for a total of 16 to 20 reps.
  7. Rest and repeat 2 to 3 more times.

6. Monster Walk (Band Side Step)
Primary muscle focus: Abductors

How to do it:

  1. Place a miniband or tie a longer band around your legs, just above your knees.
  2. Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Step to the right until the band provides resistance, then slide your left foot over to re-create your original stance.
  4. Step to the right 7 times then to the left 7 times for a total of 14 reps.
  5. Repeat for 2 to 3 more rounds.

7. Standing Hip Abduction
Primary muscle focus: Abductors

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall facing a wall, kitchen counter, or back of a sturdy chair, holding onto it for balance.
  2. Keeping your back straight, brace your core, and allow both legs to bend slightly.
  3. From here, lift one leg straight out to your side as far as you comfortably can, making sure not to tilt your trunk as you do so.
  4. Pause, then slowly lower your leg to return to starting position. That’s one rep.
  5. Lift your left leg 8 to 10 times.
  6. Switch legs and repeat with your right leg.
  7. Rest and repeat for 2 to 3 more rounds.

Make it harder: Perform the abductions with a small resistance band looped around your legs, just above your knees.

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