Tone Your Trouble Spots: Thighs

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Build stronger, slimmer inner and outer thighs with these five exercises.

thigh exercises

When most people talk about their “trouble spots,” they’re focused on one thing only: appearance. It’s time to change that—especially when it comes to your thighs.

“The least important thing about your thighs is their appearance,” says Polly de Mille, R.N., C.S.C.S., director of performance services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Your thighs play a critical role in your quality of life and maintaining independence as you age. You wouldn’t be able to walk up stairs, get out of a chair, or maintain balance on one leg without strength in your thighs.”

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Unfortunately, over the years, muscle strength in the thighs can decline, making everyday activities harder, increasing stress on the knees, and even contributing to symptoms of osteoarthritis, explains Leython Williams, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Get your thighs out of trouble—and turn them into one of your strongest assets—with these five exercises from de Mille.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Thigh Exercise #1: Sit-to-Stand

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

How to do it: Stand with your heels six inches in front of a chair or bench. Hold your arms out in front of you for balance as needed. Brace your core.

From here, bend your knees and hips to sit back until your glutes touch the chair. Pause, then push through your heels to return to standing. That’s one rep. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.

Make it easier: Allow yourself to briefly sit and relax on the chair before standing back up, or use a higher bench so you don’t have to sit down as far. Make sure to stand up by pushing through your heels, rather than swinging or using momentum.

Thigh Exercise #2: Stepup

Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps per side

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. Start with a low step, increasing the height for a challenge. If you like, perform the move next to a wall for support.

Set your right foot on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Step up with your left foot, and then step down one foot at a time. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps on one side, and then repeat on the other side. Work up to three sets.

Make it harder: Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight stepup, it’s time to add some resistance. Grab a pair of light dumbbells, and hold them at your sides with palms facing your body.

Thigh Exercise #3: Single-Leg Reach

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps per side

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and lift your left foot one to two inches off the floor. If needed, hold on to the wall or counter for support.

From here, hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat, and touch your right knee with your left hand. Pause, and then raise back up to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps per side.

Make it easier: Skip the reach, and do a single-leg stand. Lift one foot an inch off the floor, and balance on the other for 10 to 30 seconds.

Thigh Exercise #4: Glute Bridge

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

How to do it: You can perform this move with or without shoes on, whichever is safest and most comfortable for you.

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. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.

From here, 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. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement.

Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.

Make it harder: Try the single-leg march. With your hips in the raised position, slowly lift one foot off the floor, squeezing your buttocks to keep your hips steady. Lower your foot back down, and repeat on the opposite side.

Thigh Exercise #5: Wall Washer

Do 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps per side

This exercise will be easier if you wear socks, so it’s a good idea to save it for the end of your workout.

Lie on your right side with your back about four to six inches away from a wall. Bend your bottom leg, and keep your top leg straight.

From here, keeping your top knee straight and core tight, extend your top leg behind you to press your heel into the wall. Moving from your hip, slowly raise and lower your leg so your heel slides up and down the wall. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 10 to 15 reps, and repeat on the opposite side.

Make it easier: Try the clamshell. Lie on one side with your knees bent and legs stacked. Keeping your feet together, slowly raise your top knee. Pause, then lower back down to starting position.

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