Tone Your Trouble Spots: Thighs

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Improve how they look—and, more importantly, work—with these five exercises.

older woman on exercise mat

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., an exercise physiologist and a clinical supervisor 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.”

Unfortunately, over the years, strength and muscle mass in the thighs can decline, making once-routine activities harder, increasing stress on the knees, and even contributing to symptoms of osteoarthritis, explains Leython Williams, D.P.T., a physical therapist and facility manager at Athletico Physical Therapy in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

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

1. Chair Sit

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, your back facing a sturdy chair or high bench. From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your hips onto the chair. Keeping your chest up, immediately push through your heels to raise your body back up to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps.

If that’s too easy: Don’t let yourself relax onto the chair with each rep. Instead, reverse the movement as soon as you touch the seat.

2. Forward Stepup

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, facing a low step or bench that’s about six to eight inches high. Place one foot fully on the step, and shift your weight onto that foot. From here, press through your bent leg to raise your back foot up onto the step, trying to prevent any swinging of your torso as you do so. Slowly step back down. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps on one side, then repeat on the other side. Work up to three sets.

If that’s too easy: When you can complete three sets of 10 reps per leg with proper form, perform the exercise holding three- to five-pound dumbbells in each hand down at your sides.

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3. Glute Bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. With your arms out to your sides on the floor, brace your core. From here, squeeze your buttocks to lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly lower your hips to starting position. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps.

If that’s too easy: Add in single-leg marches. With your hips in the raised position, slowly lift one foot off the floor, squeezing your buttocks to keep your hip from dropping to the floor. Lower your foot to starting position, then repeat on the other side.

4. Wall Washers

This move will be easier if you wear socks. Lie on your side with your back about four to six inches away from a wall with your bottom leg bent and your top leg straight. From here, keeping your 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 that your heel slides up and then back down the wall. (Wearing socks helps your heel slide more easily.) That’s one rep. Perform 10 to 15 reps until you feel a slight burn in the side of your hip. Repeat on the other side.

If that’s too hard: Work up to it with clamshells. Lie on one side with your knees bent and legs stacked one on top of the other. Keeping your feet together, slowly raise your top knee as high as possible. Your legs should resemble an opened clamshell. Pause, then slowly lower back down to starting position.

5. Single-Leg Reach

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and lift one foot an inch or two off the floor. If needed, hold onto the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for balance. From here, keeping your back flat, hinge forward from your hips, and touch the knee of the leg you’re standing on with your opposite hand. Pause, and then raise back up to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps per side.

If that’s too easy: Hold a dumbbell in one or both hands. Or lean over farther, and try to touch your toes.

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Note: The exercises in this workout may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. Please consult your physician before beginning a physical activity program to make sure it’s safe for you.

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