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The Best Exercise for Shaping & Forming Legs

Exercises best for targeting and defining specific leg muscles include heel raises for your calves and leg abductions for your outer thighs. A large number of exercises, however, target all the major muscles of your legs, including your hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. Variety in your leg workouts, including cardio, body-weight calisthenics and plyometric exercises, is your best bet for achieving toned, defined legs.

Cardio Workouts

Resistance exercises with dumbbells, resistance bands or weight machines offer one way to build and define muscle. In addition, regular performance of certain cardiovascular workouts can go a long way in giving you defined leg muscles. Running and cycling are two such workouts; avid runners and cyclists almost uniformly have well-toned legs. Indoor cycling classes can build and shape your legs if you work with appropriate amounts of resistance. Stair treadmills provide an aerobic workout while also defining your legs. You can get a similar workout performing step-ups on a step bench.

Squat Variations

The basic squat is a quintessential leg-toning exercise. It's a multi-joint, or compound exercise, which implies that the movement engages several muscles. A traditional body weight squat targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hip complex muscles, which includes your glutes. Once you master the classic squat, pick up a foot and shift your weight to the opposite leg for a single-leg squat — you’ll tone your legs that much more. Holding dumbbells or a weighted bar will also help you better sculpt your legs, as will holding the squat and moving into and out of it slowly.

Lunge Variations

Lunges, like squats, are fundamental exercises that engage every leg and hip muscle including your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors. As with squats, you can hold extra weight, such as a barbell, across your shoulders to increase the effectiveness of a lunge. For better muscle definition, hold yourself in a lunge position for as long as you can without compromising your form, or perform walking lunges over a predetermined distance or for a specific period of time. Perform multi-directional lunges by lunging forward, to the side and straight back, to effectively work your muscles in different ways.

Plyometrics

Plyometrics, or explosive jumps, are advanced exercises that both require and develop superior strength and power, which translates to fully defined legs. Plyometrics consist of loading your legs — much like a compressed spring — in a lowering phase, followed by an explosive jump. Jumps can be purely vertical or a combination of vertical and lateral, forward or backward. Landing lightly on your feet is crucial to correct jumping form. When performing a jump series, you shouldn’t pause for more than a moment after landing before loading the next jump. Both squats and lunges can become plyometric movements. Once you master two-leg jumps, you can progress to single-leg jumps.

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About the Author

Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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