You may be able to shape your thighs with certain exercises, including cycling and resistance training.

Shaping, toning, and strengthening your thigh muscles is good for you. Stronger thighs mean you’ll run faster, jump higher, and improve your overall stability. That’s why strengthening the legs is a much better goal than simply attaining smaller thighs.

And, it’s important to remember that overall cardiovascular and muscle health is what’s important — not the size of your jeans.

While you can’t do one exercise to target just one specific body part, there are certain exercises that focus more on leg strength and endurance than other areas of the body. So, if you’re looking to strengthen and tone your thighs, consider a few of these exercises.

These 10 activities will help you on your fitness journey toward stronger thighs and a healthier life.

If you’re familiar with indoor cycling classes, you know how much this type of workout uses your thighs. That’s why indoor cycling is an excellent choice not only for toning the legs but also for cardiovascular health and weight loss.

In fact, results of a 2010 study showed a decrease in body weight and fat mass in sedentary women with overweight after 24 sessions of indoor cycling.

On average, running burns 295 calories per 30 minutes and 590 calories per hour in a person who weighs 154 pounds. When you include stairs in your running workout, you amp up the use of your thigh muscles. Since every step requires lifting your body upward, it forces your leg muscles to fire.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, certified trainer Armen Ghazarians recommends beach walking as a way to strengthen your thighs. “The extra tension of walking on the sand will help tone and firm your thigh muscles,” he explains.

To get familiar with exercising on the sand, start with walking in the sand for 20 minutes each day. As your body gets used to exercising in the sand, you can add time to your daily workouts.

It’s no secret that dancers have strong and powerful legs. “Dancing combines a cardio element with specific toning moves that are sure to make your legs look amazing,” says certified trainer Lyuda Bouzinova.

This YouTube workout with a Pilates sequence is great for lengthening and toning your thigh muscles. Bouzinova says the specific sequence is designed to lean the thighs and create long, toned lines by working all the important thigh muscles in a specific order.

The quick change of direction required in many sports will help shape your legs from all angles, according to Ghazarians. Consider sports that require you to work your thigh muscles aerobically, such as:

Participating in total-body, muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week may help burn calories, reduce fat mass, and strengthen your thighs. Include lower body exercises such as lunges, wall sits, inner/outer thigh lifts, and step-ups with just your body weight.

The key to strengthening the legs without bulking up is to keep the reps high (at least 15 reps per set). Perform three rounds of each exercise with minimal rest between each movement.

You can also add upper-body movements to your lower body exercises for a great two-in-one move for overall fitness. For example, grab some dumbbells and do lunges with a bicep curl, or squats with an overhead shoulder press.

Bodyweight squats, which is squatting using your own bodyweight as resistance, burn calories, strengthen your leg muscles, and tone your thighs. Plus, you can do them anywhere, anytime.

Ghazarians recommends starting with 25 bodyweight squats, twice a day (50 total). You can squat while watching TV at home or after climbing a flight of stairs at work. If you’re ready for even more of a challenge, try this 30-day weighted squat challenge.

Bouzinova says the inner thighs are notoriously difficult to target, and the exercises that do tone them are a little awkward. So, many people skip them altogether. But if you feel funny doing the workouts at a gym, do them in the comfort of your own home.

One great move is the “platypus walk” that you can see in this Mission Lean YouTube workout. It works your inner and outer thighs as well as glutes for a completely toned look.

You can do balance work at home or at the gym. “The balance work tones all of the smaller muscles in your legs and thighs, tightens them up quickly, and makes for beautiful, lean legs,” explains Bouzinova.

She says a good move to try is single-leg deadlifts on the Bosu ball or doing your whole workout on a sandy beach to really test your balance.

Cardiovascular exercise burns calories and strengthens your heart. It also helps reduce body fat. Including both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady-state cardio in your overall exercise plan will help you reduce your total body fat and tone your thighs.

For a more advanced workout and calorie burn, consider adding one session of metabolic conditioning to your fitness plan. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, each week.

Combine both moderate and vigorous aerobic activity to get a total body workout.

It’s important to note that improving your fitness does not necessarily mean losing weight. But, if getting leaner and changing your body composition is also a goal, you’ll need to burn more calories than you consume.

Many of the above workouts will burn calories and strengthen your muscles simultaneously. Remember, losing weight slowly and steadily is the best way to maintain loss over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends losing about 1–2 pounds per week. People who do so are more likely to keep the weight off.

It’s also important to avoid going on an extreme diet that cuts out one food group entirely, like carbs, or is extremely low calorie, notes Bouzinova.

And, the benefits of weight loss go way beyond aesthetics. According to a 2018 study, losing inches in the thighs, hips, and buttocks may lower other risk factors for heart disease.

Here are a few science-backed tips to lose weight in a healthy way:

  • Drink lots of water, especially before meals.
  • If possible, eat eggs for breakfast, rather than grains.
  • Read food labels to cut back on added sugar.

Looking for more? This article has lots of practical tips on how to lose weight.

Body image

Moving your body and prioritizing your health is a great goal. However, it can be easy to find yourself comparing your body to others online.

If you’re experiencing negative body image, speaking with a mental health professional may be helpful. In therapy, you can learn tools for speaking to yourself and your body more kindly, focusing on feeling strong and healthy instead of “looking the part.”

Was this helpful?

In order to strengthen and tone the thighs, you’ll need to do exercises that involve the legs. If weight loss is also a goal, dietary changes combined with strength and aerobic exercise will help you lose fat, gain muscle, and improve your overall fitness.

Wanting to shape, strengthen, and tone your legs has many health benefits. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s bodies are different, and “healthy” may look somewhat different from person to person.

If you find yourself speaking unkindly to your body, you may want to speak with a mental health professional about developing a healthier and more compassionate body image.