After a god-awful winter and no spring season whatsoever, summer has arrived, and it literally has no chill. We totally skipped over denim jacket weather and basically went straight to face-directly-in-the-AC-vent weather, so it’s time to dress accordingly. If you’re putting on your shorts for the first time in a year and notice your legs could use some much-needed toning and tightening, don’t panic. Do these six leg exercises, and once you’re done, repeat the whole circuit another three times to really tone and strengthen your legs. And also, like, try not to cry when you sit down tomorrow. Consider yourself warned.
1. Curtsey Lunges
Regular squats and lunges can get boring and repetitive, so trying out different leg exercises and variations help target your muscles in a different way. Curtsey lunges are great because they hit various muscle groups in your quads and glutes, and they also challenge your body’s overall balance and stability. They’re v underrated. The idea here is to lunge backwards like you would regularly, but instead of bringing your knee directly behind you, bring it in a diagonal direction, crossing behind your other leg. Like a curtsey, get it?? Bend your knees and lower your hips until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Then, return to standing position and do the same on the other leg. Complete 10 reps per leg, and if you feel like it’s too easy, hold a weight in each hand to add resistance.
2. Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
This exercise is based on using a swiss ball, but if your gym doesn’t have one, this can also work using TRX bands or the rowing machine. Begin on the floor by lying on your back with your feet up on top of the ball. You want your ankles to be on top of the ball when your legs are fully extended. Raise your hips off the ground, keeping your weight in your shoulders and your feet. Then, flex your knees, pulling the ball inward toward your body while squeezing the backs of your legs. Once the ball is “curled” inward, straighten out your legs again, rolling it outwards. Aim for 15 reps.
3. Single Leg Glute Bridges
Glute bridges are a classic butt exercise, but by focusing on one leg at a time, you also hit your hamstrings, which are the muscles that make up the backs of your legs. You’re basically getting the best of both worlds because you’re working your thighs and butt in one simple move. Lucky you. Lying on a mat, keep your hands at your sides and your knees bent out in front of you. Then, extend one leg as you lift your butt off the ground, squeezing your glutes and lifting your hips toward the ceiling. Think about pushing down with your left heel as you lift. Do 10 reps on one leg and then switch to the other.
4. Jumping Sumo Squats
We tend to do a lot of squats and jump squats in our leg workouts, but the sumo squat is a different variation that a lot of people ignore. The idea here is to do a jump squat, but your stance is more like that of a ballerina, with your toes turned outward and your legs further apart than they’d usually be. This way, when you squat down, the resistance shifts from your quads to your glutes, and it becomes more of a butt-focused movement. You’re also getting your heart rate up and burning calories because like, you’re jumping. Duh. Try doing 15-20 jumps without stopping.
5. Elevated Reverse Lunges
Reverse lunges are a staple leg movement, and by elevating your front leg, you’re adding pressure to that leg’s quad muscle, and you REALLY feel the burn on these. The idea here is to find some sort of box or elevated step that you can put your front foot on, and then lunge backwards, bringing the back leg even further down than you would on a regular surface. This way, your quads get more resistance—kinda like when you turn up the torq on a spin bike. Remember to keep your chest up and head straight the whole time to avoid leaning forward. If these are too hard, lose the elevation and just do lunges on the ground. And if they’re easy, hold a weight, like the badass chick in this gif.
6. Wall Sit
Wall sits look relatively easy, but you might notice after a few seconds that your thighs are on fire and you want to die. This is normal. This move is also great because your body is basically in a squatting position, but your back is protected, so you can really engage all of the muscles in your legs to keep you stable. With your back flat against a wall, set your feet about shoulder-width apart, about two feet out from the wall. Slide your back down the wall, bending your knees as low as you can get. Hold the position for one minute, and remember to contract your abs while you’re holding it. Your legs will probably start shaking, but that just means it’s working. Just think about how good your legs will look in your new romper.
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I love spending $34 on a workout class as much as the next financially careless millennial, but honestly, you can get just as good of a workout by yourself in the gym or at home if you want to. Pilates classes are amazing because you have the help of a certified instructor, but if you know some of the basic moves, you can do them on your own without a room full of toned women in matching Outdoor Voices leggings. These six Pilates exercises are simple enough to do on your own, and you don’t need any fancy equipment to get a good workout. Add these moves into your regular workout routine to switch it up, or do all six together as a total Pilates circuit. Here are the moves for the Pilates bod you’ve always wanted.
1. Plank Rocks
Plank rocks are exactly what they sound like, but for some reason, they’re so much harder than holding a regular plank. The idea here is to start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your core engaged. Then, using the tiniest motion from your toes to your shoulders, rock your body back and forth, feeling the burn in your abs the whole time. This is a small, controlled movement, so your body should only be moving a couple inches toward your hands, and then a couple inches back toward your heels. Think about drawing your belly button in toward your spine and keeping your butt low the whole time. Don’t cheat yourself.
2. Glute Bridges
This is one of those Pilates exercises that you probably didn’t even know was from Pilates. The glute bride is a simple move, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll feel the burn in your butt and hamstrings pretty quickly. Start lying on your back with your legs hip-width apart, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor. You can keep your hands on the floor next to you, or raise them toward the sky to make it harder. Then, keeping your feet on the ground, lift your pelvis off the floor and squeeze your butt at the top, holding for a second before lowering down to the ground. If you’re advanced, you can also do this with one leg off the floor to really target each part of your butt separately.
3. The Hundred
This looks like a standard boat pose, but it’s actually so much harder because the idea is to pulse your hands, literally, a hundred times. Hence the name. This move is a Pilates staple because it works your abs and tests your stability and endurance at the same time. The Hundred refers to the 100 beats you hold the pose for, but if you’re a beginner, start with 50 and we won’t tell on you. Start in a boat pose with your tail bone and lower back on the floor and your legs and upper body elevated. Then, keep your arms out toward your sides and pulse up and down, feeling it in your core. FYI: be careful with your head placement on this one. You want to keep your chin slightly tucked, as if you’re holding a tennis ball on your chest. Don’t start looking up and taking the pressure off of your core.
4. Kneeling Leg Lifts
This exercise is literally the reason Pilates instructors have the perkiest butts ever. Well, maybe also genetics and years of experience, but you get the point. It works. Kneeling leg lifts are one of the only lower body moves that are just as effective without any weights, so the key is to think about activating your glutes and squeezing on each rep instead of just kicking around by using momentum. Keeping your weight on your forearms and knees, lift one leg straight up behind you in a 90-degree angle so your heel is facing towards the ceiling. Squeeze your butt cheek at the top each time, and then switch to the other leg after 10 reps. You can also hold for a few seconds at the end or add a pulse.
5. Kneeling Side Leg Twists
The kneeling side leg twist sounds complicated, but you’re basically working three muscle groups in one movement: abs, arms, and legs. AKA, it’s a winner. Kneel on the right leg with your left leg extended out to the side, and keep your right arm supporting you with your palm on the floor under your right shoulder. Lift your leg and your left arm up to the sky, and then, as you lower your leg back to the mat, thread your left arm under your waist to twist toward the floor. You want to make sure that when you twist your torso, you’re essentially crunching your oblique with the help of your arm. After 30 seconds to a minute, switch to the other side.
6. The Teaser
IDK why this is called the teaser, but Pilates teachers love it, and it’s because it literally annihilates your core. Doesn’t sound like a tease to me. Start by lying on the ground with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Then, reach out your arms and lift your legs off the floor in a 90-degree angle. Lift your upper body off of the floor using your abs, and then straighten out your legs at the top. Think about lifting your head and shoulders up in one movement, trying to create a V-shape with your torso and legs. Then, roll back onto your back and bend your knees again. Aim for 15 reps.
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