I have been working as a personal trainer for over 30 years, and during that time, I have had the opportunity to train women from all walks of life with various fitness goals. From bodybuilders to soccer players, dancers to moms, and retirees, I have helped them all achieve their strongest, fittest, and healthiest selves. One area that many of my clients often want to improve is their thighs. While exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts are great for leg development, I also believe in the importance of exercise variation for better progress.
A 2019 study published on PubMed supports this idea, stating that exercise variation enhances motivation, muscle gains, and strength increases. With this in mind, I have compiled a collection of expert-approved thigh exercises specifically for women. Whether you incorporate a few of these movements into your existing workout or use them to design your next lower body training plan, I am confident that you will love the results.
Before we delve into the exercises, let’s first understand the basics of thigh muscle anatomy. The thighs consist of several large and important muscles and muscle groups. The quadriceps, or quads for short, are a group of four muscles located on the front of your thighs. These muscles work together to extend your knees, with the rectus femoris also flexing your hip. On the back of your thighs, you’ll find the hamstrings, which consist of three muscles that flex your knees and extend your hips.
Moving to the inner thigh muscles, known as the adductors, their primary function is to adduct the hip, meaning to draw your femur or thighbone inward. The adductor group consists of the adductor longus, brevis, and magnus. On the other hand, the abductors are responsible for lifting your leg out and away from the midline of your body. These muscles include the gluteus minimus, medius, and the tensor fascia latae.
It’s important to note that the thigh muscles often work in conjunction with the muscles of the hip, particularly the gluteus maximus. This is because knee extension/flexion and hip extension frequently occur together. So, while our focus is on the thighs, many of the exercises listed also target the glutes.
Now that we have covered the muscle groups involved, let’s move on to the best thigh exercises for women. It’s essential to emphasize that there is no such thing as a “male” or “female” exercise, and all genders can benefit from these movements. However, based on my personal training experience, the exercises listed below tend to appeal more to women. Nevertheless, men can also incorporate them into their training routine.
1. Wall Squat / Squat Jump Combo
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, gluteus maximus, calves
This exercise involves two movements done back-to-back, making it intense and time-effective. Combining a wall squat with squat jumps not only burns calories but also raises your heart rate, making it ideal for metabolic training.
1. Stand with your back against a smooth wall, feet shoulder-width apart and about 18 inches in front of you.
2. Bend your legs and slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor, pushing your lower back into the wall.
3. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, then relax and stand up.
4. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and descend into a quarter-depth squat.
5. Using your arms for extra momentum, jump into the air as high as possible.
6. Land on slightly bent knees and repeat for 10-15 reps.
– Push your back against the wall as hard as possible.
– Move quickly from one exercise to the next without resting.
– End your squat jump set when your jump height noticeably decreases.
2. Paused Bulgarian Split Squat
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, gluteus maximus
This variation of the Bulgarian split squat takes the exercise to the next level, providing a greater challenge and more significant benefits.
1. Stand with your back to a knee-high exercise bench.
2. Bend one leg and place the top of your foot on the bench.
3. Hop forward into a split stance, with your arms by your sides or hands on your hips.
4. Bend your legs and lower your rear knee down to about an inch above the floor.
5. Hold this position for a slow count of three, then stand back up.
6. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps, then switch sides and repeat with the other leg.
– Hold your core tight and maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
– Focus on controlling the movement and engaging the targeted muscles.