7 Gentle Exercises to Tone Your Lower Body
You mean you can do these and see real effects? Yes, we do—and yes, there is a Jane Fonda move from the '80s in this mix...
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The importance of a toned lower body extends beyond shapely calves and strong, lean thighs. Toned muscles are healthy, and they support the functional movement of everyday life. When we strengthen and tone the lower body, we’re also building muscles in the glutes and core, which is essential for protecting the low back.
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to tone the lower body—and many of them are gentle—which is good news, because not everyone is cut out to be a long-distance runner or downhill mountain biker. We tone through strength training, but that doesn’t necessarily require weights. For most of these favorite gentle exercises that tone the lower body, the only thing required is your body!
“Your body fat percentage will increase over time if you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose over time,” the Mayo Clinic‘s blog suggests. “Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age.” Increasing lean muscle mass is important for boosting bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis—plus it just keeps us safer from falls and from injury while doing everyday activities.
Physical therapists and personal trainers shared with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest their favorite gentle exercises to tone the lower body.
“Lie on your side with your rear end and back touching the wall and bend your knees so your feet are flat to the wall,” instructs Dr. Camille Ronesi PT, DPT, FMS 2. “Firmly press your top foot into the wall as you rotate your knee up towards the ceiling a few inches,” Dr. Ronesi says, “Within a few reps, you should feel the muscle working the middle of your top butt cheek.”
Clamshells are a fantastic exercise for building strength in your glutes, which helps tone the lower body and the core.
Dr. Ronesi also likes sit-to-stands because they take something you do every day and turn it into an exercise. “Pick a sturdy chair whose seat height you can comfortably stand from, and have a seat on the edge of your chair, feet firmly planted about hip-width apart,” Dr. Ronesi instructs. “Rock your torso forward as you press your feet into the ground, rise to stand and focus on squeezing your butt muscles.” You use your hips more than your knees for this.
“As you sit back down, maintain a tall, upright torso and visualize pulling your hips straight down rather than pushing into the back of the chair,” Dr. Ronesi says.
Squats are an easy, foolproof way to tone the lower body, and there are many variations depending on skill level. “Assisted squats are a great option for those who don’t yet have the flexibly to get into a deep squat with proper form,” says Errick McAdams, CPT, a Washington, D.C. personal trainer. McAdams recommends holding onto the side of a treadmill, if you have access to one, but you can also use a sturdy chair, kitchen counter, or whatever lends you the stability and support you need.
“Using both hands, hold onto the support, and place your toes about six inches away from the base of your support,” McAdams says. “Making sure to keep your weight on your heels, drop down onto a deep squat and down through your heels to return to standing.” McAdams recommends three to four sets of 15 to 25 repetitions to tone quads and glutes.
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Jane Fonda Leg Lifts
Jane Fonda revolutionized the home workout in the 1980s. Forty years later, a lot of her moves are still solid toning techniques.
McAdams loves the Jane Fonda Leg Lift because they’re simple, effective and accessible. “Lie on your side on a yoga mat and lift your top leg as high as you can and return it to the starting position,” McAdams says. It’s as simple as that. McAdams recommends 15 to 25 repetitions to tone outer thighs, glutes and obliques.
“To perform this exercise, lay on your back with knees bent,” instructs Dr. Kelly Kessler, DPT, who is also doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “Gently squeeze your butt muscles and slowly lift your butt and lower back from the floor into a bridge position.” Dr. Kessler suggests holding this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then slowly lowering back to the ground. “Gradually increase hold time as you can,” Dr. Kessler says. “This is a good exercise to strengthen glutes and hamstrings.”
Calf raises are a fantastic exercise because they fall into the category of something you can squeeze in almost anywhere. You can do calf raises waiting for your water to boil, while on hold on the phone, or really anywhere. Some do them on a step, but it’s not necessary.
“This exercise can be performed standing on the ground or at the edge of a step with a railing,” Dr. Kessler says. “Lift your heels off the ground or up from the edge of the step, then slowly lower back down.” Slowing down the lowering phase helps increase strength. Dr. Kessler says you can repeat this until the muscle feels fatigued. They are great for your calves, but the benefits work up the leg to the glutes.
Bodyweight Bulgarian split squats
These are more advanced than the assisted squats listed above, but they’re still a gentle exercise to tone the lower body. “Stand facing away from a bench or step, with the top of one foot placed on it behind you,” instructs Rob Wagener, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach. “Lower your body by flexing the knee and hip of the front leg and holding the position for two to three seconds before you return to the starting position. This exercise targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, and you can do 15 to 25 repetitions.