Thigh exercises: Tone up with our 30-day challenge

Thigh exercises to tone up and improve strength - follow fitness trainer Jade Hansle's simple plan

group of women taking part in thigh exercises
(Image credit: Alamy/Future)

Thigh exercises to help you tone up, gain strength and improve stamina. 

We’ve worked with fitness expert and personal trainer Jade Hansle on our 30-day thigh challenge, which aims to target every muscle - including your hamstring and quadriceps - to change the shape of your thighs.

While challenges like couch to 5k are great for burning calories and improving your cardio, this challenge will really help you tone up and gain strength. Combining static training alongside a movement-based style of exercise, you'll be having the maximum effect on your thighs. 

You could start seeing a difference in a matter of weeks. Jade Hansle told us, “You are likely to see some results two to four weeks after starting a leg training plan, and certainly within the 30 days set in the challenge. This will include better stamina and a little muscular definition in your legs. 

“Depending on your starting fitness level, however, I’d suggest carrying on for even better results.  It usually takes two-three months to really notice and tell improvements in leg strength and stamina which will result in the legs having more muscle and being more ‘toned’. 

30 days thigh challenge

The format for the 30-day thigh challenge follows three days of work followed by a day of rest, to allow the thighs to recover (on the rest day you should ideally incorporate stretching to aid recovery). Each day focuses on a different exercise that targets the different parts of the thigh muscles in unique ways - so they are constantly overloaded!

Each four-day cycle looks like this:

Day 1: Isometric wall squat hold and forward to backward lunges
Day 2: Isometric wall squat hold and lateral duck walks
Day 3: Isometric wall squat hold and air squats
Day 4: REST

Jade told us, “It's important to follow the instructions and carry out the exercises correctly, with the correct form. Proper form not only helps us avoid injuries but also helps us exercise more effectively. And, don’t be tempted to skip the rest days -  it’s important you give your muscle times to recover, especially if you’re new to exercise.” 

Your legs are made up of several different muscles. In this feature, we are focusing on the upper leg and thigh muscles, which run from your hips to your knee. These include your quads, hamstrings, and inner thigh muscles.

30 day thigh exercise challenge

(Image credit: Future)

You can download your FREE 30-day Thigh Challenge here

Getting started with the exercise plan couldn't be easier, all you need to do is download your own 30-day thigh challenge using the link below, print it off, and stick it up somewhere that will motivate you to do your daily exercise.

30 days thigh challenge exercises 

Video: How to do these thigh exercises

Air squats

  • With feet shoulder-width apart, push your bum back and bend your knees to lower towards the floor. Imagine you are sitting in an imaginary chair
  • Shoulders back, chest raised, and tummy engaged (belly button to spine)
  • Aim to squat as low as feels comfortable - the optimum would be when your thighs reach the point where they are parallel to the floor or lower.
  • Push through the heels and stand back up and repeat for the set number of reps.

The lower you can go in a squat - without the bottom of your spine curving in at the bottom -  the better. Jade explains, “The deep squat has been shown to be more effective at building the glutes and inner thigh muscles than a standard squat. It also develops strength throughout the entire range of motion in the joints.

Although if you are new to squatting, be aware of your limits. Jade adds, “You can only squat as low as your mobility will allow you to.

Air squats

Air squats

Forward to backward lunges

  • Take a big step forward with your
 left leg and bend both knees so you 
create a forward lunge
  • Ensure both knees
 are 90 degrees and the heel 
of your back foot should be lifted.

  • Once the back knee has touched the 
floor, push back with your front
 leg to return to the start position.
 Then perform the backward part by 
taking a big step backward (again
 with the left leg).
  • Your body should
 adopt the same position as the 
forward lunge - knees at 90 degrees and the back heel off the floor. 
  • Drive your leg back leg forwards, pushing off your front heel 
  • Ensure when you are performing both parts your knees are pushed out and not caving in
  • A forward and backward lunge with the same leg equals one repetition. 

This combination exercise is a great way to build muscle in your legs, as it targets both your glutes, quads, and hamstrings - that’s your bum, as well as the front and back of your legs. 

Forward to backward lunges

Forward to backward lunges

Lateral duck walks

  • With your weight in your heels, push your bum back and bend your knees to adopt a squat position.
  • With
 your tummy pulled in,
 maintain this low squat position while taking
 controlled side steps.
  • Keep the feet facing 
forwards and imagine
 you are transversing 
under a low ceiling.

  • Take the relevant 
number of side steps in
 one direction (as outlined in the plan) before
 heading back the other way for the same number of repetitions. 
  • Only once you have done the reps can you stand back up. Prepare for a thigh burn.
  • Ensuring your weight is in your heels will help you to have the correct form which can prevent you from sustaining injuries whilst performing the exercises.

Want to make it harder? Jade tells us, “Try completing the side steps while holding some weights or add a resistance band to your legs - just above your knees.”

Lateral duck walks

Lateral duck walks

Isometric wall squat hold

  • Start by standing against a wall with your feet out in front of you (shoulder-width apart). 
  • Ensure your shoulders are flat against the wall 
  • Then slowly lower your body, sliding down the wall till you make a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee.
  • At this point check your knees - if they are going forwards over your toes then you need to move your feet forwards.
  • Once in the right position, with weight through your heels, shoulders, and bum touching the wall, tummy tight... start counting!

This exercise is a real leg burner as it isolates the quadriceps muscles of the front of your thighs. It’s really important you reach the correct position to ensure you’re targeting the right muscles for this movement. Jade explains, “Never allow your knees to extend past your ankles. Your lower legs should be parallel to the ground with your knees directly over your ankles. If the knees extend past the ankles, you'll be utilising your calves instead of your quads.

Finding this a bit tricky? Jade suggests starting with a higher position against the wall, to begin until you feel stronger. “Start with a higher wall position (at 45 degrees). Then, as your leg stamina increases, gradually lower yourself down the wall until you are at a complete 90- degree angle at the hip and knee.” She adds, “Some people may find it easier to place an exercise ball behind their back if they are struggling to keep their shoulders flat against the wall.

However, if you want to make it a bit more challenging, try adding some weights. 

Isometric wall squat hold

Why do we lose muscle tone as we get older?

Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. A combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises will improve muscle health, as well as overall health. A healthy balanced diet full of protein‑rich foods and carbs will also help you to build muscle.

Why are thighs one of the trickiest areas to tone?

Your legs are made up of several different muscles and are the biggest muscle group so they require the most work. Genetics also play a role here, some people are blessed with more toned legs and find it easier to build muscle in their legs than others.

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Editor in Chief

Anna Bailey has been the editor of GoodtoKnow since 2018. Before joining the team she was Features Editor at MSN UK, where she oversaw Family Health and Days Out. Previously, she was Digital Lifestyle Editor for the broadcaster UKTV, and Lifestyle Editor for Anna studied Multi-Media Journalism at Bournemouth University and went on to gain her NCTJ and NCE journalism qualifications. Anna is responsible for driving the direction and editorial strategy of Goodto. A mum and experienced baby product tester, she is passionate about providing safe, trustworthy, and relatable advice for families of all kinds.