10 exercises for lean legs
Want lean, slender legs with enough muscle to be shapely but not so much that you're busting out of your favourite jeans? Our combination of lean-leg exercises has you covered.
This variation of a classic barbell squat will target the fronts of your thighs to build shape rather than bulk
Hold a weighted barbell across the front of your shoulders and chest, and squat back and down, keeping the chest high
Squat low and deep, pause, then power up for one rep
Rack the barbell when you have finished your set
Deficit stiff legged deadlifts
Want to build shapely hamstrings and a perkier behind? Stiff legged deadlifts (SLDL) are your friend!
Stand on a gym step or very low bench (just a few inches high)
Take a dumbbell in each hand, or place a weighted barbell in front of your step
With feet slightly wider than hip width, toes pointing forward, lean over and pick up your weights
Stand up straight, keeping your arms straight throughout
Pull with the glutes and legs, not with your arms or shoulders
Lower down with straight legs, tipping at the hips, and straighten again for one rep
During lunges, take the back foot wider or closer to the middle line in order to work different areas of your legs and butt.
Using a similar weight to your front squat weight, place the loaded barbell across your back
Take one leg back and set up with both feet facing forward
Lower down, taking the back knee towards the floor, then power back up
Complete 10-12 reps on that side, bring the feet back together, then switch sides
Add plyometric moves like squat jumps into your gym workouts to blast body fat and lean up your legs without adding bulk.
Get into a squat position with feet hip width
Squat down and then power up from the bottom, jumping in the air and using your arms to swing and aid momentum
Land softly and sink into the next squat, pause, then jump again
There's no need to use any weight for this, as all the work lies in squeezing your hamstrings and glutes.
Lie on your back, with arms by your sides, palms down
Bring your feet in towards your hips and set them up hip-width with feet flat
Press into your feet and squeeze your butt and back to raise your hips up towards the ceiling
At the top of the movement, where your weight is on your feet, shoulders and arms/hands, squeeze the glutes, and hold
Lower down slowly and roll your back down through your spine
Walk walk walk your way to lean legs! You can do these with a dumbbell in each hand, a barbell across your back, or with no weight at all.
Simply take short lunging steps forward, dipping down into a lunge with each step, and stepping forward a pace with every upwards movement of the lunge
Don't work too fast or step too far forward, keep the lunges small and controlled
How many reps? As many as you can!
All forms of yoga are fantastic for building and shaping lean legs. Yoga encourages a balanced body with every muscle in tune and activated. It won't build serious muscle or burn significant fat but will stretch and shape your legs, hips and core so your posture is better, leading to a longer and leaner look.
There's plenty to do outside of the gym to uncover lean and lovely legs. Hill sprints are one of the best (and most time efficient).
Find a steep hill at least 100m long
Warm up with jogging or fast walking, then power up the hill at a sprint
Work really hard within your own rate of perceived exertion - you should only be able to sprint for 15-20 seconds before needing to slow down and stop
Jog or walk back to the bottom of the hill and repeat the sprint
Try for 6 reps at first, but build up to 8, 10 or 12
Cool down well afterwards
Yes, even a humble walk can contribute to leaner legs, but you need to pick up the pace. Walking is a great form of exercise for maintaining a lean physique without bulky muscle, because it works with the body and gently raises the metabolic rate, burning body fat and adding loads of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) to your day. All that activity will add up! Set out for at least 30 minutes, pump your arms and walk fast enough to raise your heart rate and breathing rate.
All forms of cycling are great for your legs! Choose from road bike riding, mountain biking, spin classes or using the bike in the gym.
In the gym: interval training is better than long sessions of one pace, so choose an interval, random or hill setting and work hard
On the road: use wind resistance, hills and stretches of flat road to your advantage and work through your gears to make your workout harder
On the trails: use the natural resistance of terrain to make the most of mountain biking, going fast when you can, and getting out of the saddle to climb.