Toned legs aren't just for show. Aside from helping you feel proud when wearing thigh-hugging pants, strong legs will make your favorite form of exercise feel easier, and building muscle mass also keeps your metabolism going strong. All these moves require no equipment — just you and five minutes. Repeat this five-move circuit two or three times, and you'll feel your inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, and calves burning.
Short on time? Don't skip the strength-training session — get playful with the plank! By doing multitasking variations of this basic move, you can target your arms, back, core, legs, and booty to chisel out a stronger, more toned you.
Everyone has a favorite workout routine, that's for sure. For some, that consists of cardio, like running or cycling, and for others, it's all about strength training — hello, kettlebells! We know each has its benefits (strength training burns more fat! Cardio kills more stress!), but the debate over which is better may never end.
We want to know: when it comes to getting the body you want, do you prefer to break a sweat on the treadmill or reach for the dumbbells? Shout it out by taking our poll or commenting below!
First things first: lifting heavier weights will not turn you into the Incredible Hulk. In fact, lifting a heavier set of dumbbells can actually lead to a smaller, stronger you. Sound like just what you're after? Here are two important reasons to ditch the two-pounders and grab heavier weights.
- You'll lose weight faster: Who doesn't want to drop pounds the most efficient way possible? Healthy chef and trainer Katy Clark recommends this test: "Whatever weight you're bearing — if you're doing five pounds, if you're doing 10 pounds — if you're not tired by [rep] number 10, then you need to go a little bit heavier. If you are consistently doing that, you're going to see changes in your strength and in your muscle mass." More muscle mass equals more metabolism, so maximize your body's fat-burning potential by challenging your muscles with heavier weights.
- You can reshape your body: Cardio may help you shed excess pounds, but it's the weights that will help you sculpt the strong, toned look you're going for. "You’re not going to change the shape of your body [with cardio], you’re just going to be exactly like you are but you’ll be a smaller version," says trainer Tia Falcone, who helped Miss America lose over 50 pounds. "All your flaws will be the same, everything will just be smaller." She recommends doing four weight-training routines a week to sculpt and reshape your problem areas.
Of course, if you're not used to a weight-training routine, start small and work your way up to heavier weights; starting too heavy can lead to injuries that can sideline all your weight-loss efforts. Here's a chart of common dumbbell sizes for beginners to help you get started; in general, aim for a weight that will fatigue your muscles in eight to 12 reps.
If that bit of flesh that hangs over your jeans is nagging you to work out, we have a handful of moves to help tone your muffin top. Along with regular cardio, these five exercises will also get your heart rate pumping to burn calories and work all the muscles in your middle. Press play and bid farewell to your love handles.
Although the name is funny, donkey kicks are a great exercise that you can do anytime, anywhere. This move will work both your butt and your lower back — all you need is a floor!
- Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle as you slowly raise your leg behind you until your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Pulse your flexed foot toward the ceiling by squeezing your glutes. Your back should remain perfectly still in a neutral spine. The motion should be small and controlled with the muscle doing the work and not momentum.
- Return to start position to complete one rep. Do 20 on each side, two to three times.
Tip: Keep your back straight and in neutral alignment, pay special attention that you don't arch your back. Use your muscles to create a slow, controlled movement — do not swing your legs.
This Tabata workout is a fitness cram session! In 30 minutes, you work your entire body and then some. To make the workout even more efficient, we borrow a trick from Chicago-based trainer Lauren Fairbanks and turn the rest period into isometric exercises, which she lovingly calls "frest" for fake rest. Holding these positions works the muscles in a complementary way after the intensity of interval work.
Instructions: For Tabata, perform each exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat for a total of eight rounds, which comes to four minutes. Then move to the next Tabata.
Each round consists of two full Tabatas followed by an isometric break of two exercises, which you hold for 60 seconds each.
Round One: Warmup
Tabata One — jumping jacks/cross jacks: Begin with classic jumping jacks for first interval, switch to cross jacks (pictured above) for the second interval, and continue in this pattern for remaining intervals doing four sets of each type of jumping jack.
Tabata Two — alternating reverse lunges/alternating side lunges: Start with reverse lunges for the first interval, switching legs with each rep. For the second interval, do side lunges, once again switching legs with each rep. Continue alternating between reverse and side lunges for each interval, doing four sets of each type of lunge.
Round Two: Full-Body
Tabata Three — single-leg deadlifts with overhead press: Use a five- to 10-pound weight; alternate sides with each interval. If you're standing on your right leg, then hold the weight in your left hand, moving weight to opposite hand when you switch legs.
Tabata Four — wood chops: Use a five- to 10-pound weight, and alternate sides with each interval.
Elbow side plank right
Elbow side plank left
Round Three: Core
Tabata Six — T push-ups: After each push-up, rotate into a side plank. Hold either plank or side plank for the 10-second rest period.
Tabata Five — full sit-ups with diamond legs: With the soles of the feet together and knees opened wide, perform this sit-up variation with arms straight arms, but do not rely on momentum! Keep the movement controlled.
Static V-sit: Hold Boat pose with either bend legs or straight
Advanced bridge: Also known as tabletop position, advanced bridge should give you a nice upper-body stretch while you work your glutes and legs.
It's true, in five minutes and five moves, you can tone your entire body. Perfect for those traveling over the holidays, these exercises don't require equipment and can be done anywhere. Set the stopwatch on your phone, and get ready to feel the burn. Time is tickin'!
Arms: One-Legged Push-Up
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Extend your left leg behind you so it's parallel with the floor. Engage your abs.
- With your leg extended, bend your elbows lowering your torso toward the floor while keeping your left heel in line with your left hip. Straighten your elbows to push yourself away from the floor.
- Repeat for a total of 30 seconds then lift your right leg for another 30 seconds.
Backside: Standing Booty Kicks
- Stand tall, and place your hands on your hips.
- Put all the weight in your left leg, keep both legs straight, and lift your right leg directly behind you. Let your glutes do all the work. Keep your right foot flexed, and work on lifting your heel as high as you can without leaning your torso too far forward. Engage your abs to help you stay balanced.
- Then lower your right leg so it's parallel with your left, but don't let it touch the ground. Then lift it back up behind you.
- Repeat this move for 30 seconds at a moderate pace. Then lift your left leg, and repeat the same movement for another 30 seconds.
- Lie on your back, and reach your arms rigidly to your side, off the floor. Lift your legs off the floor, and point them so they are at about a 45-degree angle. Lift your head so your shoulders are off the floor as well.
- When ready to begin, lift your upper torso off the floor, and bend your knees. You can lean back to make this move harder or come up more to make it easier. Lower back down to the floor so your legs are straight out and your back is on the floor but not your head, shoulders, or legs.
- Repeat for one minute. Keep your abs engaged as you perform this move instead of relying on gravity; if it gets too hard, then keep your knees bent as you lower down.
Legs: Wide Squat
- To start, keep your hands clasped in front of your chest as shown. Step your feet apart so there's about 20 inches between your heels. Point your toes out slightly.
- Bend your knees and elbows, keep your shoulders over your hips, and lower down so your weight is back in your heels. Then straighten your legs and arms.
- Repeat this movement for one minute.
Obliques: Twisting Side Elbow Plank
- Come into an elbow plank on your right side, with your feet stacked one on top of the other. Rest your weight on your right elbow with your fingers reaching away from your body, palm down.
- Place your left arm behind your head, and inhale to prepare.
- Exhale and pull your navel to your spine to engage your deep abs, and rotate your left rib cage toward the floor. Stay there for a second, and deepen your abdominal connection, pulling your navel in toward your spine even more.
- Return to starting position, and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the motion for another 30 seconds.
Side planks are a great way to work your core, but why not add a twist to spice things up? Adding any kind of motion to a side plank challenges your balance, works your obliques, and tones your shoulders. Needless to say, it's a move you have to try!
- Come into a side elbow plank on your right side, with your feet stacked one on top of the other. Keep your weight on your right elbow with your fingers reaching away from your body.
- Place your left arm behind your head, and inhale to prepare.
- Exhale, and pull your navel to your spine, engaging your deep abs. Rotate your left ribcage toward the floor. Stay there for a second, and deepen your abdominal connection by pulling your navel in toward your spine even more.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat seven more times for a total of eight reps, then switch sides. Repeat series again on your left side.
Bonus: although this is a strength training move, this exercise also provides a nice stretch for your upper back!