The inner-thigh region is one of the most commonly neglected muscle areas, according to experts. “Most of our day is spent going in forwards or backwards motions, so we seldom develop strong inner thighs. They only really come to play when we make lateral or side-to-side movements,” says Roger E. Adams, PhD, Houston-based dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of Eat Right Fitness. The good news, however, is that anyone can tone or strengthen this area, as hard has it may seem. The secret is knowing the right moves to help target and fine-tune inner thigh muscles. To help you tighten this area, we asked top trainers to divvy up their best inner thigh exercises.
Also known as side lunges, this inner thigh exercise is a great starting point for muscle toning. “It incorporates integrated movement into the training of the adductors and hits the glutes along with the adductors to give you a calorie burn,” explains Cary Raffle, CPT, an orthopedic exercise specialist in New York City. “It’s also quite versatile, since you can add weight, add speed, [and] incorporate a step-to balance and exercises such as biceps curls or lateral raises.” Raffle recommends starting with your feet close together and your head facing forward. First, move one leg to the side, about shoulder-width from mid-body. Then, s
quat down onto that side while looking straight ahead. “The opposite leg should be fully extended without any bend at the knee. And the opposite foot should remain fully planted without rolling off the floor,” he adds.
To make squats hit the inner thighs, Sports Scientist Elesa Zehndorfer, Ph.D., suggests standing with your legs wider than normal, toes pointed outwards. Also known as the “sumo squat,” it’s easy to make this move more or less intense, depending on your experience level. “You can add a bar or dumbbells for extra weight or make it a ‘goblet squat’ by holding a dumbbell in both hands to your chest before executing the squat,” she says.
To perform the sumo squat, Dr. Adams recommends standing with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, keeping your torso as erect and upright as possible. While bending your knees, lower your butt down below the level of your knees. “Be sure to keep your toes pointing outward, but in line with your knees the entire time. And try not to turn your toes in,” he says. “As you come up from this squat, push your knees out. This will really help load your heels, and help bring in the inner thigh even more.” Keep your knees and toes straight to prevent knee injury.
Fitness Ball Squeezes
If you’ve ever used the machine known as the “Thigh Master,” this inner thigh exercise will work your muscles the same way. “Find an exercise ball where you can put your legs on either side. You may have to use a smaller one than you usually use for crunches,” says Dr. Adams. “Lie down on your back, bend your knees, and place the ball between your legs, squeezing the ball for ten seconds as hard as you can and then relax for two seconds.” To make this move more challenging, he suggests trying to raise the ball off the floor as you squeeze.
Cable Hip Adduction
The seated adductor machine may be the easy and obvious choice for targeting the inner thigh muscles. However, Raffle says that it’s not the best. “It actually combines hip internal rotation with hip adduction, because of the angled position at the hip. And seated exercises burn fewer calories, so it’s less effective at toning,” he says. Cable hip adduction, on the other hand, is a more targeted way to work the inner thigh. This is usually done with an ankle cuff attached to a pulley. He suggests starting with a low weight. If it’s still too heavy you can move it up higher onto the leg. “Take a wide stance and slowly move your legs together and apart,” he says. “You will need to slightly bend [at] your hip and knee so that the moving leg can move through the full range of motion without scraping the floor.”
This classic ballet move can’t be performed perfectly without strong thighs. You can only imagine the wonders it works for this muscle area. “When I was a junior associate at the Royal Ballet, we did this move about a million times, and it’s a staple of most barre classes all over,” says Dr. Zehndorfer. To start, stand upright in first position (stand with your heels together and toes pointed outwards). Holding gently onto a barre, high chair, or table, move into the downward plié position (bend slightly at the knees, keeping your body upright) and then return up, she explains. Continue as many reps as those thighs can handle!
This side-step movement causes the inner thigh to work hard at generating movement, but also stabilizing your knee, explains Dr. Adams. To perform this inner thigh exercise, find a bench or chair that will support your weight, as you’ll need to step on it! “Standing beside the bench, step onto it sideways, keeping your foot flat and your trailing leg up. And then carefully step down, maintaining your sideways position the entire time,” says Dr. Adams. “It’s important that you avoid rotating your hips or torso so that you’re facing the bench. This makes it a simple step-up.” Do as many side step-ups as you can before switching to the other side. To make this move more challenging, Dr. Adams suggests adding extra weight with either a dumbbell or medicine ball.
Add these inner thigh exercises to your weekly workout routine to target this hard to reach area and to keep your thighs sculpted and toned.