Here is another question I get asked a lot as a personal trainer, and that is: “how can I shape my legs?”. It’s mostly women and they are mainly referring to the upper thigh, specifically the quadriceps muscles. One of the most common concerns being that wrinkly look above the knee. I am sure you know what I am talking about. That sagging skin above the knees, hanging down in wrinkles. Of course, the skin needs to be able to stretch there so that you will be able to bend your knee, but I am referring here to the excess.
Sagging skin usually means that the muscle underneath has shrunk or has never been strengthened in the first place. It can also be due to fat loss – without the corresponding buildup of muscle. Often this look is exacerbated by sun damaged skin. Many women suffer from these knee wrinkles, especially as they age. Our skin loses elasticity as we grow older, not only on our face, but all over the body. Some women are really self conscious about it and feel they can no longer wear skirts or shorts that show their knees.
While it is impossible to completely smooth these wrinkles out, it is definitely possible to build the muscle underneath to fill in that skin. Also avoiding sun damage, keeping the skin moisturized and eating nutrient dense food helps.
My recommended exercises for nice quadriceps is set out below. If you are new to these exercises, make sure you do these properly. I would always recommend working with a personal trainer until you are sure of your form. If you have any injuries or pain, discuss this with your doctor first. And as always, if you feel pain (and I don’t mean in a good way) doing any of these exercises, stop, check your form and scale back.
Lunges are one of the most basic exercises because they shape legs and booty, can be done anywhere and even without any added weight they’re highly effective.
Proper form is very important (it always is) to avoid hurting your joints. It’s important to keep your back straight (don’t lean forward) and your gaze ahead. Tighten your core and make a big step forward, then sink down until your back knee is about 10cm above the ground, then push back. Make sure you don’t push your front knee over your toes.
Once you can perform 20 lunges on each side, try holding dumbbells while you lunge. You can also add jumping lunges and lunge holds to the mix to really exhaust your quads or if you don’t have dumbbells at hand.
You can also perform backward lunges, so instead of forward you step backward. This is great for balance and agility which becomes more and more important the older you get.
Squats are almost always recommended when talking about leg exercises. Make sure you have the form right before you start adding weights. Once you can comfortably perform 20 squats with proper form, you can start holding dumbbells in your hands or a plate. If you add a barbell, depending on where you place the barbell you can perform back squats or front squats. Holding the barbell in front of you (over the shoulders at the front) focuses more on the quads and upper back than the back squat (where you place the bar on the upper back). Personally, I find the front squats work the quads much more, while the back squat is more targeted on the glutes (your booty). It also creates less compression of the spine and less torque in the knees, which makes it particularly useful for those with back or knee injuries or limitations.
Having said that, front squats are very challenging, so make sure you get the form right. I see way too many people doing them wrong. Focus on having your back straight and your elbows up. And don’t forget to breathe! Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up.
Step ups are like a lunge, but you’re stepping up – like taking two steps at a time going up stairs. At the gym use a bench or box – at home you can use a sturdy coffee table or chair. It needs to hold your weight, so make sure it’s solid!
Place one foot on the bench (or whatever you are using) and push yourself up. Don’t put the other foot down on the bench, just step back down. You can alternate legs or do any number of reps on one leg before you switch to the other.
You can make this move more challenging by slowing it down – and I mean really slow! You can also add holding dumbbells at your side or above your head.
Sprints and Spinning
I have previously written about the benefits of spinning. Nice quads are definitely one of them! At the same time it’s also a cardio workout, i.e. if you have fat to lose it’s a double win!
Sprints have the same benefits as spinning here. Sprinting helps you build and define the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. It also increases your cardiovascular fitness as it can increase your maximum heart rate over time. Repeated sprint training is one of the best ways to reduce body fat as well.
If you have access to a leg press in a gym, this can be a great way to focus on the quadriceps. Foot positioning is important here so that you focus more on your quads than your glutes.
Placing your feet lower on the foot plate will emphasize the quads more, but this also places more stress on the knees so you need to be careful. Tighten your abs and push the platform away with your whole foot. Don’t lift your heels off when you push. While exhaling, extend your legs with your head and back flat against the seat. Extend with slow control rather than with an explosive movement. Do not lock out your knees at the top of the movement and make sure that they are not bowing in or out. While inhaling, return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees.
If you work with heavy weights – as you should once you have mastered the movement – and you manage to do about 60 reps of an exercise, then once a week is sufficient. Heavy compound lifts require a longer recovery period to avoid injury and overtraining.
Now, here we focused on the quadriceps muscle. But as with all muscles in your body, you should always make sure that you balance this out. That is, if you are working your quads you also have to work your hamstrings (the upper back of your legs) or you won’t achieve a nice physique – besides the dysfunction added to your body.
Good luck and leave a comment below if you found this helpful with the look of your thighs!