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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
September 06, 2022
When it comes to leg day, the glutes, quads, and hammies seem to get all of the attention. And while we can't argue with wanting to build up those powerhouse muscle groups, there may be an important leg area you're neglecting.
We're talking the outer thighs, which not only contribute to balance, stability, and all movements requiring you to move your legs away from your body's midline, but also help create toned, defined, muscular outer legs.
Ready to dig into the outer thigh exercises you should be doing? We'll discuss:
When focusing on outer thigh muscles, you're targeting the hip abductors, which play a role in movements requiring the leg to move away from your midline. For exercises, think moves like clams, lateral movements like side shuffles and side lunges, and the sumo deadlift. As these moves play an incremental role in endless athletic activities, this is an area both men and women should be paying attention to.
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body. The gluteus medius, commonly referred to as your side butt, is the most essential hip abductor muscle, playing a role in walking and stabilizing the hip. It can be a neglected and underutilized muscle for many people, so make sure to do your gluteus medius exercises! Gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three but is also crucial in walking and moving your leg away from your body.
A small muscle on the outside of your leg, it works with the glutes to assist in walking. It starts high on the hip and lies between your IT band. And while it may not be the most important mirror muscle, it plays a strong role in overall lower body movement.
Another small and flat muscle near the hip's surface, this is another one that isn't visible when you look in the mirror. It is, however, vital for lateral hip rotation and abduction when your leg is flexed. It's important to perform piriformis stretches and exercises, as this muscle being weak or tight often contributes to sciatica-type pain. Strong outer thigh muscles leads to less pain and better movement.
The longest muscle in our body, the sartorius runs from the outside of your hip and spirals around your entire thigh into the inside of your knee. This muscle plays a crucial role in stabilization and helps flex, abduct, and rotate the thigh laterally.
If you're concerned about outer thigh fat, saddlebag exercises can help, but we want to emphasize that you cannot spot reduce an area of your body. This means you cannot just do outer thigh exercises all day and night and expect a massive change in only that area. Unfortunately, that's just not how it works.
So, what do you do to build and sculpt these muscles? Strength train and eat to build muscle. If your outer thigh muscles are not fully developed, simply losing fat in that area may not give you the toned body you are chasing. You also need muscle mass.
Just like building any other muscle in your body, strength training and tracking what and how much you’re eating are effective strategies. By now, you hopefully have realized that no overnight fix exists, and slow, consistent progress is where true gains are made.
Along with resistance training and the correct exercises (more on that shortly), if you want to build muscle, you will need to eat in a calorie surplus and track your macronutrients. This is where it gets tricky, because we want to add muscle to your frame without adding excess fat.
The biggest macro that contributes to muscle gain is protein. Utilizing a higher protein diet will have significantly better results in building muscle and losing fat than those with lower protein intake1. A gradual increase of 1 pound a week has shown to be the most effective route for building muscle and not adding excess fat2.
As far as how much protein per day to build muscle, aim for between .8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and keep an eye on how your body responds.
Regarding exercises, you will want to prioritize main compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and lunges. Sprinkle in some accessory lifts to help isolate smaller muscles and improve your quality of movement.
Aim for 2-4 sets of 5-15 repetitions, depending on the exercise. Compound exercises will build more strength and muscle, so do those first while you are fresh and your energy is high. Smaller movements can act as the finishing burn after you crush your squats. The key is progressive overload. Each week you should be trying to improve in some way.
It’s important to understand you cannot completely isolate the outer thigh muscles, but there are ways to target these areas more effectively.
The foundation of these exercises is like a food pyramid. It would be best if you had the most servings of the big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and single-leg movements (lunges, split squats, etc.). Target 3-4 working sets of each in your leg workouts for women.
The big moves work the most muscles, build the most strength, and are the most important for your body to move correctly and athletically. Remember, we want to look good, but never at the cost of pain and poor movement.
After you’ve knocked those out, isolation movements will have your outer legs on fire.
From compound exercises like goblet squats and Romanian deadlifts to isolation moves like lateral raises, we've got your lower body, outer thighs, in particular, covered with these 7 moves.
The goblet squat is a squat variation where you hold a dumbbell at chest level. It is fantastic for the glutes and outer thighs and prepares your legs for athletic movement. This helps reduce the risk of injury from having a barbell on your back and allows you to train all your leg muscles.
Feel free to switch things up by using a kettlebell instead of dumbbells.
How to do a Goblet Squat:
An important hinge exercise that targets your hamstrings and glutes, the Romanian deadlift hits the spot where the high hamstring inserts into the glutes, helping to lift the appearance of the saddlebags. It also is vital for building lower back strength.
How to do the Romanian Deadlift:
Functioning as a single-leg exercise, the curtsy lunge is a lunge variation we love. It will provide the best way to target and feel your outer thighs working and improve hip stability to help your body move better.
How to do the Curtsy Lunge:
Although it is popular for inner thighs, this single leg movement also serves as an outer thigh and glute exercise. You've got to love a move that hits your inner and outer thigh!
How to do the Lateral Lunge:
One of the few weighted isolation exercises that target the outer thigh area, the cable lateral leg lift strengthens the muscles as they take the leg away from your body in abduction. A bonus is the constant cable tension during this movement. Don't forget your glute stretches when you're finished!
How to do the Cable Lateral Leg Lift:
This glute isolation exercise will help give you a serious burn to the outer thighs. It's excellent for strengthening the abductors, which are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis.
How to do the Clamshell:
Glute bridges are great for, you guessed it, your glutes, and the hip abduction added at the end of the move is awesome for lifting your butt and sculpting your outer thighs. Adding a resistance band is a great way to make this move even harder.
How to do the Glute Bridge Hip Abduction:
When it comes to losing weight in this area, make sure to have compassion for yourself. Women, in particular, may have a more challenging time with this area due to higher estrogen, a larger pelvis for giving birth, and the fact that it’s usually their most stubborn area for body fat loss3.
Remind yourself that if you don’t see results immediately, keep at it because it may be the last area where the fat comes off. We covered the importance of building muscle. Now, let’s talk about losing fat and reducing saddlebags in your outer thigh workout.
There is no magic pill or fix here, but it can be done! It just takes work.
For the untrained individual, it is most important to focus first on the strength training basics, determine a workout split, and build muscle. Begin resistance training and try to get stronger every week. Don't forget to target both your inner and outer thighs so your legs are evenly developed. If your primary focus is building muscle, start by eating 100-200 calories more than you're currently eating, monitor progress, and adjust as you go.
If you are overweight and want to see more of your existing muscle, you're focusing on maximizing fat loss in the outer thigh area, have been training for a while and have already built some muscle (but can't see it), or are trying to lean out as a whole, fat loss is your prime focus.
Along with strength training, keeping track of how many calories you eat and tracking your macros will get you toward your goal. Aim for a 200-500 calorie deficit - no more than this - so your body is burning fat and not your hard-earned muscle. Slow, consistent 1-2 pounds a week of fat loss is completely realistic if you are tracking everything you eat.
If you have your diet and training locked in, it’s important to remember our other point regarding having compassion for yourself. Some women will have more fat on the outer thighs than others. Some people will never have issues with this area, while some will struggle with it. Every body type is different.
Strength train, build muscle, track your diet, and your ideal shape will follow.
Work these moves into at least one leg workout per week. For ideal results, incorporating these moves twice weekly (you could do option 1 at the beginning of the week and option 2 toward the end of the week) will ensure you're getting enough volume to grow your outer thigh muscles.
You should now have a better understanding of the importance of strong thighs and how to grow them. Remember, you can't burn thigh fat off specifically. You can build muscle in that area and then enter a calorie deficit as a way to lower your body fat.
And if you keep strength training and progressing, track your diet, master the big lifts and learn from the smaller ones, you'll be well on your way to legs that are not only sculpted but more importantly, properly strengthened.
Related: 9 Best Inner Thigh Exercises
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