Leg Exercises That Make A Difference In Under A Month

To attain the summer-body confidence of Zac Efron in the Baywatch trailer (and wear "freedom" on your legs like a proud, scantily-clad swimsuit model), you need a workout that delivers results fast. The trick to svelte, muscular legs is a program stacked with compound exercises, slow repetitions, a little bit of power work, and a whole lot of consistency.

And it's that last part that's most important. As an exercise physiologist with a master's degree in exercise science, I can't emphasize enough how important consistency is when it comes to seeing lasting results. You need to get in the gym, and get in the gym often. Aim to work your lower body at least three days a week, giving yourself a rest day (or a day to incorporate upper body and cardio work) between sessions. While it may take more than a month to attain the shapely glutes you're shooting for, you'll be surprised at the results you can achieve when you consistently perform this leg routine.

​Back Squat

Grab a barbell or head to the squat rack, because it's hard to beat the basic back squat for firing up the glutes, quads and hamstrings, all while simultaneously working your core. Choose a weight that will be challenging, and aim to move through a full range of motion, pressing your hips back and bending your knees until your quads are at least parallel to the floor (if you have the flexibility to go lower, do so).

Focus on form! Don't hunch your back or shift your weight forward onto the balls of your feet — keep your weight centered over your heels. And last thing: go slow! Each set of eight to ten repetitions should take at least 30 seconds to complete. Rest one to two minutes between sets, completing three total sets.

​High Step Ups

High step ups are an excellent alternative to lunges, as they target the glutes, quads, and hamstrings in a similar fashion, but tend to reduce the likelihood of lunge-associated knee pain. Performing step ups with a high box is also a great way to hit your glutes unilaterally, developing balance and coordination as a byproduct of your workout.

Select a box that's high enough so that when you place your foot on top of it, your quad is at least parallel to the floor, if not angled upward. Place your foot firmly on the box, your knee aligned with your toes, then press through your heel and push to standing, tapping the toes of your back foot lightly on the box before reversing the movement and carefully stepping down. The entire exercise should be controlled. Perform ten to 12 repetitions on one side before switching legs. Perform three to four total sets, resting about a minute between sets.

​Romanian Deadlifts

To work your hamstrings and glutes while also hitting your core, it's tough to go wrong with good ol' Romanian deadlifts. But as with all compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups, form is key to getting the most from your workout. The main point here is to remember that your spine remains neutral throughout, and the exercise uses a hip hinge, so you're actively pressing your hips backward as you lower a loaded barbell down the front of your thighs. As your hips press backward, you should feel a stretch through your hamstrings. When you've lowered the barbell just past your kneecaps, tighten up your hamstrings and glutes, and use them to "pull" your torso back to standing, really squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.

To really "burn out" your hammies, aim to lower the barbell for a count of three (this will feel slow!), then lift with a more powerful movement for a count of one to two — still controlled, but faster. Perform three sets of eight to ten repetitions, resting for one to two minutes between sets.

Lateral band walks

To improve hip stability and strengthen your abductors — particularly your gluteus medius — lateral band walks using a small, looped resistance band, are a great option. Loop the resistance band around the balls of both feet and stand with your feet about four to six inches apart, so the band is pulled taut. Bend your knees slightly and hinge your hips back into a sort of "baby squat."

Maintaining this position, step your left foot laterally to the left about six inches, following with your right foot, but always keeping at least four inches between your feet. Continue stepping to the left until you've completed ten steps, then reverse the movement and move to the right for ten steps. This is a single set. Shake your legs out and rest for about 30 to 60 seconds, then complete two more sets.

Side Lunges

Side lunges work all the muscle groups you'd expect a lunge to work: glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core. But they also target your adductor group, the muscles that run along your inner thighs. Stand tall with your feet roughly shoulder-distance apart, your knees slightly bent, your weight in your heels. From this position, take a wide step to the right with your right foot, planting your heel with your toes pointing forward. Keeping your left leg straight, press your hips back and bend your right knee, lowering yourself into a lunge.

Make sure your right knee remains aligned with your toes, and that you keep your shoulders pulled back to prevent your chest from sinking toward the floor. When you've lowered yourself as far as you comfortably can, press through your right heel and reverse the movement, stepping your right leg back to its starting position. Perform ten to 12 repetitions to the right before switching sides. When you've worked both legs, you've completed one full set. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds, then perform two more sets.

Quadruped hip extensions

While quadruped hip extensions don't get the same amount of press as other lower-body exercises, like the squat, they're actually one of the best isolation moves for targeting your glutes. Start on the floor, on your hands and knees, with your feet flexed. Check to make sure your palms are under your shoulders, your knees are under your hips, and your back and neck are flat and straight.

From this position, shift your weight slightly to your right side, taking pressure off your left knee. Keeping a 90-degree angle at your knee and ankle, squeeze your left glute and extend your hip, pressing your foot up toward the ceiling. Slowly lower it back to the starting position and continue, completing a set of 15 to 20 reps before switching sides. After working both legs, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, then complete two more sets.

​Single-Leg Calf Raises

It's tempting to neglect your calves when you're feeling tired, but they're a pretty important muscle group to work. Not only do they help carry you through your day-to-day life, literally engaging every time you take a step, but shapely calves look a whole lot better on the beach than scrawny chicken legs.

The good news is that unless you're a bodybuilder, you don't have to spend much time performing isolation moves. Hit them once with a solid, single-leg calf raise. Stand on a low step, your heels hanging off the back, and shift your weight to one leg, using a wall or other sturdy object for balance. Slowly lift and lower your working heel for 15 to 20 repetitions, moving through a full range of motion. If you find you can complete 20 reps easily, grab a set of dumbbells to make the exercise more challenging. Complete two to three sets per leg, resting about a minute between sets.

​Tabata finisher: speed skaters & jump squats

By the end of your workout you're bound to feel tired, but if you have the energy to add four more minutes to your routine, it's time for a Tabata. This eight-round cycle of 20 seconds work, followed by 10 seconds rest, features two moves that will toast your legs, ramp up your calorie burn, and add a little power to your step. Plus, the skater movement requires lateral hopping, engaging your abductors and adductors for a more well-rounded lower body routine.

Use a Tabata timer to keep track of your intervals, and alternate between lateral speed skaters and jump squats during work intervals. As both of these exercises require powerful jumping motions, it's critical to pay attention to your form. Make sure you land softly on the balls of your feet with your knees slightly bent to help absorb shock, and ensure your knees always remain aligned with your toes to prevent injury. You want to move as fast as you can, but it's perfectly acceptable to slow down as you get tired. You will get tired.

Programming and Cardio

Once you're done with your four-minute Tabata, grab some protein and spend a little time recovering — foam rolling is always a good choice. Enjoy your down time, because in order to get the legs of your dreams, you'll need to be back at it in a couple days!

Plan on following this workout at least three times a week, and on your off days, incorporate leg-focused cardio like running, cycling, or stair climbing into your routine.