These six simple movements are all you need to tone your thighs and your glutes

There isn’t a squat in sight with these Pilates-style bodyweight movements

A woman performing a straight leg extension as part of a Pilates session
(Image credit: Future)

Heavy squats and hip thrusts are all well and good, but you don’t actually need to use weights to build stronger legs – you can get a great lower body workout with no equipment at all. 

In fact, there’s a Pilates-style session from fitness influencer and trainer MadFit (opens in new tab) that incorporates six movements designed to tone the glutes and the thighs. It’s totally equipment-free too, so you try it any time, anywhere, whether that's as a quick lunchtime sweat session or combined with weight training moves as part of a wider workout. 

But why go to the effort? Well, building strength in your legs won't just improve your overall fitness and performance in the gym, it will also help make everyday movements easier, from walking to moving furniture to standing up on the bus.

In fact, workouts that increase strength might even help you to live longer, according to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Medicine (opens in new tab). It found that older adults with more muscle mass have lower overall mortality rates. And, while a weight training session is seriously beneficial when it comes to increasing muscle mass, bodyweight exercises are important too because they can also improve mobility and balance.

So let’s get started with the workout below. The only thing you might need is one of the best yoga mats to stop you from slipping and sliding.

Watch Madfit's six-moves to tone your thighs and your glutes

A post shared by MADDIE | Workout Instructor (@madfit.ig) (opens in new tab)

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For the best results, try an interval-style training format for this workout, doing each exercise for 30 to 40 seconds with a 10 to 20 second rest. Then, repeat for three to six rounds depending on how much time you have. 

Most of the exercises in this workout require you to lie on your side, with only one leg moving at a time, which will isolate the muscles that are working for maximum burn. 

With Pilates exercises like these, it’s also important to focus on moving intentionally to really feel the benefit of the movements. This is because mind-muscle connection can help to further strengthen specific muscles as you mentally focus on the muscle you’re trying to engage, such as squeezing your glutes to ensure they are thoroughly involved in the movement. If you want to practice this, we recommend giving our Pilates for beginners plan a go. 

This workout will also improve your core strength and balance, as the starting positions of the exercises and the contracting movements engage the abdominal muscles. 

If you want to make this workout more challenging, try wearing ankle weights while performing the movements. This will increase the load on your legs (an example of progressive overload (opens in new tab) in action) and help you build lower body strength. 

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.