5 Leg Toning Yoga Poses
I don’t often get asked what I do for exercise, but when I do it’s usually about my legs. They’re the part of my body I’ve always been most comfortable with and probably also most thankful for. They’re what allowed me to figure skate, dance, and now do yoga.
If you’re wanting to hear what my secret is, the unfortunate answer is that I don’t have one. I’m lucky to have naturally lean legs (thanks mom), but I feel most confident about them when they’re strong and have some muscle. I don’t do millions of squats (although that would probably be helpful) and I don’t go to the gym. I just do yoga, walk Bailey almost every day, and go to an occasional barre class (which I will say is fantastic for toning legs).
The following leg toning yoga poses are the ones I feel like have made my legs the strongest. They always make my legs burn!
I feel like everyone hates chair pose (including me) because it’s challenging and uncomfortable. Personally, I find it requires a strong focus on my breath to hold for an extended period of time. The more you bend your knees, the harder it is. You also have to engage your core to keep your back as vertical as possible and prevent your ribs from popping out.
You can play with different arm variations: prayer, arms extended, arms extended with palms touching, and eagle arms are common options. You can also come up on your toes to play with balance and engage your calves.
Keep feet and knees together. Pelvis should be neutral so that you are not arching your back. Engage your core to tuck your floating ribs in. Squeeze knees together and keep back as upright as possible. Drop shoulders down the back.
This pose requires a lot of strength in your front quad, but also requires engagement throughout your back leg to keep it straight. You have to use the engagement in both legs to keep your balance. To further challenge both your strength and balance, you can play with straightening and bending your front knee.
Pull hip of extended leg forward and pull hip of bent leg back to square hips. Engage back leg to straighten as much as possible. Push into the ball of the right foot and energetically pull your left heel towards your back foot to stabilize. Tuck pelvis slightly to lengthen torso and pull floating ribs in.
To me, Warrior II is one of the most powerful poses because it’s such a strong stance. I’m much more comfortable in this pose than others because of the openness of the hips and external rotation of the front thigh. It’s also easier to balance in than crescent lunge so it’s a bit easier to go deeper into the pose.
Bend knee to 90 degree angle (come up a little if that’s too intense). Straighten and engage back leg. Toes of extended leg should be turned in just slightly. Energetically press bent knee towards your pinky toe (don’t let it fall in towards your big toe). Push hip of extended leg down to level out hips and tuck it under to open front of hip as much as possible. Align shoulders over hips and squeeze everything into your mid-line.
You can play with tons of different arm variations in Warrior II. I like flowing back and forth between reverse warrior (above left) and side angle (above center | note: you can rest your elbow on your knee if tight muscles prevent you from touching the ground) a few times while isometrically contracting the legs (engaging the muscles but keeping them still). I inhale while reaching back in reverse and exhale as I reach down for side angle and continue to link the flow of movement with my breath. Eventually you can move into bound side angle, if flexibility permits, to get a deeper stretch and challenge the strength of your legs even further.
This pose is great because it strengthens your standing leg and also requires you to engage your free leg to lift and internally rotate. I struggle with internal rotation so I find this pose to be really strengthening for my legs and core.
Some of the arm variations you can play with are: prayer, airplane arms (arms straight out to side), arms back by sides, arms extended by ears, and eagle arms.
Face the hip of your extended leg down to the ground. Internally rotate your extended leg (spiral it in towards your body). Flex your foot and straighten your leg as much as possible. Think of the inner thigh of your extended leg spiraling in towards your midline and up towards the sky. Engage the thigh of your standing leg and pull up on your knee cap. Press into all four corners of your foot.
This pose has a lot of options and is so good for toning and strengthening. You can hold. You can do large pulses by straightening your legs and bending back down. You can do tiny pulses by only moving an inch or two up and down. You can lift one or both heels in any of these options to challenge balance, engage your core even more, and work your calves. Again, the lower you go, the harder it is. Just don’t compromise a vertical back position by going lower. Proper form is always most important.
Tuck pelvis slightly so you aren’t arching your back and sticking your butt out. Keep back vertical. If you begin to bend forward, bend your knees a little less. Energetically press knees back. Tuck floating ribs in.
I hope you found this helpful! I think keeping our bodies strong is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. And honestly, nothing feels better! Remember, you’re strong, you’re beautiful, and you can do anthing.