Traditional strength training and cardio can be rough on joints. Try these stress-free, simple and meditative leg exercises for women from yoga practice to build muscle, flexibility and balance. With impressive health benefits, yoga is an easy addition to your workouts or any day of the week.
Some of the most common ideas about leg exercises for women are that they need to be sweaty, repetitive, and leave you feeling sore the next day in order to get results. Squats, lunges and deadlifts come to mind as obvious ways to burn fat and tone leg muscles. While these exercises will provide results, they can be taxing on the body. Instead of counting reps and “feeling the burn,” try taking some time for a short yoga practice.
Bringing Yoga Into Your Routine: Muscles and More
Yoga is a physical practice that focuses on meditation through breathing and various postures. Positions can be choreographed into flowing motions or held for a series of minutes. A huge benefit of yoga is that the exercises can be done anywhere at any time, because they don’t require equipment or a gym membership. Also, if you live in an apartment or have roommates, yoga is a great way to stay fit without disturbing others, because you’re not jumping or making any harsh movements.
Like strength-training exercises, leg exercises from yoga can also build muscle, but with the additional benefits of increasing flexibility and balance. Yoga can also help your immune system and aid in alleviating stress, period cramps and bloating. As an added bonus, yoga can help reduce some of the most common ailments, including back and leg pain and headaches.
1. Downward-Facing Dog
Perhaps one of the most famous yoga postures, downward-facing dog stretches your hamstrings, calves and the arches of the feet. It also aids with digestion and can reduce menstrual pain.
This position begins with hands and knees on the floor: Hands should be shoulder-width apart and slightly in front of the shoulders, and hips should be directly above knees. While exhaling, curl your toes so you can place your weight on your feet and push your tailbone upward while keeping the head and chest low. Use your core muscles to pull up your pelvis and straighten your arms. Begin a pedaling motion with your feet in order to fully stretch your legs without straining. Maintain your body weight evenly between your hands and feet.
After a few breaths, come out of this pose while exhaling by bending your knees and inching your hands back underneath your shoulders. You will end and begin this position on all fours.
2. Chair Pose
Chair pose is as simple as it sounds and is similar to a squat stance. It works your ankles, thighs, calves and feet.
Begin standing with your big toes touching and about an inch of space between your heels. Bend your knees while keeping your pelvis forward and core muscles tight, aligning your tailbone with your heels. Raise your arms softly above your head while keeping your shoulders down and disperse your weight evenly between your feet. While exhaling, let yourself sink deeper in this pose until your thighs are parallel to the floor as if you were sitting in a chair.
To come out of this pose, while exhaling, slowly bring your arms to your sides and straighten your legs. If you are new to yoga practice or afraid of feeling unsteady, you can do this pose near or against a wall or piece of furniture.
3. Bound Angle Pose
Bound angle pose is one that you might have done before in a gym class called a “butterfly.” It stretches your inner thighs, hips and knees while potentially relieving menstrual pain. This is a great pose to practice while watching TV or sitting on the floor with kids.
Start by sitting on the ground with your legs in front of you. One after the other, pull your feet toward you while your knees bend out to opposite sides until the bottoms of your feet are together and tucked close to your pelvis. Wrap your hands around your toes and sit up tall while pushing your elbows out. With a straight back, bend forward slightly at the hips and disperse your weight evenly throughout your sitting bones and feet.
After taking a few slow, deep breaths, come out of this pose by slowly returning to sitting up straight and, one by one, letting your legs stretch back out in front of you. This pose is also a prime opportunity to massage your feet.
4. Standing Forward Fold
At first, this position might seem like a simple attempt to touch your toes, but the benefits of the stretch are abundant. Out of these leg exercises for women, this one is very approachable and versatile. Standing forward fold stretches and strengthens almost all areas of the legs including hips, thighs, hamstrings, knees and calves. It can help with digestion and can be calming.
With feet firmly together and arms at your sides, keep your back straight as you bend forward and stretch your arms downward. If necessary, bend your knees in order to allow your hands to touch the floor. To get a great stretch in your legs, straighten your knees and hold your elbows with each hand. You should feel a slight stretch in the backs of your legs.
When you’re ready to come out of this position, exhale and slowly rise back up to standing. Most people cannot touch the floor with their hands while their legs are straight when they begin this practice, but work at it over time and you will gain the flexibility and stability to reach.
5. Tree Pose
A great way to challenge your balance is to stand on one leg. Tree pose brings energy to your leg muscles and stretches your inner thighs. A fun time to try this pose is while waiting for a microwave to beep or water to boil.
Begin standing with feet together and arms at your sides. Make sure your back is straight and your pelvis is tucked, flexing your core as you raise one knee and rotate your leg so the knee is facing its coordinating side (left toward the left or right toward the right). Bring your lifted foot to either your opposite inner thigh or inner calf and press your foot into your standing leg. Your hands will meet at your chest before spreading above your head. Keep your body straight without popping your hip out to the side.
Remember to exhale as you slowly bring your arms down and your lifted leg returns to the floor. As you improve, you can spend more time holding this pose before you release.
6. Extended Child’s Pose
A position meant for resting, extended child’s pose provides a stretch that feels great and relieves stress from your hips, thighs and ankles. This pose is generally practiced in the early morning or right before bedtime.
From a kneeling position with toes touching and knees spread wide, bring your sitting bones backward toward your heels. Walk your hands out in front of you until your forehead meets the floor and your arms are stretched forward. You should feel the stretch in your spine and legs.
To release yourself from this position, slowly move your hands back under you and push yourself up onto all fours. If you don’t want your forehead to touch the floor, you can turn your head to the side or put down something like a book or pillow to rest on instead.
7. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
A simple and satisfying pose is the legs-up-the-wall pose. It provides an excellent stretch for the back of the legs and can calm your body and mind. It’s best to place a pillow, blanket or even a newspaper under your tailbone for support while practicing this pose.
The name of this pose is more than a hint about how to execute this posture. In preparation, consider how you’re feeling; the more flexible you are, the closer you should be to the wall. Lying on your back, inch yourself up to a wall so that your legs touch it. Sometimes an easier way to reach this point is to approach the wall with your legs to one side and then gently swing them upwards in a clock-like motion until they’re perpendicular to the floor. Once your legs are up, flex your feet so that the bottoms face upwards, and let the rest of your body relax.
Once you’re ready to exit this position, anchor your hands to the floor and slowly, while exhaling, turn your body like a clock until your feet touch the floor. From here, you can roll onto all fours or push yourself away from the wall. This position is great for meditating and setting intentions for the rest of your day, or for reflecting and unwinding from a rough workday.
Yoga for All
Yoga provides the perfect leg exercises for women who are looking for a gentle way to work out. Practicing regularly will pay off later when you do strength training and cardio workouts because you’ll have more control, stability and flexibility. Whether you’re looking to mix up your workout routine or you’re getting your legs in shape for the summer weather, yoga is a great option with numerous health benefits. For tools and tips on how to modify these poses, as well as a list of other poses, Yoga Journal provides clear information and directions, as well as supplemental videos and photos of each pose.