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5 lower body toning exercises

Strengthening your lower body not only blasts major calories, it also protects your knees, hips and back from injury. Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center exercise physiologist Mariah Hinson recommends these five moves for strong, toned legs and glutes. For best results, complete two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps on nonconsecutive days.

1. Squats

  • Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders pressed down and back.
  • Bring your hands in front of you for balance as you bend your knees and lower your bottom toward the ground like you are sitting in a chair.
  • Don’t allow your knees to bend over your toes – this can cause injury.
  • To make this move more advanced, hold 5- to 10-pound free weights by your side as you perform the squat.

2. 3-way lunge

  • Stand with your feet together.
  • Step your left leg forward into a lunge with both knees bent at 90 degrees. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips and make sure your knee doesn’t go over your toe. Your back knee should be a few inches off the floor.
  • Return to standing, then step your left leg out to the side, bending at the knee. Again, make sure your knee doesn’t track over your toes. Keep your right leg straight and maintain tall posture.
  • Return to standing again, then step your left foot back into a backwards lunge. Same form and posture applies for this move.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • For more of a challenge, hold free weights at your side as you perform the exercise.

3. Calf raises

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on your hips or hold them out in front of you for balance.
  • Raise up on your toes, lifting your heels off the ground. Lower down.
  • To up the intensity, hold free weights at your side during the move.

4. Split jump

  • Start in a lunge position with your left foot back and your left arm forward.
  • Jump into the air and switch your legs, landing again in a lunge, but this time with your opposite leg forward.

5. Bridge

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hands by your side.
  • Lift your hips up as high as you can, forming a diagonal line from your chest to your knees.
  • To advance this exercise, place free weights on your hips.

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