6 Exercises That'll Give You Sexy, Toned Legs You'll Want to Show Off All Summer

POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

Who wears short shorts? You should! We get it, many women fear that weights will make their legs bigger or bulky, but this is simply not true. Using weights will shape your muscles, giving them the toned look you want when it's time to wear tiny Summer shorts. Bottom line: if you want shapely legs, you must focus on the iron stacks. Diet and cardio burn fat and make you lean, but the weights are what shape your muscles.

To help you get the fastest results, we talked to Sarah Chadwell, an NASM-certified personal trainer, to gain insight on how to show some love to your lower body in the gym. She told POPSUGAR, "Strong, shapely legs take work from front to back. Many women focus on exercises that work their quads, but they neglect their hamstrings and calves. Make sure you use a wide variety of exercises that work every part of your legs for a great look from every angle!"

Here are six moves that Sarah uses to train her legs on legs day.

Weighted Walking Lunges — Target Your Quads and Glutes
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Weighted Walking Lunges — Target Your Quads and Glutes

To complete weighted lunges, you can hold dumbbells in your hands down by your sides or use a barbell held across the back of your neck and shoulders. "Using weights will speed up your results. I recommend using weights for lunges if you have mastered bodyweight walking lunges," Sarah said.

  • Find a long, straight pathway in your gym.
  • Stand upright, with your feet together.
  • Begin the move by taking a step forward with your right leg.
  • While keeping your upper body upright and straight, lower your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to a nearly 90-degree angle. Your back knee will come close to the floor, but it should not touch it. Your front knee should be in line with your first two toes but never pass them, and the back knee should be pointing toward the floor.
  • Next, push off with your left foot. Bring it back to the original starting position. This completes one rep.
  • Next, step forward with your right foot and repeat the above steps.
  • Alternate your steps for a total of 20 reps per set.
Good Mornings — Highlight Your Hamstrings
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Good Mornings — Highlight Your Hamstrings

These give your hamstrings a nice stretch. Similar to your long stretch in the mornings when you wake up, this is the "good morning" stretch for your hammies. Sarah said, "If you can do these properly without weight, it's time to add a barbell across your back. Start with a 20-pound straight bar and work your way up to heavier weight. Always watch your form in a mirror."

  • Place the barbell of your choice across the back of your neck and shoulders.
  • Hold it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart and palms facing forward. Your elbows will be pointing down toward the floor.
  • Place your feet hip-width apart, keeping a slight bend in your knees.
  • Begin by bracing your abs and hinging forward from your hips. Keep your back straight while you push your butt backward.
  • When your back is almost parallel to the floor, pause. You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
  • In a controlled manner, begin moving back to the standing position.
  • This completes one repetition. Do three sets of 10-12.
Calf Raises — Build Killer Calves
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Calf Raises — Build Killer Calves

Toned calves complete the sexy look you're wanting for your legs. To make these harder, Sarah suggests completing calf raises while holding dumbbells or by putting a plate on the floor and "hanging 10," thus using the plate as a platform for the exercise. Or you can do both!

  • Position your feet approximately hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips.
  • Slowly raise up on your toes until your heels raise off the ground. Pause and hold for one to two seconds.
  • Then slowly lower your heels back down to the ground.
  • Complete two sets of 20-25 repetitions.
Kettlebell Squats — Total Leg Builder
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Kettlebell Squats — Total Leg Builder

Squats had to be on this list, and for good reason: they are one of the best moves for any part of your body — especially your legs! "Not all people have great barbell squat form. Using kettlebell squats, you can perfect your squat form and also get a really deep squat," Sarah said.

  • Stand with your feet wide and your toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Hold a heavy kettlebell by the lower portion of the handle (aka the horns) in front of you with palms facing each other. Your elbows should be in toward your sides.
  • Keep your chest lifted, and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. The kettlebell and your arms should stay inside of your legs close to your body at all times.
  • Pause, and then slowly rise back to starting position.
  • Complete three sets of 10-15 reps.
Hamstring Curls — Emphasize Your Hamstrings
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Hamstring Curls — Emphasize Your Hamstrings

Shapely, strong hamstrings round out the back of your legs. Make sure you do at least two exercises per leg day that are strictly for your hamstrings.

  • Find the hamstring curl machine.
  • Lie face-down on the bench portion. The leg pad of the machine should touch the back of your legs close to the bottom of your calves.
  • Grasp the handles, and bend your knees to bring your heels toward your butt. Contract your hamstrings, and bring the leg pad as close to your butt as possible. Hold for a one-two count at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower the leg pad back to starting position.
  • Complete three sets of 10-12.
Weighted Sumo Squats — Inner Thigh Strength
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Weighted Sumo Squats — Inner Thigh Strength

Wake up your inner thighs with this squat variation! Sarah said, "To add a a little extra calf work, rise up on your toes as you are returning to the starting position and hold for a two-count before placing your feet flat on the floor again. Then begin the next repetition. This move will require excellent balance."

  • Stand with your feet wide, pointing your toes out toward the corners of the room (approximately a 45-degree angle) while holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your chest. Or you can use one heavy dumbbell held with both hands directly in front of your hips. Experiment to see which way offers you better balance.
  • Bend your knees and begin lowering your hips down toward the floor. At the end of the movement, your thighs will be parallel with the floor. Keep your torso straight throughout the movement, and keep your weight in your heels.
  • Begin moving back to starting position by straightening your legs. Squeeze your glutes when you reach the starting position.
  • Complete three sets of 10-15 repetitions.