Most of us spend a lot of time working out on our arms, shoulders, abs, and chest and often end up ignoring the lower half of the body. Are you assuming that your cardio workout is enough to shape up your legs, butts, and thighs?

"The secret is the right mix of targeted exercises," says trainer Rich Barretta, who has perfected a great workout to tone the lower body and works regularly with swimsuit-models at his private training studio in New York City. So, 3 great ways to shape up your lower body? Here they are:

1. Lunges

While working out at the gym, you often miss out on appreciating lunges for their ability to shape up the butt, thighs and calves, using nothing more than your own body weight. “Lunges are the perfect exercise, to begin with because they make your butt-muscles do most of the work”, according to Rich Barretta. His method stresses on the fact that when you do the lunge, focus more on the up and down movement. Most people often stress more on the forward motion, which really doesn’t engage the glutes to the maximum. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, then move the right leg forward and bend both legs at the knee. Make sure you lower straight down and if the left knee isn’t behind the toes, you need to step back farther to get the pose right. Make sure you land on the heel. Repeat with the other leg and do 15 reps for each leg.

However, make sure you maintain proper form when doing lunges, as studies have revealed that poor form can result in increased chances of muscular injury.

Expert’s Fitness Tip: As you get stronger, use light dumbbells to make the exercise more challenging. Make sure you maintain good form while exercising, especially with the added weight.

2. Fly Away

This simple exercise does more than just tone your lower half, as it also works on shoulders, abs, and back - making it a good exercise for overall weight loss and flatter abs. However, the maximum impact is felt on the butt and thighs, which is why it's a great exercise for a quick whole body workout. Stand with feet close together. As you hinge forward from the waist, lift the left leg back straight and squeeze your glutes. Simultaneously, extend both your arms in front, so that your whole body is parallel to the ground. If you are a beginner, keep your hands on your hips to maintain your balance. Hold for 2 to 5 counts and lower the arms and leg, without letting the leg touch the ground. Now square your hips and lift the left leg sideways, while you simultaneously raise arms to the side to form a T with the torso. Hold for 2 counts, and then lower arms and leg. This completes 1 rep. Do 5 reps; then switch legs and repeat for the other.

Expert’s Fitness Tip: As you get fitter, hold light dumbbells in each hand and aim for 15 reps for each side. However, do only as many as you possibly can while ensuring good form, or you could risk injury.

3. Front, Back, and Side Kicks

Simple as they may sound, kicks are the best way to target butt, thighs and love handles, working a wide range of muscles for the perfect workout that tones the entire lower body. Stand with your legs a little more than shoulder width apart; keep your arms in front of you, bent at the elbows in a punching position and slightly bent at the knee for proper form. Start with 20 forward kicks and ensure that your toes always stay pointed. Follow with 20 backward kicks, making sure your heel faces the ceiling with each kick. For the sidekicks, lean a little to the side and begin with 20 kicks to the right side, while pointing out your toes. Repeat the same for the left side. The aim is to go from front kicks to back kicks to side kicks with little to no rest in between, to make it a challenging lower body workout.

Expert’s Fitness Tip: To make your workout even more challenging, don’t let your toe touch the ground in between reps to make your thigh and calf muscles work harder.

The Final Verdict:

A study presented at the annual conference of American College of Sports Medicine in May 2013 showed that by increasing intensity of the workout, especially when it comes to the high-intensity exercises mentioned above, one can expect double the caloric expenditure. So while these 3 brilliant exercises make for an effective lower body workout, toning your muscles and also strengthening them, they also result in more calories burned to keep you in better overall shape. The best part? They can be done right at home with nothing more than just light dumbells.

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