Post-Baby Body: Hip & Leg Strengthening

Whether you have already started a fitness program or you’re still trying to figure out where to fit it into your new schedule, this is the lower body exercise program for you!  We have gathered some of the most effective hip and leg exercises that will help you meet your fitness goals in no time!

  • Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program as each individual heals differently after pregnancy.  Women who have had a c-section will generally need to wait at least 6-8 weeks after surgery before starting any weight training.
  • For leg exercises using your body weight, start with 15 repetitions.  Once you have the correct form down, work up to 20 repetitions. Eventually make the exercise more difficult and lower the repetitions back to 15.
  • Do 1 set of each exercise the first 2 weeks.  Increase to 2 sets for the next 2-3 weeks and then to 3 sets.  Rest 30-60 seconds between each set.  If you have already been exercising regularly, you may be able to start with 2 sets and advance from there.

Don’t have time to do the whole workout?  Do at least 1 exercise from each muscle group (quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip adductors, hip abductors, calves).  Do the other exercises at your next session.  Try to do 2 sessions each week.

Equipment recommended:  Dumbbells (you can use these to increase difficulty for most of the exercises below), Step/Stairs

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Squats

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Hams, Gluteus Maximus, Erector Spinae

Do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart with your arms straight out in front of you.
  2. With your abdominal muscles braced, squat down and back like you are going to sit in a low chair.
  3. Tighten your leg muscles and push back up to a standing position.
  4. Perform 15-20 repetitions.
Form tips:  Make sure your knees do not go forward past your toes as you squat down.  If you are getting knee pain, you are likely doing this and need to adjust by pushing your bottom back farther.

Too easy?  Try holding a dumbbell to add resistance.  Perform a squat with your legs wide and try to touch your elbows to the inside of your knees.  Watch this variation here: Goblet Squat

Wall Sits

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus 

Do it:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip width apart and about 2 feet away from the wall.
  2. Slide down the wall until your hips and knees form 90 degree angles.  You can adjust the position of your feet to help form these angles.
  3. Keeping your back flat against the wall hold the sit position for 30-60 seconds.
  4. Return to start position by sliding back up the wall.  Rest for 30 seconds.
  5. Perform 3 repetitions.

Form tips:  Don’t let your knees go forward past your toes.  Keep your back, shoulders and head against the wall – avoid tilting your head back.


Too easy?  Increase the amount of time you are holding the sit position.  Try with one leg while maintaining good form (don’t lean to one side). Watch this variation: Single Leg Wall Sit.

Reverse Lunges

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes

Do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your abdominals braced.
  2. Find your balance on your left foot and take a large step backward with your right foot, landing on ball of your foot.
  3. Keep most of your weight in your left leg and lower your hips towards the floor keeping your upper body straight. This should feel like you are going to kneel down onto your right knee.
  4. Tighten your left butt and thigh muscles and lift yourself back to starting position.
  5. Perform 15-20 repetitions.  Switch legs and repeat with right leg forward.
Form tips:  Avoid letting your front knee go forward past your toes.  Only lower down until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your shin is almost perpendicular to the floor.  Shorten your step to emphasize your quads & lengthen your step to emphasize your gluteals.


Too easy?  Try putting your back leg on a bench or add a rear leg lift.  Watch these variations here:  Reverse Lunge with Leg on BenchReverse Lunge with Rear Leg Lift

Side Lunges

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Quads, Hip Adductors

Do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart, toes pointing forward and your abdominals braced.
  2. Put your weight on your left heel and then take a step to the right with your right foot.
  3. Shift your weight to your right foot.
  4. Lower your hips towards the floor, keeping your left leg straight and right shin perpendicular to the ground.
  5. Tighten your right buttocks and thigh muscles and push yourself back to starting position.
  6. Perform 15-20 repetitions.  Switch legs and repeat with other side.
Form tips:  Keep your bent knee in line with your mid-foot and pointing in the same direction as your toes.  Only lower until the thigh on your bending leg is parallel to the ground.  Use your arm position to help keep your balance.


Too easy?  Place the foot you are leading with on an unstable surface such as a BOSU ball or foam cushion.  Watch this variation: Side Lunge with BOSU Ball.

Forward Step-ups

Primary muscles worked:  Quads, Gluteus Maximus

Do it:

  1. Stand in front of a 6 – 8 inch step with your feet parallel to each other and hip width apart.  Brace your abdominals.
  2. Place your right foot up onto the middle of the step and using your right leg muscles, lift your body up keeping your left leg slightly behind you and straight.
  3. Balance for a couple seconds and then slowly lower back down until your left heel touches the floor.
  4. Return your right foot to starting position.
  5. Perform 15-20 repetitions.  Switch legs and repeat with other side.
Form tips:  Keep your upper body vertical throughout the exercise.  Try to keep your knee stacked above your foot as you are lifting and lowering.  Your knee should not fall inward.


Too easy?  Use a higher step (12 inches).  Add a knee raise to your step-up.  Watch this variation: Forward Step-up with Knee Lift.

Lateral Step-ups

Primary muscles worked:  Quads, Hip abductors (Gluteus Medius)

Do it:

  1. Stand to the right side of a 6-8 inch step with your feet close together.  Brace your abdominals.
  2. Place your right foot up onto the middle of the step and pushing through your right heel, lift your body up keeping your left leg at your side.
  3. Balance for a couple seconds and then slowly lower back down until your left heel touches the floor.
  4. Return your right foot to starting position.
  5. Perform 15-20 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat with other side.
Form tips:  Keep your upper body vertical and your hips level throughout the exercise.  Avoid letting your knee go forward past your toes when lifting and lowering.


Too easy?  Perform a straight side leg lift (hip abduction) after you step up onto the step with the opposite leg.  Watch this variation: Lateral Step-up with Side Leg Raise.

Quadruped Straight Leg Hip Extension

Primary muscles worked:  Glutes, hamstrings

Do it:

  1. Start on the floor on your hands and knees with your abdominals tightened – pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
  2. Straighten your right leg back with your toes lightly touching the ground.
  3. Keeping your abdominal muscles tightened to protect your back, lift your right leg up until it is in line with your body and squeeze your butt.
  4. Hold for a second and then lower your right leg to lightly tap your toes on the floor and lift again.
  5. Perform 15-20 repetitions.  Switch legs and repeat with other side.
Form tips:  Don’t lift your leg so high that your back arches – your back should remain straight throughout the exercise.  Keep your wrists in line with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips.


Too easy?  Add an ankle weight to the moving leg.  Instead of keeping your leg straight, bend your knee to a 90-degree angle and perform the same lift.  Watch this variation: Quadruped Bent Knee Lift.

Dead Lifts

Primary muscles worked:  Hamstrings, Quads, Gluteus Maximus, Erector Spinae

Do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and toes pointed forward.  Place a 5 lb dumbbell slightly in front of each foot.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted, squat down to pick up a dumbbell in each hand.  Make sure your heels stay on the floor and your head in line with your spine.
  3. As you raise up to starting position, your abdominals should be braced and back in a flat, neutral position.  Straighten your knees, then your hips before coming to a fully upright position.  Keep your arms straight and allow them to return to your sides naturally as you straighten the rest of your body.
  4. Continue to brace your abdominals, keep your back straight and bend at your knees to lower the dumbbells back to the floor.  Lower your hips backward rather than pushing your knees forward.
  5. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Form tips:  Protecting your back is very important during this exercise.  Don’t let your knees go forward past your toes.


Too easy?  Try performing the same exercise with only one leg on the ground and the opposite leg lifted behind you.  Watch this variation: Single-leg Dead Lift

Calf Raises

Primary muscles worked:  Calves (Gastrocnemius & Soleus)

Do it:

  1. Stand tall on the edge of the lowest step of a staircase or aerobic step with a 5 – 8 lb dumbbell in each hand and your arms at your sides.
  2. Keep your toes pointing forward and lift your heels so you are up on the balls of your feet.
  3. Lower down so that your heels are hanging slightly over the edge of the step.
  4. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Form tips:  Avoid hunching your shoulders up, keep your shoulders relaxed.  If you find it difficult to balance, skip the dumbbells at first and hold on lightly to the wall or a railing.


Too easy?  Try performing one leg at a time.  Watch this variation:  Single Leg Calf Raise

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Do your arms need work?  Try our Post-Baby Body Arm and Shoulder Toning program!

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

Photo credit: Kristy T

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Kristy Timm

Kristy lives in FL with her husband, and 2 daughters. She has a Bachelors and Doctorate in Physical Therapy and has worked in Orthopedics, Vestibular, and Ergonomics for the last 12 years. She loves spending time with her hubby and daughter enjoying music, reading, playing, and learning American Sign Language. Her other interests include traveling, being active, and catching up with family and friends.

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