Lean, shapely legs that look good in shorts, a mini or tight leggings can be yours, but not with spot reduction. It's impossible to use targeted exercises to lose weight in a specific part of your body. But, with focused effort on diet and total-body exercise, you can reduce the fat in your legs -- along with the rest of your body. How soon your legs will slim down depends on your genetics and starting size.
Expect Your Body to Slim Down Proportionally
Exercises for your legs build muscle, but they don't directly cause you to lose fat in the thighs, around the knees or in the calves. Numerous studies have proven that fat is lost throughout the body as you exercise and reduce calories. For example, researchers had participants exercise one leg with more than 1,000 repetitions of a leg press three times per week, in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013. After 12 weeks, no notable fat changes occurred in either leg, but some fat loss was reported in the upper body.
When your body faces a calorie deficit, it will turn to fat cells to supply energy. But, it doesn't always use fat from the area that you want it to first; it has a set pattern of loss that's out of your direct control. You may want your legs to look perfect for an upcoming beach bash, but you'll have to wait for total body fat loss to affect the appearance of your legs.
Cut Calories to Slim Your Legs
Eating fewer calories and moving more is a sure-fire way to drop pounds. If your legs carry a large proportion of fat, they will slim down eventually. You may want them to look perfect for an upcoming cruise, but be patient, and you'll see progress in your legs as you lose weight all over.
Use an online calculator or speak to a dietitian to estimate the number of calories you use to maintain your weight. Then, create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories from that number to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Reduce portion sizes and choose mostly lower-calorie, but nutritionally-dense foods. Fill your plate at meals with lean proteins, whole grains and fresh, fibrous produce. Increased physical activity -- from walking your dog to running on a treadmill -- also helps raise your daily calorie burn and contribute to helping you lose leg fat faster.
Exercise for Toned, Slimmer Legs
Cardiovascular exercise helps you burn calories to expedite fat loss. Aim for 250 minutes per week of moderate-paced exercise to lose significant weight, says the American College on Sports Medicine. Activities such as jogging, cycling and hiking won't directly burn leg fat, but they will contribute to greater leg strength and muscle tone. These activities also burn a fair number of calories -- almost 450 calories for an hour-long hike or 370 calories for a 30-minute jog at a 10-minute-per-mile pace, if you weigh 150 pounds.
Be sure to strength-train to build lean muscle and support fat loss. Pound for pound, muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat does, so when you add muscle to your frame, you'll use more calories every day, which helps with weight loss.
Your legs are just one of the major muscle groups you should train at least twice per week. Also work your back, chest, glutes, abs, arms and shoulders. Aim for a minimum of one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise using a weight that feels heavy by the last few efforts. If you're new to strength training, you may notice improved strength and tone in the first few weeks; fat loss may take longer, however, depending on how much you want to lose.
Perform extra leg-strengthening exercises at these resistance workouts so that when you do slim down, you reveal defined leg muscles. Squats, lunges, step-ups and side shuffles promote optimal leg function are all options.
Be Patient With Your Progress
Your goal for slim legs may be just weeks away as you plan for a vacation cruise or pool escapade. Recognize, though, that if your legs have always been heavy, they'll likely be one of the last places to slim down. The place where you gain weight first is usually the place where you lose it last. The thighs, hips and buttocks can be stubborn places of fat storage, especially in women.
Efforts to lose weight too quickly may backfire. Starvation plans or fad diets often leave you feeling so hungry that you get frustrated and want to give up. Even if you can maintain a strict plan, you may be nutritionally deficient and stall your metabolism, which brings weight loss to a halt. Too drastic of a calorie deficit can also lead to muscle loss, which takes away from defined, sculpted-looking legs.
To avoid these negative effects, aim for a minimum of 1,200 calories daily if you are a woman or 1,800 calories if you are a man. Following a sensible eating and exercise plan with a more gradual weight-loss rate makes it more likely that you'll maintain your weight loss, including slimmer legs, for the long term.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Regional Fat Changes Induced By Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training
- American Council on Exercise: Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn
- Yale Scientific: Fat Loss: Myth or Reality
- National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight Loss and Nutrition Myths
- American Council on Exercise: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism Is Modifiable With the Right Lifestyle Changes
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- American Council on Exercise: Summer Boot Camp: Legs Workout