Bulking up in the gym has its benefits — strength, improved body composition and bragging rights, to name a few. You overdid it on heavy squats and deadlifts, though, and now your legs look like tree trunks. Or perhaps you haven't managed your diet well, and on top of those tree trunks is a layer of fat. And you just want to wear jeans again without the fear of your massive thighs bursting the seams when you sit down.
Here's your plan to slim down, guys: Lots of cardio, calisthenics and a better diet. Just remember that you can't spot reduce, so if you lose bulk in your thighs, you will lose it in other parts of your body, too.
Lace Up Your Running Shoes
Think about a runner's legs -- long and lean. That's the look you're going for, right? Then you're going to have to run or do some other type of cardio, and lots of it.
Cardio helps burn fat while you're doing it. If you're not currently doing any cardio, add in at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If you are doing some cardio, increase it. Running is the best type of cardio for leaning out because it doesn't cause your leg muscles to "pump" like cycling, stair climbing or the elliptical trainer. Rowing is another good option, given its emphasis on the upper body.
You have two choices for getting your cardio done: steady-state and interval training. Steady-state cardio is done at a lower intensity for a longer period of time, while interval training involves short bursts of intense effort followed by a recovery period. There are benefits to including both in your routine.
Interval training is the best bet for burning fat. Research shows that this type of training burns fat better than steady-state cardio in a shorter period of time. It's more effective and efficient. Steady-state cardio — especially running — done for longer periods of time is also particularly good for leaning out the legs. Engaging in endurance activities causes your legs to adapt to best accommodate the activity. Long steady-state cardio can also help you lose muscle mass if you balance your calories correctly.
If you need to lose fat, but want to maintain muscle, a mixture of interval training and long steady-state cardio is your best bet. If you need to reduce muscle mass, a lot of long steady-state cardio will work best for you.
Take Some Weight off That Barbell
In fact, take it all off. Even low weight, high rep lifting schemes can make you bulk up if you have the body type for it. And, if your goal is to lose muscle mass, taking a break from strength training and focusing on lots of cardio is is the way to go. Once you lose the excess muscle in your thighs, you can add in some light calisthenics to maintain.
If you need to lose fat, you also need to build muscle. Having more muscle mass revs your metabolism so you don't put on fat as easily and more easily shed the fat you have. You don't need to lift a lot of weight, though, because bodyweight exercises, known as calisthenics, will help you build lean muscle mass necessary for fat loss.
A full-body body-weight only circuit training routine two or three times a week is all you need. Do one set of each exercise with little rest in between for a total of 5 to 10 rounds. Rest a minute or two between rounds.
Here's a sample routine:
- 10 pushups
- 10 mountain climbers (both sides = 1 rep)
- 10 crunches
- 20 jumping jacks
- 10 body-weight squats
- 10 pull-ups
- 10 burpees
- 10 dips
- 10 lunges (both sides = 1 rep)
- 10 bicycle crunches (both sides = 1 rep)
All of these exercise can be modified to be made easier or more challenging, depending on your fitness level.
If you absolutely have to use weights to feel like you're getting a good workout, reduce the weight and use a high-rep scheme of 15 to 20 per set. Do not do any heavy squats or deadlifts, though, as these will bulk up your legs faster than a speeding ticket.
Step Away From the Donuts
Maybe donuts are not your weakness; perhaps it's bacon or ice cream. Either way, you're going to have to skip it to lean out your legs.
Whether you need to lose fat or muscle, you have to get your body in a calorie deficit. At this point, it will begin using fat for energy, or muscle for energy when there's no fat left to burn. How many calories you need each day and how many calories you need to cut is a complex calculation, one best made by your doctor, trainer or a nutritionist.
Once you have that number in hand, it's your job not to exceed it. The first line of fire should be any sweets or sugary beverages in your diet -- these have to go. Save a sweet such as dark chocolate for an occasional treat, and choose fruit instead when you have a sweet craving.
Next, take aim at carbs. A controlled-carb diet is crucial for losing fat and muscle. You have to be careful here if you're going heavy on the cardio because you need enough carbs for adequate energy. However, when you're leaning out, you do not need much.
Cut out all processed and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice and pasta. In fact, you can cut out bread, rice and pasta, even if they're whole-grain. You don't need them where you're going. Focus on getting your carbs from fresh vegetables and limited amounts of fruit. Avoid loading up on starchy veg like potatoes, although the occasional sweet potato is OK.
Pick your proteins wisely. Because you're not trying to pack on mass, you don't need to load up on protein. Stick to a moderate amount, and choose lean options such as light chicken meat, fish, beans and tofu.
Be Patient and Realistic
Ultimately, how slim you can get your legs amounts to body type. If you're naturally bulky, don't expect miracles. Stick to your your diet and exercise plan, and you will start to see a slimmer profile in the mirror. You might even get to put on that pair of skinny jeans hiding in your closet.