If your dreams of wearing skinny jeans seem beyond your grasp, don't stop reaching just yet. While your body type and genetics play a role in leg size, you can make significant changes by following the right exercise plan. Better make space in your closet—those skinny jeans are in your future.
Understanding Fat Loss
To slim down your legs, you have to burn calories. Calories are units of energy you get through food. They're good, up to a certain point. Take in too many calories, and your body stores them as fat.
Some people have body types (determined by genetics) that are prone to storing fat in the lower body; others store fat around their midsection. No matter where you store fat, slimming down is a matter of reducing your calorie intake and burning the fat stores you already have.
Keep in mind that you can't spot-reduce. You have to lose total body fat, which could come from your belly first and, later, your legs. In fact, if you tend to store fat in your lower body, it's likely that your leg fat will be slower to budge.
Cardiovascular exercise is one of the two types of exercise you have to do for slimmer legs. Walking, swimming, kickboxing, running and hiking are all forms of cardio exercise.
How many calories you burn depends on how hard you work. The more effort you expend, the more calories you burn. Your age, weight and gender also play a role in calorie burning.
Take these estimates, for example. Walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour burns between 120 and 178 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your weight. Running at a pace of 5 miles per hour, however, burns between 240 and 355 calories, in the same amount of time.
At the very least, you should be getting the equivalent of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise most days of the week. This is hard to quantify, given that a lot of activities qualify as cardio, but have varying intensities.
Up the Intensity
Adding in a few higher-intensity workouts each week will help you begin to see marked results. High-intensity cardio exercise is more effective at mobilizing fat stores for burning. It burns calories not only while you're doing it, but it also revs your metabolism for up to 24 hours after your workout.
A good way to increase the intensity of your workout in a way that's manageable is to do interval training. Interval workouts alternate periods of intense effort with periods of recovery. Most people will find it easier to do this than to maintain a level of high intensity through an entire workout.
HOW TO DO IT: Warm up at a brisk walk or easy jog for five minutes. Push up the intensity, raising the speed to a sprint. Go all out, as fast as you can. Do this for 30 seconds, then reduce your speed to a fast walk or jog. Recover here for 30 to 90 seconds, then repeat the sprint. Do a total of eight rounds, then cool down.
As you get fitter (and your legs get slimmer) you should be able to sustain longer periods of sprinting and reduce your recovery time until they're about equal.
Fat takes up a lot of space. Pound for pound, it takes up more than double the space of lean muscle mass. While you're burning the fat replace it with lean muscle, for a multitude of reasons.
Aesthetically, muscle gives your new, slimmer legs more definition. Having more total-body muscle mass also revs your metabolism because muscle is more metabolically active than fat.
In addition to your cardio exercise, add in two or three days of total-body strength training each week. Do upper body exercises to target your arms, chest, back and abs. For your lower body try:
- Squats and side squats
- Lunges — standing, walking and side lunges
- Jump squats
- Good mornings
These are all compound exercises, meaning they use a few different muscle groups at a time. They're harder to do, and they burn more calories while you're doing them.
For the ultimate fat-burning workout, do them in a circuit, moving from one exercise to the next without resting in between, then repeating the cycle a few more times.
Aim for about 12 to 20 reps per set, to build long, lean muscles and burn fat. You can use just your body weight or add weight by holding a barbell or dumbbells.
As with your cardio, it will pay off to work at a high intensity, putting everything you've got into each workout.