How long does it take to tone legs? That's a common question among those on a quest to eliminate fat from their thighs. If you're looking to burn thigh fat, start with a basic understanding of caloric balance and fat loss, and be willing to set reasonable expectations.
The question of how long it takes to tone legs comes down to calorie expenditure, diet and exercise. Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week to start getting rid of fat on your thighs and elsewhere.
Understand Calorie Balance
When it comes to fat loss, the calorie is king. According to Mayo Clinic, individuals who want to lose 1 pound of fat must achieve a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories.
In fact, the more calories that are burned in a day, week or month, the quicker it will take to tone your legs — and your entire body, too. While it can be tempting to try to get rid of fat solely on the thighs alone, this is not necessarily an option. In fact, the American Council on Exercise reports that spot reducing — in which exercisers focus on one specific body part in an attempt to eliminate fat in this locale only — is quite difficult, if not impossible.
Instead, during exercise, most individuals lose a generalized amount of fat over their entire bodies. Those who do achieve a deficit of 3,500 calories in a week, for example, will not necessarily see a pound of weight loss on their thighs, but rather across their whole physique. The more vigorous the exercise, the greater the potential for calorie burn and overall fat loss.
Read more: The 7 Principles of Fat Loss
Add Resistance Training
While cutting fat directly from the thighs may not be an option, you can still improve the appearance of this body part through resistance training. Resistance training builds lean muscle mass, provides a more taut and toned appearance to targeted muscle groups and may facilitate even faster fat loss. As you create greater lean muscle mass through resistance training, you'll burn more calories both while working out and at rest.
Resistance training, along with high-intensity interval training that alternates short bursts of intense exercise with rest periods, also facilitates the so-called after-burn effect. As the body works to recover from an intense exercise session, it continues to burn calories, a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
Those who want to focus on their thighs should consider lunges, which target several muscles in the legs. For lunges, take large, exaggerated steps, lowering the rear knee toward the floor with each forward progression. Aim for two to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of this exercise for best results in building muscle mass and promoting greater muscle tone. In the gym, the use of hip adductor and hip abductor machines, in addition to lunges, can help to shape thighs.
Read more: Muscles Used in a Curtsy Lunge
Set Reasonable Expectations
Setting reasonable expectations regarding how long it takes to tone legs is crucial for those who are hoping to see fast results. When it comes to fat loss, the larger the calorie deficit, the faster the fat will start to melt away — producing optimal long-term results.
Johns Hopkins Medicine encourages most exercisers to aim for a total of 1 to 2 pounds of fat loss per week. This rate of fat loss is sustainable and will help you avoid pushing your body into "starvation mode" where, due to severe calorie restriction, your body attempts to conserve calories rather than burn them.
The quality of your calories counts, too. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy, with limited fats in your diet. Oftentimes, simply swapping high-calorie, low-nutrition foods for nutrient-dense alternatives can help you cut calories, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise, you'll be well on your way to toning your thighs and living a healthy lifestyle.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Finding a Balance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Maintaining Weight Loss"
- American Council on Exercise: "The BEST Resistance-training Program for Fat Loss"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cutting Calories"
- American Council on Exercise: "3 Fat Loss Myths to Stop Believing Now"