You can't spot reduce just your legs. Losing fat means losing it all over your body, so the "best" exercise equipment will be the ones that help you burn the most overall body fat. Beyond that, the best for you may be the worst for someone else. The treadmill may be a big calorie-burner, but if you hate running, it's certainly not going to be the best machine for you. In the end, the decision to choose certain types of equipment will come down to your personal preference, your skill level and the amount of time you have to spend on exercise.
Keep Expectations Realistic
The more calories you burn, the faster you're going to lose overall body fat. Cardio machines will help most people burn calories, though keep in mind that everyone has a different body type, and yours might be one that tends to retain more fat in the legs. With that in mind, there are no guarantees that you'll look the way you want -- or get the skinny legs you admire in someone else.
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Blast Your Fat
Calorie-burning cardio equipment includes the treadmill, stair stepper, elliptical trainer, stationary cycle and rowing machine -- though your gym may also have others. The number of calories you'll burn doing any of these exercises always depends on the amount of time you spend, how much you weigh and the intensity at which you do the exercise. But when it comes to calories burned, the treadmill and elliptical machines are perhaps your greatest allies. According to Harvard Health Publications, if a 155-pound person runs on the treadmill at a moderate 5.2 m.p.h. for 30 minutes, she'll burn about 335 calories, the same as she would burn on an elliptical. That person would burn 223 calories on the stair step machine and 260 calories riding the stationary bike at a moderate pace or rowing at a moderate pace.
Up the Intensity
Since intensity is a crucial factor in how many calories you can burn, adding intensity in any number of ways is going to help you burn body fat faster. Most exercise machines have a resistance setting, allowing you to make the treadmill more difficult to move or the rowing machine more challenging to row, for example. Adding incline to the treadmill or using the arm levers on the elliptical can also help burn more calories. When you have limited time, try another big calorie burner: high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. After warming up on the equipment of your choice, speed up to about 90 percent of what you perceive to be a maximum effort and maintain that pace for about one minute. Slow down to roughly 50 percent of your max for another minute and then repeat that cycle six to eight times. Among its benefits, HIIT can help reduce subcutaneous, or under-the-skin, fat and increase your metabolism for hours following your workout.
Add Weight Training
While calorie-burning exercises are key to losing fat, weight training equipment can also help. Not only does weight training burn calories, but muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat, so the more muscle you gain, the more efficient you'll get at burning calories. However, the "best" weight training equipment may depend on your experience. While several stationary weight machines focus on the leg muscles, they can lead to muscle imbalances and may not put your muscles through their full range of motion. Free weights, meaning barbells or dumbbells, allow full range of motion but require some knowledge for proper use. For the beginner, perhaps the "best" option is to learn how to do a full-body strength training workout with the use of dumbbells -- ideally with the help of a trainer. That routine would include squats, lunges, biceps curls, triceps extensions and bench presses.
Gyms contain a machine to work every conceivable muscle in your body. The idea is to provide something for everybody, meeting as many people's exercise needs as possible so they'll be willing to pay for a gym membership. But not all of the leg machines in the gym are worth your time. Stay away from inner and outer thigh machines, for example. They work muscles best worked with free weight exercises, so focus on multi-joint or large muscle group development, instead, when you use leg machines at the gym.
The leg press works your quads, hamstrings and glutes together in a multi-joint movement. Doing squats works the same muscles, plus your core, forcing your body to stabilize the extra weight you're lifting. But squats require greater technique and expose you to greater risk of injury, if done incorrectly, than the leg press. This makes the leg press ideal for beginners just learning lifting techniques or anyone that wants to move a lot of weight for building mass, with relatively less risk of injury.
Avoid the inclined leg press machine, if possible, because it's very easy to flatten your back too much when pushing large amounts of weight on this machine. If you must use the inclined leg press, or when lifting large amounts of weight on any leg press, focus on maintaining the natural curve in your spine. Placing a lumbar roll in the small of your back can help you maintain proper posture.
Weak hamstrings, the three muscles in the back of each thigh, are a common muscular imbalance that puts you at increased risk of knee injury and instability. The leg curl machine isolates your hamstrings, allowing you to strengthen them until they've caught up with your quadriceps instead of perpetuating the muscular imbalance. According to ExRX.net, your hamstrings should be more than 56 to 80 percent as strong as your quads, depending on your population.
The leg extension machine isolates your quadriceps, the large four-muscle group on the front of your thigh. Although this muscle is often stronger than the hamstrings to the point of imbalance, and may not need to be strengthened individually, the leg extension machine is still ideal for building definition in the quads. If one leg is weaker than the other, you can use the leg extension machine to work that quad individually, helping develop it to match the other leg's strength.
- ExRx.net: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- American Council on Exercise: High-Intensity Interval Training
- American College of Sports Medicine: Eight Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
- McKinley Health Center: Free Weights vs. Resistance Machines