Let's start by dispelling fitness myth #672: You can't lengthen any part of your body with exercise. Your limb length is determined by genetics, and whatever you were born with is what you've got. So be happy with it, accept it and love yourself for who you are.
Now, if you want the appearance of longer legs, exercise can help you there. Burning body fat and building lean leg muscle will give your legs a lean and toned look, which will make them look longer.
Your Plan for Long, Lean Legs
Excess lower body fat will make the legs look thick and squat. Shedding that fat, and then building muscle, will make the legs thinner, tighter and toned and, therefore, longer. No single exercise or group of exercises will achieve this. Rather, you need a multi-pronged strategy that includes:
Healthy diet: A reduced-calorie nutritious diet helps you create a calorie deficit, which leads to fat loss.
Cardiovascular exercise: Helps you burn calories which, in addition to a reduced calorie diet, helps you stay in the calorie deficit needed for fat loss.
Strength training: Builds muscle for a toned look and helps rev your metabolism so you burn more fat.
Burn Fat With These Cardio Exercises
Any type of cardiovascular exercise you do will help you burn fat to achieve slim, toned legs. It's mostly a matter of how many calories you need to burn to stay in a calorie deficit for fat loss. Some types of exercise burn more calories than others.
Running burns more calories than walking. Sprinting burns more calories than running. The harder you work, the more calories you burn.
Interval training has been shown in studies to burn more fat than steady state cardio. Interval training involves alternating periods of very vigorous exercise with periods of recovery at a slower pace. You can do intervals on a treadmill, track, stationary bike, rower or elliptical machine.
Other types of exercise, including biking, swimming, dancing and playing sports like soccer and tennis, are also effective for burning fat for leaner legs.
Build Muscle With These Strength-Training Exercises
While losing fat gives you thinner legs, building muscle sculpts them. Sculpted thighs and calves -- like those of a dancer or sprinter -- enhance the aesthetic of long, lean legs. You can build muscle any number of ways: lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises (calisthenics), doing yoga or Pilates or going to a kickboxing or barre class.
For your next home or gym workout, try these top leg-toning moves:
Step up to lunge: Stand in front of a weight bench or sturdy chair. Step up with your right foot, press through the heel and rise up to standing. Step down with your left foot, take a big step back with your right foot coming into a lunge. Keep your torso erect and your knees at 90-degree angles. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps, then switch sides.
Side squats with band: Place a small loop exercise band around your ankles. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and come down into a squat. Take a big step to the side with your right foot. Stay in your squat as you step the left foot into the right. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps in one direction, then switch sides.
Calf raises: Stand on a step with your heels hanging off. Slowly rise up on to your toes, pause, then lower down, letting your heels come past the step. Do 10 reps, then switch to single-leg raises for 10 reps on each side.
Front leg raises: Stand perpendicular to a wall with your hand on the wall for support. Keeping your torso erect and your legs straight, slowly extend your right leg out and raise it up as high as you can. Don't let your back round. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
Hamstring curls with stability ball: Lie on your back with your feet up on a stability ball. Dig your heels into the ball and raise your butt and lower back off the floor so your body is in a solid plank. Slowly roll the ball in towards you butt. Pause for a second, then roll back out. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps.