Toned legs and tight glutes seem to be all the rage lately. Celebs, trainers, and regular gym-goers are regularly on the lookout for ways to get an effective cardiovascular workout while also challenging the muscles of the lower body.
And while strength training and bodyweight exercises should be the first line of attack when sculpting these powerful muscles, there's also a few cardio machines that can tone your legs, give your backside a nice boost and help you meet the Center for Disease Control's recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity each week.
Climbing for Conditioned Legs
If you've ever wondered what if feels like to climb a mountain, then hop on one of these bad boys and start stepping. Known for giving you a sweat slogging workout, the stair climber or stepmill (a revolving staircase) is one of the best pieces of cardio equipment on the market.
Not only does it give you a killer aerobic workout, it also challenges your quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, hip flexors and gluteal muscles. In order to maximize your results, make sure to stand upright with your core tight and don't lean on the handrails.
Treadmill for Toned Legs
Runners are known for their quad sweep and lean lower legs. And for good reason: Running engages all the muscles of the lower body. But, with the pros, come the cons; hitting the pavement too much can be hard on your joints. That's why a lot of people opt for the treadmill, which creates less impact while still giving you an intense workout.
Increasing the elevation places more emphasis on the calf muscles and hamstrings while dropping the machine below level gives your quadriceps a good burn. Also, if you're a seasoned treadmill runner you can target the inner and outer thighs by walking sideways or backward on the belt. When switching directions on the treadmill, make sure to reduce the speed and hold onto the front or sides of the machine.
Indoor Cycling for Shapely Legs
One look at a cyclist's legs and it's only obvious that a spin bike produces some amazing results. Whether in a class or on your own, this piece of cardio equipment challenges the legs in two different ways: Crank up the resistance and the push-pull movement increases the intensity by placing more tension on the quads and hamstrings, or lower the resistance and you end up with a workout that is fast-paced and more endurance based.
The downstroke engages the gluteal muscles, the quadriceps, the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles), while the up-stroke uses the hamstrings and the flexor muscles in the front of the hip.
Row Your Way to Tighter Legs
When rowing machines first hit the market decades ago, most hardcore exercisers didn't even give this piece of equipment a second look. But now, these machines seem to be the cornerstone of many gyms. The rowing stroke starts with a powerful leg push that immediately engages the large muscles of the lower body. But, in order to keep your lower back safe and the emphasis on your legs, hips, and glutes, make sure to keep your core tightened for the entire workout.
Elliptical for Ease and Comfort
The elliptical machine is a smart alternative for people looking to reduce the pounding on their body from running outside or on a treadmill. The basic design of the machine makes it less stressful for your knees, hips and back. While the elliptical is generally considered a low- to moderate-impact activity, there are ways to up the intensity, without increasing the strain on your body.
Some machines have moveable handles that you can push and pull with your upper body, and most allow you to pedal in reverse — which works the calf muscles and hamstrings more. Working both the upper and lower body at the same time increases your heart rate and gives you a better overall workout.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary
- Spinning.com: What Does Indoor Cycling Tone?
- Georgia State University: Stairclimbing
- The Ultimate Body Shaping Bible; Karon Karter
- Fitness: 3 Ways to Burn 500 Calories
- Human Kinetics: Learn Three Phases of Rope Jumping
- Harvard Health Publications: The Top 5 Benefits of Cycling
- Harvard Health Publications: Tips for Choosing the Right Exercise Equipment