Exercise can't work miracles. It can't make you 5 inches taller, or change the width of your hip bones. But it can help you lose weight and build muscle. Although your leg and butt size is largely determined by genetics, losing total body fat can help your legs slim down, and doing muscle-building butt exercises can help you augment the size of your cheeks. Just don't expect magic; set realistic goals and you'll be pleased with your results.
Slimming Down 101
Body fat is bulkier than muscle. Pound for pound, fat takes up a lot more space. If you have excess body fat, shedding it will slim your legs. But you can't lose fat from just your legs; you'll lose weight from all over -- face, arms, tummy and legs.
To lose fat, you have to get your body in a caloric deficit. In this state your body is burning more calories than you take in each day. There are three ways you can create this deficit:
Eat fewer calories: Your diet is the most important facet of fat loss. It's nearly impossible to lose fat if you don't eat a healthy, calorie-controlled diet. Avoid junk food and sweetened beverages and eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean protein and moderate amounts of low-fat dairy and healthy plant-based fats.
Do more cardio: Cardiovascular exercises, like biking and swimming, burn calories. It puts you further in a deficit when combined with a healthy diet. You can burn 250 to 500 calories cycling for 30 minutes, depending on your speed and how much you weigh.
Strength train: Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Your body burns calories building and maintaining muscle. The more muscle you have, the more efficient your body is at burning fat. You also need to build muscle in your glutes -- the muscles of your butt -- to increase their size. And muscle tone in your legs will make them look sleek and sexy when the fat comes off.
Read more: Bodyweight Butt Exercises
Best and Worst Cardio for Legs and Butt
All cardio is good cardio. It burns calories and improves your cardiovascular health and has myriad other benefits for your physical and mental health. But if your goal is to build your butt, there are certain types that are better than others.
Worst for your butt:
Steady-state jogging and running: Both of these activities are excellent calorie-burners. They'll definitely help slim down your legs. But they'll also slim down your butt, which is not the look you're going for.
Any type of steady-state long-duration cardio: As with running and jogging, long-duration cardio -- sessions of more than 30 minutes -- at a steady pace will help you burn calories and slim down your legs. But these long steady state sessions can also cause you to lose muscle, which will not benefit your butt.
Best for your butt:
Incline walking/running: Walking uphill is a great way to burn calories to slim down your legs, and build a firmer bigger butt. You can use a treadmill or find some long hills to walk in your neighborhood.
Sprints: According to award-winning personal trainer and TV personality Lyzabeth Lopez, sprints are muscle-sparing and helps build great glutes. You can do sprints on a bike, treadmill or elliptical machine. Just alternate short bursts of intense activity with equal periods of recovery. Keep your workouts under 30 minutes.
Stair running/walking: Just like incline walking, climbing stairs burns calories and builds your glute muscles at the same time. Use a stair machine at the gym, or climb flights in your office or apartment building (as long as it's safe).
Best Butt-Building Exercises
Exercises to build your glutes should be part of a total-body strength training routine. Building muscle all over your body will help you burn more fat. You'll also be healthier and look better naked.
A couple days a week, include these exercises in your lower-body routine to add size and strength to your rear.
Squats: Hands down one of the best butt-building exercises around. They also work the thighs and calves for great-looking legs. For the most bang for your buck, take a wide stance -- wider than hip-distance -- and squat to at least parallel, but ideally below parallel. Getting below parallel takes time to build flexibility and mobility. Once you've mastered a traditional squat, you can try sumo squats, single-leg squats and side squats.
Hip thrusts: Another great glute builder, hip thrusts are embarrassing to do but highly effective. Trainer and author Michael Matthews calls the hip thrust the "ultimate 'secret weapon' for butt building."
Deadlifts: If you could only choose one exercise to do for your entire lower-body workout, the deadlift would be your best bet. It's also one of the best glute activators. It's a technical move that requires practice. Work on your form before adding a lot of weight. Just be sure to squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement to really get them firing.
Read more: 17 Exercises to Shape and Tone Your Booty