If creating an hourglass silhouette is your goal at the gym, you'll want to grow your lower-body muscles (glutes and quads) while shrinking your midsection. This requires you to build muscle while simultaneously losing belly fat. And while you can't spot reduce or turn fat into muscle, the right diet and exercise plan can get you there.
So when you hit the gym, it's important to be strategic about the specific exercises you select to target your legs, butt and abs. The type of workout you do matters, too. The best muscle-building, fat-loss workouts combine weight-lifting with cardio to burn calories and build muscle.
Leg-Toning Workouts for the Gym
The glutes, hamstrings and quads are the biggest and strongest lower-body muscles, so you'll need to focus on them to tone your legs. To build them, you need to do resistance training either with weights (ex. barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or weight machines), resistance bands or simply your own body weight.
At the gym, you'll have access to all this equipment (and perhaps more!) that you can add to two of the best exercises to strengthen your leg muscles — the squat and deadlift. Any variation of these will help you build muscle because they're powerful compound movements (i.e. they engage multiple muscles at once).
Single-leg exercises — like lunges, Bulgarian split squats and single-leg deadlifts — also help build lower-body muscles. They're especially effective because you isolate one leg at a time and can easily identify if one side is stronger than the other.
Read more: How to Get Lean, Sexy Legs With 12 Moves
Burning Belly Fat
As previously mentioned, you can't isolate belly fat, but a mix of cardio, strength training and diet will help you losing body fat all over, including your core. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to do that, especially if you're short on time. With high-intensity weight-lifting exercises, like the thruster, you'll get a fat-burning workout that also works your legs.
In fact, some of the best exercises to burn calories are lower-body exercises. Your legs are large muscles and need a ton of energy to work hard, so you'll burn more energy by doing lower body weight-lifting exercises.
When it comes to your diet, you need to eat fewer calories during the day to lose body fat (including from your midsection). Eating foods rich in fiber (ex. oatmeal and kale) will can keep you fuller longer, helping you eat less. Protein, which you can get from eggs, chicken and fish, also helps you curb hunger and eat less.
Read more: How to Lose Belly Fat Super Fast
Try This Gym Workout to Build Your Legs and Burn Belly Fat
Do: Each of the following moves for 30 seconds, doing as many reps with good form as possible. Rest for 15 seconds, then go into the next move. Repeat the circuit three times. Make sure to warm up beforehand and cool down afterward.
Move 1: Thrusters
Few other exercises are as taxing as the thruster on both your upper and lower body. You burn calories and build muscle at the same time.
- Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand. Swing the dumbbells up to your shoulders. (You can also hold a barbell across the front of your chest.)
- Hold them there and squat down as low as you can.
- Stand up. As you get to the top, start pressing the dumbbells overhead. Use the momentum you gain from standing up to lift them up overhead
- Lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders and go straight into the next rep.
Move 2: Squat Jump
To combine the calorie-burning power of interval training with the muscle-building effects of plyometrics, try this exercise.
- Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Jump into the air as high as you can.
- Land with knees slightly bent, squat down and jump again.
Move 3: Walking Lunge
This exercise tones your quads, hamstrings, and butt muscles with high repetitions and added resistance.
- Stand, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand.
- Take a big step forward and drop your back knee down toward the ground.
- Step your back foot up to your front foot.
- Step forward and lunge with the opposite leg from the last rep.
- Continue walking, alternating legs with each step.
Move 4: Deadlifts
You can lift a lot of weight in a deadlift, which makes them great for building up your leg muscles — specifically your hamstrings and glutes, according to ExRx.net.
- Place a barbell on the ground. Walk up to the center of the barbell until your shins are about one inch away.
- Stick your butt back and bend forward at your hips to grab the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Stick your chest out, push your butt back, keep your back flat and put your weight into your heels.
- Press through your heels and pull the bar up.
- Thrust your hips forward to stand tall at the top
- Reverse those steps to put it back down.
Move 5: Kettlebell Swings
- Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Stand two feet behind it with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Grip the handle of the kettlebell with both hands and swing it back between your legs. Bend your knees and stick your butt back.
- Thrust your hips forward powerfully and stand up tall to swing the bell forward. Let it swing until your arms are parallel to the floor
- Swing it back down between your legs with control (i.e. don't let momentum take over).
You can use a lighter kettlebell and more reps to use this exercise to burn calories or a heavier weight and fewer reps to build up the muscles of your hips, hamstrings and glutes, according to the American Council on Exercise.
HIIT Cycling Workouts to Burn Belly Fat
On the days in between your weight-lifting workouts, incorporate some HIIT cycling workouts into the mix. While it's not a weight-lifting exercise, indoor cycling is one of the best ways to burn calories and still work your leg muscles.
Someone who weighs 125 pounds can burn around 210 calories in 30 minutes, and someone who weighs 185 pounds can burn around 311 calories in 30 minutes by cycling at a moderate pace, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
If you don't want to attend an indoor cycling class, find an exercise bike and hop on, adjusting it to your height. Try this Tabata workout:
- Set the bike to a moderate amount of resistance (challenging but sustainable). More resistance will focus on strength, higher speed will focus on endurance.
- Pedal as fast as you can for 20 seconds.
- Slow it down for 10 seconds.
- Repeat for four minutes.