Fat and muscle may reside in the same parts of your body, but they're very different tissues. One type of tissue cannot morph into the other. However, you can take action to lose leg fat and then build lean, developed leg muscles. Basic weight-loss strategies help you melt away the flab and regular strength-training will build you the lean definition you crave.
Start With Fat Loss
To lose leg fat, embark on a total-body weight-loss program; you can't isolate just your thighs and calves. Your body gains and loses fat on a track predetermined by your genetics. If you tend to gain weight in your legs first, it may be the last place you see significant loss.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, however. It just means you need a little patience and discipline. Losing fat requires you to create a caloric deficit, so you burn more energy than you consume in food and drink. Create this deficit by:
- Eating fewer calories. Shrink portion sizes and skip high-calorie, non-nutritive foods (such as sweets and alcohol.) Meals should focus on healthy, whole foods, such as chicken breast, flank steak, fish, leafy greens, fresh fruit, and whole grains. Eat at least 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman or 1,800 per day if you're a man to prevent nutritional deficiencies and a slowed metabolism.
- Moving more. In addition to leg-specific workouts to build lean muscle as detailed below, increase your physical activity levels. This might include exceeding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five times per week. Movement burns calories, contributing to your calorie deficit.
If you employ these strategies to create a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit per day, you'll lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. It may take you several weeks, or months, to notice the fat loss on your legs — but, if you stick with your program, the fat loss will happen.
Reveal Lean Muscle
Just by losing body fat, you'll reveal lean muscle. To sculpt that muscle into enviable definition, you'll need a combination of cardio and resistance training.
Most cardio exercise works your legs. Aim for 30- to 45-minute sessions of elliptical training, running or cardio dance on most days of the week. At several of these workouts, challenge your leg muscles extra with intervals. This helps turn on fat-burning mechanisms in your body and asks your muscles to work in ways that create additional muscle mass.
Running or cycling are perfect modes for interval training. They're also great for developing lean mass in your legs. Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes, and then go all out for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by an equal time of easy pedaling or jogging. Repeat the intervals for the duration of your workout.
You've got to work your lean muscle to make it pop. Squats, lunges, step-ups and calf raises are exercises to perform twice per week for three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
As you become proficient in these standard exercises, consider adding plyometric moves to further develop your muscles. Jump squats and switch lunges are examples of these jumping moves that lead to defined legs. Add plyometrics to your weight session. Complete one to three sets of 30 seconds, aiming to perform as many as you can in that period of time.