Everyone has "problem" areas on their body — areas they wish would magically become slim overnight. Unfortunately, losing fat is a process that requires commitment and patience. By exercising regularly and watching your diet, you can burn thigh fat and build lean muscle for a toned appearance. Although it's not easy, all your hard work will pay off when you slip into those skinny jeans you've been dying to wear.
Reduce your calorie intake and do cardio and strength training to lose fat deposits and tone your outer thighs.
The Myth of Spot Training
With the right diet and training program, you can reduce thigh fat deposits. However, you cannot target just your thighs for fat loss. When you lose fat, you'll lose it from all over your body — your face, arms, stomach and thighs.
As you start to burn fat, you might first see the loss in your face and then your arms — those are typically the first places people see fat loss. But with time, if you stick to your diet and exercise program, you'll see results in your thighs.
Fat loss can be complicated — it involves your diet, activity level, lifestyle factors like stress and sleep, and genetics. But generally, fat loss is a matter of calories in versus calories out. To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than you expend each day. This is called creating a calorie deficit.
Your body burns calories, or energy, to power physiological functions, such as respiration and digestion; it also burns calories maintaining your body's tissues, including fat and muscle. Your daily activities of living — doing chores, cooking dinner, grocery shopping — also burn calories. Finally, exercise burns calories. In addition to reducing the calories in your diet, you can increase the amount of exercise you do to create a calorie deficit and lose outer thigh fat.
Cardio, Cardio, Cardio
There's no way to escape it — to burn saddlebag fat, you have to do cardio. Cardio burns calories while you're doing it. Biking, swimming, taking an aerobics class, hiking and jogging are all effective forms of cardiovascular exercise.
Some cardio exercises are better for targeting the legs than others. Although they won't help you burn fat in a specific area, they can help you tone the muscles in your legs. Some examples of effective cardio exercises that tone the legs include:
- Stair climbing
- Hill walking and hiking
- Elliptical machine
- Jumping rope
If you really want to see results and lose the saddlebag fat, you have to pick up the pace. A slow walk burns calories, but not nearly as many as a jog. And a jog doesn't burn as many calories as running. Here's an example from Harvard Health Publishing of the calories burned in 30 minutes for a 155-pound person walking, jogging and running:
- Walking 4 mph: 167 calories
- Jogging: 223 calories
- Running 6 mph: 372 calories
As you can see, running burns more than double the calories as walking in the same amount of time. The same goes for any cardio activity — the harder you work, the more calories you'll burn. It doesn't matter if you're only able to jog or stair climb at a slow pace right now; just work to gradually increase your intensity as your fitness improves.
Whether you've been working out for a while or just starting an exercise program, you can use interval training to increase your fitness and spike your calorie burn. Contrary to steady-state cardio workouts, in which your heart rate stays pretty level throughout, interval training involves brief periods of vigorous activity, followed by periods of recovery at a slower pace.
Your goal is to push yourself to or close to maximum effort during each interval. Interval training makes it easier to do this because you know you have a recovery period coming up. Hold your faster pace for 30 to 90 seconds; then lower your pace back to a jog until your heart rate steadies out — usually one or two times the length of your work effort. Increase your pace up to your maximum again. Continue to alternate between the two for the entire workout.
You can do interval training with any type of exercise, and it's often more fun than steady-state cardio because it's not as monotonous. However, since it can be very intense, it's not recommended that you do it in every workout. Two or three sessions a week, with at least one day in between is a good goal.
Tone With Strength Training
Yes, strength training will help you get rid of outer thigh fat — and no, it won't make you bulk up. Pound for pound, muscle takes up less space than fat; when you burn the fat and build lean muscle, your thighs will look slimmer.
It's important to train all the muscles of your body, not just your outer thighs, for two reasons. First of all, it's good for your health to build total-body strength. Second, building total-body muscle mass will help you burn more fat. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat; your body expends more energy building and maintaining muscle mass, which increases your resting metabolic rate — the amount of calories you burn even when you're not active.
So, two or three times a week, do a total-body resistance training routine targeting the shoulders, arms, chest, back, abs, thighs and calves. Some examples of exercises you can do include:
- Lat pulldowns
- Shoulder press
- Bench press
- Dead lifts
- Side stepups
- Side steps with resistance band
- Bicycle crunches
- Plank holds
These are all compound exercises. They require more than one muscle group at a time and more energy, which means you'll burn more calories while you're doing them. All of the lower-body exercises listed above will tone your thighs, including your outer thighs.
Side stepups and side steps with resistance bands are compound exercises that will more directly recruit the outer thigh muscles. Isolation exercises, such as leg lifts, target the outer thighs, but they're not as effective for burning calories and building lean muscle as compound exercises.
Circuit training is one of the best resistance training methods for burning fat. In a circuit workout, you do one set of each exercise without resting in between and then repeat the round as many times as you like. You can include compound exercises, as well as plyometrics, such as jump squats, and cardio exercises like jump roping, jumping jacks and mountain climbers.
A sample workout could look like this:
- Pushups (knees or regular): 15 reps
- Squats: 15 reps
- Mountain climbers: 15 reps
- Reverse lunges: 15 reps each leg
- Rows: 15 reps
- Jump rope: 30 seconds
- Lateral squats: 15 reps
- Thrusters: 15 reps
- Squat jumps: 10 to 15 reps
Rest for one to two minutes, then repeat for four rounds total.
If you work hard enough and keep your heart rate up, circuit training can give you your cardio workout and strength workout in one.
Meet Your Goals
Be consistent with your cardio and strength-training workouts. Push yourself to go a little further each time. Celebrate your progress, be patient, eat a reduced-calorie diet, and you'll lose the saddlebag fat and get healthier at the same time.
Read more: Circuit Training Benefits
- Breaking Muscle: Total-Body Circuit Strength Training: A Conditioning Wake-Up Call
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- ACE: Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn
- Precision Nutrition: Calories in vs. Out? Or Hormones? The Debate Is Finally Over. Here’s Who Won.
- ACE: Interval Training
- Compass Nutrition: True or False: Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- Bodybuilding.com: Compound Exercises Bring Compounded Results: Get More in Less Time