Okay, let’s delve right into it. You can’t burn fat from one particular area of your body. This is known as spot-reducing, and it doesn’t work.1 But, you’re thinking, “I feel the burn with those leg exercises, so they must be working.”
Here’s what’s actually happening. Exercises that promise to burn fat from your thighs are in fact strength moves that strengthen the leg muscles. That burn you’re feeling in your thighs is the muscle working and getting stronger, not fat burning. Are these exercises useful and should you do them? Absolutely, but they do not specifically burn thigh fat.
Unfortunately, we have no control over where we lose fat from. That’s why some areas are harder to slim than others.
Remember, we come in many different shapes and sizes, each of us unique. For example, women with an apple body shape carry more weight around their tummy, while women with a pear-shape body carry more weight around their hips and thighs. This means women who have an apple shape body tend to have slim or even skinny legs, while women with pear-shaped bodies find that fat accumulates in the lower body and can be more challenging to lose.2 Therefore, it’s important to set healthy and realistic goals.
To tone legs adopt a holistic plan to achieve a combination of general fat loss and muscle-toning. Take a 3-pronged approach:
1. Balanced Diet
For thighs (especially inner thighs) to become thinner, overall body fat has to be reduced through a combination of proper nutrition and exercise. Your nutritional plan should be balanced, and not too restrictive (avoid severe calorie restriction).
To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. To do this, determine your calorie requirements with this calorie calculator.
Once you know how many calories per day you need to maintain your current weight, reduce it by 500 calories. This is a moderate calorie deficit and will help you lose weight. Include plenty of nutrient-dense foods in your diet to make sure you meet your body’s nutritional needs and feel satiated:
- Lean protein, such as chicken, fish, and legumes. These foods are very filling, help appetite control, reduce calorie intake, and thereby aid weight loss.3 Protein also promotes muscle repair and growth after exercise, and helps prevent some of the muscle loss that occurs during weight loss.4
- Opt nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits and veggies and cut back refined carbs. Whole grains are rich in fiber and filling, while refined carbs are nutrient-poor and don’t make you feel full.
- Eat meals and snacks that contain carbs, protein, and fat. This helps you feel full and reduces the likelihood of snacking on junk foods. For example, pair a piece of fruit (carbs) with nuts (protein and healthy fat).
2. Regular Cardio
Try to do cardio 5 days per week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Heart Association (AHA), adults should perform a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a day, 5 days a week.56
Therefore include 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio, such as brisk walking, running, or cycling. If you can, also incorporate shorter HIIT workouts. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is incredibly efficient for weight loss.78 HIIT can also boost your metabolism and build muscle at the same time as reducing body fat.9101112 Perform the longer cardio workouts and HIIT workouts on alternate days.
Choose cardio activities that directly work your legs. The benefit is you’re reducing body fat and at the same time developing strong, firm muscles in your legs. End result? Toned, slimmer legs. Activities that target legs and thighs include:
If you are already doing cardio that directly uses your leg muscles, increase the difficulty or add interval training to your workout.
If you use the elliptical trainer, make sure you are using the elliptical trainer correctly. You should sit back in your heels a little and stick your butt out as much as you can. This posture ensures that you target your butt, outer thigh and hamstring muscles – not just your quadriceps (front of thigh).
3. Leg Exercises
Although you cannot spot reduce to burn fat from your legs, you can do leg exercises to strengthen and tone your legs. Building muscle can support general weight loss (including from thighs) and make legs appear more lean and toned. Also, when you are inactive and as you get older you lose muscle. The muscle is weaker and loses some of it firmness, which can also impact the tautness of the overlying skin. Firming the muscle can help smooth the skin’s appearance.
Your legs, like any muscle group, will adapt to the same routine over time, as your body becomes more efficient at the movement (occurs after about 6 weeks). You can continue to do the same exercises, but you need to change some parameter of the exercise. For example, increase intensity or weight, or add more sets, increasing the difficulty. This also applies to your cardio workout.
Exercises that target your legs include:
Muscles used: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes
- Stand with your feet together and hands clasped on top of your head.
- Take a large step forward, bend your legs and lower your rear knee toward the floor.
- Stand back up and recover your leading leg.
- Perform your next rep leading with your opposite leg. Alternate legs until the time has elapsed.
- Tips: Keep your hands by your sides if balance proves difficult.
Area targeted: Inner thighs
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Place a cushion between your knees
- When you inhale and contract your abdominal muscles.
- As you exhale, squeeze your thighs together without moving your pelvis.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds and slowly release and repeat 12-15 times.
- You can also perform the exercise sitting on a chair.
Remember, to take your time with each exercise and focus on precise movement and correct form.