Shaping And Toning The Legs

Anne asked:

Hi Doug,

I run (4 miles), spin (40 minutes) and do Pilates (40 minutes). I do one of those activities, once a day in the morning, six times a week.  My arms and abdominals are toned, and I’m very happy “above the waist” with my fitness efforts. However, my legs are still very thick and don’t show much definition. Is there a way you can target, tone and thin thick legs or do I just need to deal with them and chalk it up to bad genes?


Sometimes offering advise can be frustrating for myself and the person receiving it simply because there are so many variables that need to be addressed to give you accurate direction.  To answer with 100% certainty I would need to know your diet, heart rate during cardio exercise, when you perform cardio, frequency, etc.  There is just so much more to exercise prescription than to say, “do this”.  With that said, I will do my best to help you Anne.

Definition in muscles is a combination of having good muscular development and tone, along with being lean so that there is not a blanket of fat covering them.  Running and spinning are great forms of cardio that will burn the fat if performed at the proper intensity.  Pilates is great for core muscle tone and strength, but it is not a high calorie burner.  While increasing muscle tone boosts your metabolism to burn fat, training only core muscles is not ideal.

You mentioned “bad genes” and this is legitimate, as you have to work with the cards that mom and dad have dealt you.  If the other women in your family have thick legs, you may be predisposed to this and have to work around it with a fitness program catered to you.

Assuming that your diet is great, I can suggest increasing your cardio exercise and see what impact this has on yourself.  You can increase the length of your workouts or add it to your days with Pilates.  Try adding the equivalent of one workout, 40 minutes, per week and see how you respond after a month’s time (or sooner if getting accurate body composition tests).  Cardio can be done up to 6 days per week!  Also consider a customized total-body strength training program to boost the metabolism, as a fast metabolism will burn more calories throughout the day than your cardio.


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