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how to get skinny legs with cardio for lean body

This is my journey over the past few years to find out how to get a lean and toned body. A lot of you already know my story. When I first started getting into fitness, I did cardio only and ab exercises.

I was quite skinny and wasn’t toned. I was eating really healthy and exercising a lot, but couldn’t work out why I couldn’t get abs, even though I did LOTS of ab exercises.

how to get lean and toned

GETTING BULKY

It wasn’t until I started doing resistance training that I finally understood. The abs seemed to come quite easily! I started out with the basic 3 sets of 12 reps, training different parts of my body on different days. After a few months, I was so lean and toned and was really happy with my body.

muscle toning

I started mixing up my program, lifting heavier, focusing on strength… Fast forward about a year and my body had become too muscular for my liking. I didn’t look bad, but I didn’t like how my crop tops no longer fit as my back was much broader. My legs were also really muscly and seemed to have more fat on them. I hated wearing jeans because they just felt so tight and uncomfortable, and I stopped wearing shorts to the gym.

I was really unhappy with the amount of muscle I’d built. I don’t really have many selfies of me when I got to this point, because I didn’t like taking them!

GETTING TONED WITHOUR GETTING BULKY

I tried a lot of different types of exercises to slim down but still stay toned. I did a lot of cardio, which helped slim down my legs. But unfortunately getting rid of too much muscle is hard and takes a long time.

I am still trying to reduce some of the muscle. But the problem with not doing any resistance training is that you end up skinny fat and I find it a lot harder to keep a toned stomach when I’m doing cardio only. But at the same time, I don’t want to do too much resistance training or the wrong type, because then I get bulky.

I was struggling with everything for a while, not knowing how to train. But what I’ve found is that you do need a combination of both cardio and lighter resistance training to stay lean and keep toned. Let me explain each one further.

CARDIO

The cardio I am doing involves walking and running and occasionally boxing. They are my favourite because walking is really great for slimming down your legs and I try to do it every single day. It’s not too strenuous on your body, and for me, it doesn’t really feel like exercise – I really enjoy it!

Running is good for slimming down your legs too but also great for getting rid of excess fat on your whole body (especially stomach). Any high intensity exercise while help get rid of excess fat on your stomach. I only run for about 20-30 minutes and it is always on a flat surface. Running uphill and doing short sprints will build more muscle, and isn’t great if you’re trying to reduce the muscle in your legs.

fat loss

Boxing is an amazing exercise, because it is a good combination of cardio and resistance. I always burn lots of calories and it really helps to tone up my upper body and core without building too much muscle (my arms always look leaner).

RESISTANCE TRAINING

The resistance training I am doing involves 2-3 lighter resistance sessions per week. These type of resistance sessions are similar to those from my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program. But other types of lighter resistance workouts such as exercises from the Victoria’s Secret workouts, reformer pilates, pilates, barre, etc are great too! Sometimes I also do 1 HIIT resistance session per week to help keep my stomach lean. Doing too much of this type of exercise can bulk you up, legs especiall. But I try to keep it to body weight HIIT exercises only.

I no longer do any heavy resistance sessions because of the bulkiness that it causes my legs. Whilst I do love lifting heavy and I also love squats and leg days, my body just doesn’t seem to respond to this type of training the way it used to and I end up bigger than I would like.

SUMMARY

So overall, you need a combination of both cardio and lighter resistance training. If you are a really naturally slim body type (ectomorph), you may not need the cardio. But most people will need cardio to keep slim and resistance training to keep body fat down (and of course to look toned).

From my experience, this is the program that works for me and gives me the body that I prefer:

  • Running 2-3 times per week
  • Walking every day
  • Light resistance training twice per week
  • HIIT resistance training once per week
  • I will sometimes try to fit in a boxing session if I have access to a gym (this will replace the HIIT session)

Everyone’s bodies are different and will respond differently to exercise. This is just my own personal experience, and the changes that I have made to my workout program over the years. I know a lot of women have experienced similar issues, and it is the main reason that I designed my 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program.

Love Rachael xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

36 comments on “#216 How To Get A Lean And Toned Body – What I’ve Learnt”

    Kim Hinson says:

    I am trying to be/get lean, but also toned. My focuses are my abs and legs. I have been going to a gym since mid-June. I either walk two miles/ride a bike 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. I also do 100 abdominal, 100 lower back extension and 100 leg press on three different machines. I just added the pullover machine for my arms. Do you recommend I change up my workout routine? Do you suggest I can do anything else to make my workout better?

    K.I. says:

    What would you consider light resistance training?

      Diana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,
      Light resistance is body weight workout, using resistance bands or dumbbells less than 5kg (or 11lbs). :)

      Love,
      Diana
      xx

    Dianne says:

    Hi, just wanna ask, I’m skinny but I have my belly fat☹️. I read a lot of things how to lose belly fat but I’m not sure what’s the one that’s effective ☹️. Hoping that you can recommend some tips or exercises for me. Btw I’m a teenager so I’m not sure what’s the one that can help me. Thank you☺️

    Griszll says:

    Hi! This i exactly what I’ve been looking for ? But have a quick question. What types of workouts do you do in your HIIT routine? Mostly i worry about my legs getting bulky so want to avoid that if i can, but i do need something to tone my ghs and such. Thanks in advance!

      Diana says:

      Hi lovely,
      I`m happy you`ve found the blog useful :) The program is created carefully for each body type so that you don`t get bulky. If you get bulky very easily I would avoid HIIT and heavy lifting and focus on cardio and circuit training. You can find out about your body type here.Xx

    jerms says:

    long distance bike riding can create a spectacular body and works out the abs like crazy, all while slimming your calves, thighs, and arms. I got the body I wanted commuting around town about 60-80 miles a week for about 2 years.

      Rachael Attard says:

      Hi there, that’s really great to hear! I think cycling can work for some body types and not others. But long distance cardio will definitely help slim down :) I’m happy for you! xx

    Sophie says:

    Hi Rachel :) after reading your post, I was wondering if you could let me know if i am on the right track with my exercise routine? I am quite short 161 cm and 56kg I do approx 15 minutes of HIT with some light weights every day as well as walking and a 3 pilates sessions per week. I am trying to develop more lean and toned muscle particularly in the arms and legs and loose some of the bulk i have gained. I have a bit of a sweet tooth :) and was wondering if there is anything you
    could recommend for me?

    thanks :)
    Sophie

      Rachael Attard says:

      Hi Sophie, lifting every day seems like a lot! If you’re trying to get rid of bulk it could be a good idea to reduce the lifting. And obviously diet is really important! It’s OK to eat a bit of sweet food as long as it’s only a little bit (everything in moderation!). Good luck xx

    Alejandra says:

    Hi Rachel this blog is the best!
    I’m mesomorph, I run sometimes, and I’m doing fitboxing 2-3 times a week and reformer pilates 2 times a week.
    Do you think fitboxing is a replacement for running ?
    I have fat in my hips and inner thighs
    I don’t know what to do
    Please help me

      Rachael Attard says:

      Thanks Alejandra! Fitboxing is a great exercise and will help you get rid of fat on your hips. I would try doing more walking though for inner thighs xx

    Liane Robinson says:

    I am a mesomorph. I have had times in my life where I’ve had muscular legs and times when I’ve had skinny legs. I started training with a personal trainer 5 months ago because I had extra weight I wanted to lose and just wanted to get back into all those clothes that don’t fit anymore. I told him on day one, my legs are prone to get very muscly, and I didn’t want them to bulk up. He looked at me like “That’s not how it works”. After about 6 weeks when he still doesn’t believe me, I show him a picture of my legs from a time in my life when I was doing zero exercise and my legs were really muscly. We cut out all leg exercises but some other exercises also use legs and I’ve ended up will the results I didn’t want. My arms are also larger than I would like now too. :'(

    I’m now at a stage where there is no fat on my legs, but I still can’t wear skirts because my legs look so big and chunky. I have not lost any weight or any inches. My diet is very healthy and I am at a comfortable calorie deficit, so hopefully, I will slim down even it takes a while.

    I am really happy to find this website and Rachael’s programme because at last, someone realises and acknowledges that women can build muscle and actually we don’t necessarily want that particular shape. I really enjoy working out and I want to be strong without building muscle. Thank you, Rachael, for letting me know it is possible.

      Rachael Attard says:

      Hi Liane, I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you! :( I hope I can give you some hope, good advice and some different styles of workouts that will suit you better. Keep up the hard work and I know you will get the results you’re after. Good luck! xxx

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