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Main Reasons Why Your Legs Aren’t Getting Leaner

By Rachael Attard, Updated Aug 19, 2020
lean legs mistakes reasons your legs are getting bigger

You work hard. You train frequently. You eat well. But your legs still aren’t getting slimmer.

In fact, maybe you feel like they’ve started getting bigger overnight!

I see this happening all the time. Girls who follow me on Instagram, often ask me these questions: “Why aren’t my legs changing? When will I start seeing results? Why are my legs getting bigger? “

In this blog post I’ll explain:

  1. what are the most common mistakes girls make when trying to get lean legs
  2. how to avoid these mistake and finally get those lean legs you’ve always wanted

WORKOUT MISTAKES YOU’RE MAKING WHEN TRYING TO GET LEAN LEGS

YOU’RE FOCUSING ON THE WRONG WORKOUTS

I see lots of girls that do workouts that focus solely on squats and lunges when trying to get slimmer legs.

They typically do this because squats, lunges, and similar moves are very popular right now. They might think these workouts will help their legs get smaller.

I totally understand this. This is how I used to exercise too! I did lots of squats and lunges hoping that I would look leaner. But, instead of helping me slim down, these workouts caused my thighs to grow in size!

If you constantly work out your calves, hamstrings, inner thighs, and quads, your legs will most likely get bigger!

This is especially true if you’re doing them with a lot of heavy weights or if you do them every day. Trust me, even bodyweight squats can make some women’s quads bulkier than they want!

Of course, this all depends on your body type too.

If you struggle to put on fat or muscles, doing moves like squats may not make us much of a noticeable impact. If you tend to gain muscle or fat relatively quickly, these workouts most likely won’t help you achieve slimmer legs.

If you don’t know your body type, you can do my FREE body type quiz. (You’ll also get some free tips on how to eat and train for your specific body type. )

RELATED POST: HOW TO SLIM MUSCULAR THIGHS

YOU’RE OVERTRAINING YOUR LEGS

I often hear from girls who want to replace the walking in my program with HIIT or more leg workouts. Sometimes walking doesn’t feel intense enough! But, as I explain later, walking is really is important.

If you’re doing my Lean Legs program, I suggest that you only do my program. You don’t need any additional workouts. It is designed to give you the right amount of training. :)

People often think that if you do exercises that target your legs, your legs will get smaller. This is based on the idea that you can spot reduce fat from specific areas of your body with resistance training.

It’s like when people believe they will get abs by doing lots of crunches every day.

But I have to be honest with you, doing leg workouts every day won’t help you get rid of thigh fat faster. AND it could actually make your legs bigger instead of smaller by increasing the size of your muscles.

The more you train your muscle, the bigger your muscle will get.

Besides this type of training (also called resistance, strength, or weight training) typically DOES NOT burn fat. So if you want to get rid of thigh fat, no amount of resistance training will help.

If you want to reduce thigh fat, you need to do more cardio. But I’ll get into more details about fat burning cardio below. :)

I know what may be thinking now, “So, should I just skip resistance training then and do only cardio?”.

Well, no. Even though this type of training won’t necessarily burn fat, resistance training will help you get toned and speed up your metabolism which means you’ll be able to burn through calories faster.

RELATED POST: WHICH IS BETTER FOR WEIGHT LOSS – WEIGHT TRAINING OR CARDIO?

lean legs mistakes overtraining

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I DO RESISTANCE TRAINING?

This mostly depends on your body type but in general, I’d say that 3 times per week should be enough. :)

I have a very detailed diet and workout guide for each of the 3 female body types, so you can check them out below:

How to get lean legs if you are an ECTOMORPH body type?

How to get lean legs if you are a MESOMORPH body type?

How to get lean legs if you are an ENDOMORPH body type?

CARDIO WORKOUT MISTAKES YOU’RE MAIKING

I also see cardio related mistakes quite often. Some women avoid it completely, others do the wrong type of cardio and some just don’t do enough of it.

Let me explain.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET LEAN LEGS – WHY YOU NEED CARDIO FOR FAT LOSS

YOU’RE AVOIDING CARDIO

If you aren’t doing any cardio, it’s going to be harder for you to lose fat and slim down your legs.

Most health experts recommend that you get in at least 30 min of cardio per day at least five days a week.

I already mentioned that resistance training doesn’t typically burn fat. If you want to burn fat, you need to do cardio.

But not all cardio is the same.

Some types of cardio burn more fat than others. And unfortunately, there are some types of cardio that will burn fat but also build muscle and increase the size of your thighs.

YOU’RE DOING THE WRONG KIND OF CARDIO

The tricky thing about cardio is that so much of it is leg focused. Cycling, sprinting, dancing, jump rope, elliptical/cross trainer, etc.

If I have to choose the most effective cardio for slimming down your legs, I’d say waking.

Walking is one of the best things I’ve done for my legs. If you want to slim your thighs, I recommend that you prioritize power walking and running over other types of cardio workouts.

Yes, lots of different types of cardio are great at burning calories. And burning calories is good for weight loss. But, if your goal is to lose leg fat, walking is your best option.

Why? Because walking keeps your body in the fat-burning zone. In this zone, the most efficient thing your body can do is use oxygen to convert fat (instead of carbs) to energy.

There’s a lot of biology behind why exactly the fat-burning zone works, and I’ve explained it in way more detail in this blog post. The takeaway, though, is that exercising in the fat-burning is a great way to burn extra fat, that often lands on your thighs, hips, and love handles.

RELATED POST: IS WALKING OR RUNNING BETTER FOR FAT LOSS?

skinny legs mistakes wrong cardio

WALKING/RUNNING ON AN INCLINE

Running or even walking at an incline work your legs a lot and can cause bulkiness. If you run or walk uphill, upstairs, or use the incline settings on your treadmill, you’ll notice that your quads will start getting bigger.

If you’re struggling with how to slim your bulky legs, I suggest you try to stick to walking and some running on flat surfaces.

A WORD ABOUT RUNNING IN GENERAL

Running can be a great way to lose weight and burn a ton of calories. But it does cause some women to bulk up really quickly, depending on their body type and genetics.

If you’re an endomorph body type and you’re on the shorter side, you may bulk up from running. I don’t say this to tell you not to run, as only you can define what is too bulky for you. :)

WHAT ABOUT OTHER TYPES OF WORKOUTS?

We use our legs for so many other types of workouts too! I especially encourage Endomorphs or Mesomorphs to evaluate all the different types of workouts you do. :)

Here are some workouts that I suggest you take a look at. You can read a longer list here.

Cycling – If you regularly cycle you will probably notice your legs bulking up, especially if you are an Endomorph.

Dancing – Some dances classes may end up bulking up your leg more than you want. The more you’re jumping, the more you’re using your leg muscles. Try different teachers and classes that fit a style and pace that suits you the best. :)

Barre – Barre can be wonderful for your legs and butt! Just like dancing, though, it depends on the teacher and class. Try to pick a class that does mostly floor and bar work, without too many squats or jumps.

Yoga – For some girls, even yoga can cause too much bulk. I doubt this happens very often, but it is worth paying attention too, especially if you do yoga more than 1-2 times a week.

skinny legs mistake barre

HIIT WORKOUTS

I personally enjoy HIIT and I usually do it once per week. But I often hear from women who say they do it more that their legs are getting bigger.

If you love doing HIIT workouts, you can of course do it but make sure they are workouts that won’t cause bulk. Lots of HIIT training involve jumps and other moves that will also grow your legs, so stay away from those!

Here’s a full-body HIIT workout that I love because it works my body without an overemphasis on leg muscles.

DIET MISTAKES YOUR MAKING WHILE TRYING TO GET LEAN LEGS

YOU AREN’T EATING THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF FOOD

Sticking to a healthy diet is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. I’ve already written about some of the biggest diet mistakes I see girls making. But I want to focus on two of the most common:

YOU OVEREAT

If you are eating more calories than you are burning, you will gain weight. For many women, this weight goes to our legs!

You don’t need to track your calories obsessively or go on an extreme diet. In fact, I don’t think either of these are good options. But I do suggest you track calorie for a couple of weeks just o that you have a rough idea of how much you’re really eating. :)

You can learn how to calculate your daily caloric intake here. If you want to lose weight, I suggest eating about 200 calories less than this number, and never go below 1200 calories.

slim legs mistakes overeating

YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH!

If you aren’t eating enough, you can hurt your metabolism. This makes losing weight very difficult and close to impossible.

Any form of dieting and calorie restriction will reduce your metabolism. The slower your metabolism, the harder it is to burn extra calories.

You can learn how to fix your metabolism here.

YOU HAVE UNDERLYING HEALTH ISSUES

Hormonal health issues can cause you to gain weight and they can make it really hard to lose weight. I used to struggle with hormonal imbalances, and I understand how upsetting they can be.

A hormone imbalance can be caused by birth control, menopause, pollutants, stress, digestive diseases, and a poor diet.

If you suspect that you might have a hormonal imbalance, I recommend that you see a doctor and neuropath. Their tests (blood and saliva) will give you insight into your body.

I hope that this gave you insight into why you are struggling to slim your legs!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! xx

Love Rachael

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.

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6 comments on “Main Reasons Why Your Legs Aren’t Getting Leaner”

    Farah Trifogli says:

    I have a question. So along with cardio, doing low impact workouts will also burn body fat?

      Ana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hey lovely,

      Yes! Those two combined with a healthy diet at a slight calorie deficit will definitely slim down and tone your body if being dedicated and persistent. :)

      Love,
      Ana

    Arabella says:

    Hi there, I have started to go to the gym at least 3 times a week, I started resistance training as I wanted to grow my glutes but I feel as if I have worked my legs too much and they have got bigger which is what I didn’t not want to happen at all as I liked the size they were before! My legs at the minute are quite fat and look bulky but the rest of my body is toned. I kind of panicked and just thought that stopping the gym was the right thing to do and maybe they would go back to how they were before? Reading this has made me think I should still go and maybe do cardio? What do you think is the best thing for me to do? I also make sure I am eating healthy foods during the week and eat at my maintenance as I don’t want to lose any weight anywhere else as when I last did a calorie deficit I lost my bum completely. I’m so unsure on what to do! I’ve googled and googled and this is the best thing I’ve come across and i hope you can help me!? Thank you

      Sanja - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      thanks for reaching out! <3

      In order to give you some advice and tips, I need to know your body type. If you're not sure what your body type is, you can take Rachael's free body type quiz here. In the meantime, I recommend that you read Rachael’s blog post on how to slim down muscular thighs, you can find it here.

      Talk to you soon! xx

      Love,
      Sanja

    Josephine says:

    Hi! I have been using the program with my own healthy diet for 3 months now and I don’t really see a difference. My legs are quite bulky and my hips and thighs are pretty wide. Do you think I should replace the running with more walking or is there something else I can do? I’m a mesmorph

      Tijana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely <3

      If you are an endomorph who is on the shorter side, then walking instead of running would be the best. However, since I need more info from you in order to help you, please write to info@rachaelattard.com and I will do my best to get to the bottom of it! xx

      Love,
      Tina