Are you wondering how to get skinny legs?
Since originally writing this post (in 2015), I have met with thousands of women who all face the same problem.
They want to feel confident in dresses, shorts, and leggings. They want to feel amazing about their legs, not self-conscious about their butt and thighs. And they want to slim and toned their legs without making them bulky.
One of the biggest questions girls have is how to get thinner thighs – this is a problem area for a lot of women (including myself).
The issue is, most women don’t know how to eat and train to get thin legs without building too much muscle in the process. The other issue is, most trainers don’t think that it’s possible to get bulky. And most trainers don’t think that you should be training to have lean legs. They think you should train to gain as much muscle as possible.
No matter what popular opinion says, women CAN get too bulky… for their own liking. What a women considers bulky or too much muscle, is up to them, not anybody else. I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m here to tell you how to train in a way that will help you reach your goal of lean and toned legs, not bulky.
Not everyone responds to the same training in the same way.
Our genetics determine the types of muscle fibers we have, it determines our ratio of testosterone to estrogen and where we store body fat.
And it also determines our body type.
From years of working as a personal trainer, I found that most women want to do cardio to lean out their legs, but are always pushed to do weights and lift heavier and heavier. Cardio was usually out of the question.
And whenever someone complained about getting bulky, the trainers would say “you can’t get bulky, women don’t have enough testosterone to get bulky.”
I had the same experience with a personal trainer early on in my own fitness journey and ended up very disappointed.
This is what got me into studying fitness and nutrition, becoming a personal trainer (PT) and finally creating the Lean Legs Program for women who wanted a lean and toned body, but were misunderstood by other PT’s.
I made it my mission to help women understand how to get slim legs and how to do resistance training to get toned without getting bulky. So, let’s cut to the chase! In this blog post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about how to slim down your legs.
HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS IN 3 STEPS:
In a nutshell, the most effective way to make your legs smaller (especially to make your thighs smaller) is to follow 3 steps.
- DO MORE EFFECTIVE CARDIO – Low to moderate intensity cardio such as fasted walking is the key to getting slim legs.
- DO THE CORRECT RESISTANCE TRAINING FOR YOUR BODY TYPE – Below I’ll cover the 3 main body types, help you find out yours, and tell you what type of resistance training you should be doing to lose inches from your thighs and get smaller thighs overall.
- EAT THE CORRECT DIET FOR YOUR BODY TYPE – A healthy diet will help you slim down your legs and lose overall body fat.
STEP 1: DO MORE LOW TO MODERATE INTENSITY CARDIO FOR LEAN LEGS
Learning how to get slim legs starts with knowing how your body works.
So, try to stay with me for the science :)
WHAT EXACTLY IS LOW TO MODERATE INTENSITY CARDIO?
Your body creates energy in two basic ways:
- Anaerobically (without oxygen); and
- Aerobically (with oxygen)
When your body uses the anaerobic pathway, it uses creatine phosphate and stored glycogen (carbohydrates) to produce energy.
Your body will use the anaerobic pathway for:
- High-intensity exercise (including high-intensity cardio such as running);
- Weight training; and
- Interval training
When your body uses the aerobic pathway, it uses stored fat, stored glycogen (carbohydrates), and on occasions, protein to produce energy.
Your body will use the aerobic pathway for:
- Low-intensity exercise (including low-intensity cardio, such as walking).
Low-intensity exercise burns FAT, and this is why it is super important when understanding how to get skinny legs.
When I talk about low to moderate intensity cardio, essentially I’m talking about walking.
THE BEST CARDIO WORKOUT FOR LEAN LEGS
Walking is the best type of exercise for lean legs.
It will help get rid of excess fat on your legs and lean them out.
And walking burns a surprisingly high number of calories. Often, just adding in more walking is enough to put your body into a calorie deficit and lose weight!
However, it is important to mention that long, slow cardio (i.e. walking) is NOT the most effective way of losing weight overall if that is your main goal. A combination of resistance training and cardio is key.
But, here we are focusing specifically on how to get slimmer legs.
I tried every single workout under the sun, but I found that nothing is as effective in getting thinner thighs and legs overall as walking.
And through my years of working as a personal trainer with women that had the same goal (specifically to get skinny legs), this has always been the best method.
DO I NEED TO GO FOR A WALK OR CAN I ACCUMULATE STEPS THROUGHOUT THE DAY?
When you do cardio at a low to moderate intensity i.e. walking, your body burns stored glycogen (carbs) first, and then fats.
The longer you exercise, the more fat your body will burn. So, by doing longer power walks, your body will burn more fat and it will help you get lean legs.
You can, however, accumulate periods of cardio over the day.
For example, you can do 6 x 10-minute walks throughout the day, which equals 60 minutes of cardio.
That said, the longer you walk in a single period, the more fat you will burn, and the quicker you will get thin legs.
Personally, though, I have experienced significant fat loss from my legs by both accumulating cardio over the day, and doing my walking all in one session. They are both great for helping me get lean legs.
Walking is extremely helpful at getting rid of fat from your legs. It is great for slimming down your legs, but you need to combine it with resistance training to tone them up.
Resistance training will not only tone your legs, but it will also help with boosting your metabolism and burning more calories. This helps with overall weight loss. More on that below.
DOES RUNNING SLIM LEGS?
Running burns a LOT of calories, so it is great with overall weight loss.
However, running doesn’t seem to work as well as walking does for getting thinner legs, especially for certain body types (see more below). And in some cases it may even make them bigger.
If your goal is to get slimmer legs, then I would focus mostly on walking and add some running to mix it up.
BONUS TIP: For getting thinner legs faster, make sure you do long-distance running instead of sprinting and avoid running uphill or using the stairs that can bulk up your quadriceps (front of your thighs).
This is especially important if you feel like you have muscular legs.
HOW TO GET SLIM LEGS WITH THE CORRECT LOW-INTENSITY CARDIO TECHNIQUE :
- It is very important to make sure that you are doing your cardio on a flat surface. Walking uphill will use your quadriceps and glutes and this will cause bulkiness.
- Try to avoid the cross trainer/elliptical machine and incline walking on the treadmill. I see a lot of women doing this and while it may burn more calories than walking on a flat surface, you will build muscle and it won’t help you get lean legs. There are better exercises you can do to build muscle and benefit your whole body, and there is a better way of doing your cardio.
- You should also avoid the stair machine and spin bike as these will build muscle in places you may not want.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL CARDIO HEART RATE TO GET SLIMMER LEGS?
When you are walking, your body is in the “fat-burning zone” and this is the key to getting skinny legs.
The fat-burning zone is when your heart rate is between 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate is a simple equation: 220 minus your age.
I will show you an example of how to calculate your maximum heart rate and fat burning zone heart rate range using my age. I am currently 30 years old.
Maximum Heart Rate
- 220 minus your age
Fat Burning Heart Rate Zones
- Maximum heart rate x 0.6 (60%)
- Maximum heart rate x 0.7 (70%)
- My maximum heart rate is 220 – 29 = 191 beats per minute (bpm)
- 60% of my maximum heart rate is 191 x 0.6 = 115 bpm
- 70% of my maximum heart rate is 191 x 0.7 = 134 bpm
My maximum heart rate is 191 bpm; so my heart rate should be between 115 and 134 bpm to burn fat. When I power walk, my heart rate is usually between 65-68%; and this is 124 to 130 bpm.
I know this seems technical, but honestly, the speed doesn’t matter TOO much.
To make it easier, I’ve created a calculator that will help you get your ideal heart rate faster :)
BONUS TIP: If you just aim to walk at a medium-fast pace, your heart rate will be in the right zone. You don’t need to go full speed and feel really puffed out. Aim for a fast pace, but you should be able to maintain this speed for at least 1 hour.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL CARDIO SPEED FOR THIN LEGS?
I recommend walking at a speed of 6 - 7km/hr (or 3.7 - 4.3mph).
Your speed will depend on your height and the length of your legs. Taller people will be able to walk a bit faster and if you're on the shorter side, you may need to walk a bit slower, and that's OK.
HOW DO I GET SKINNY LEGS WITH CARDIO?
The more walking you do, the better your results will be. My recommendation is to do it every day if you can, or at least 5 times per week at a minimum.
Most health guidelines specify that you should try to walk at least 10,000 steps per day and this is a good guide to go by.
However, as I mentioned, the more the better! So I always try to aim for at least 10km per day.
Here are some helpful tips on how to do more cardio daily:
- Start your morning off with a walk. A good way to sneak in the 10kms per day is to set your alarm a little bit earlier and go for a walk as soon as you get up. Not only does this get it out of the way early, but it is more effective for burning fat as you are doing fasted cardio.
- Split it up. Try to do a 5km walk in the morning (sometimes I’ll do 6 or 7km) and then try to make up the remaining 3-5 km throughout the day just by doing as much walking as I can.
- Track your results. Use the free Health app which tracks your steps and kilometers to stay motivated. There are also lots of free pedometer apps that you can download onto your phone to help you track your distance and reach these goals.
If you make a really conscious effort to do lots of walking throughout the day, it’s not as difficult to reach 10kms as you might think!
HOW TO GET SMALLER THIGHS WITH FASTED CARDIO
Walking works if you do it at any time of the day. But, if you want to know how to get smaller thighs fast, walk first thing in the morning before you have eaten anything – this is known as fasted cardio.
Intermittent fasting has many benefits, but when you exercise first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, you will end up burning more fat instead.
When you first wake up, you have not eaten for at least 10 or so hours. This means there is not much-stored glycogen (carbs) in your body to be used up for energy.
Fasted cardio works best if you are depleted of glycogen (i.e. you don’t have many stored carbohydrates). So to make your fasted cardio workout really count, try to eat a low carb dinner the night before.
HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED TO DO MORE CARDIO
One of the most common complaints I hear about walking is that it is boring. Here are some tips that I use to help keep me entertained during my daily cardio:
- Whenever one of my friends wants to do something, I will always see if they want to catch up over a walk. It’s even better if you can get yourself a regular walking buddy.
- If I’m by myself, I CAN NOT do cardio without music. I use Spotify and I download my walking playlist so that it is available even if I don’t have internet or wifi. Whenever I add new songs to my playlist, I’m actually excited to go for a walk and listen to them (I LOVE music!).
- If I am walking on a treadmill, I download a TV show and put it on my phone and watch it while I walk. It’s better than watching the TV show sitting on the couch or lying in bed.
OK, now that we covered the cardio part, let’s move on to the next step.
STEP 2: DO THE RIGHT TYPE OF RESISTANCE TRAINING FOR THIN LEGS
You can’t get skinny legs if you are doing the wrong resistance training. If you do incorrect exercises, your legs will either stay the same (and won’t slim down no matter what you do), or get bigger and bulkier.
WHAT NOT TO DO: EXERCISES YOU SHOULD AVOID
You must avoid quad focused exercises that build muscle at the front of your thighs. This may cause your legs to bulk up, especially if you gain muscle easily.
These exercises include squats, lunges, burpees, and any heavy style workouts that you see in CrossFit workouts. Especially anything with heavy weights.
THE BEST RESISTANCE EXERCISES TO GET SLIM LEGS
To tone up your legs and butt without adding bulk, you should focus on lighter workouts. Think Pilates-inspired moves such as:
- Donkey kicks
- Glute bridges
- Lying leg lifts
- Lateral leg lifts
- Leg extensions
- Clams with open toes
In the video below, you can see an example of a resistance workout from my Lean Legs Program- you can do from home or from anywhere you want.
This type of workout is designed to tone up your whole body, and especially get thinner legs.
Give it a go and let me know what you think about it in the comments!
- Have a read of this blog post for details on how to do resistance training without getting bulky.
- For full workout videos that will not add bulk, try my Train Like A Model Free Video Course.
HOW TO EXERCISE ACCORDING TO YOUR BODY TYPE
If you want to know how to get skinny legs, understanding your body type is important. There are 3 main body types, which I will briefly explain:
- Ectomorph – this body type is naturally very thin (think Victoria’s Secret models). They are tall with long arms and legs and find it difficult to put on muscle and fat. They probably already have quite skinny legs.
- Mesomorph – this body type is not super thin like an ectomorph and is not overweight, they’re just average size. They can usually gain and lose weight quickly and can pack on muscle quickly too.
- Endomorph – this body type is naturally bigger. They are usually short to medium height with shorter arms and legs (but not always). They can put on muscle and fat quickly, and find it difficult to lose weight.
A lot of women ask me what my body type is, and I would say I am a mesomorph.
It’s important to exercise (and eat) according to your body type so you can get the best results.
If you are an endomorph body type and you’re doing lots of heavy lifting and eating a moderate to high amount of carbs, you’re not going to achieve the best results, or get results as quickly as you can.
Endomorphs need more cardio and a low carbohydrate diet. So, you really should know your body type, and tailor your program to both your body type and your goals.
This is a summary of how to do cardio and resistance training to suit your body type:
HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS - ECTOMORPH
- Ectomorphs are usually already thin, so they don’t really need to know how to get slim legs.
- Ectomorphs should focus on getting toned, rather than losing fat.
- Ectomorph women should focus more on resistance training and only do cardio if they want to (but it’s not necessary).
HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS - MESOMORPH
- Mesomorphs are considered to be ''natural athletes'' because they gain muscle and lose fat with ease.
- Mesomorphs should do a combination of cardio (both low intensity and high-intensity cardio) and resistance training.
- Walking should be something that they do every day if possible.
HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS - ENDOMORPH
A lot of women ask me how to get thinner legs if they have an endomorph body type, and if it’s even possible. It is more challenging than with the other two body types, but definitely possible.
- It will be more difficult for endomorphs because of their body shape, so cardio should make up the majority of their program, and they should also try to do as much walking as possible.
- I recommend walking at least 5 times per week and trying to run a few times per week too.
- Endomorphs should also do some resistance training and their workouts should be intense to try and burn lots of calories. But, they should be careful not to overdo it on resistance training as they can bulk easily.
Note: If you are a short endomorph, you may experience your legs getting bulky with running. If this is the case, I would avoid running and just do walking instead.
STEP 3: EAT THE RIGHT DIET FOR YOUR BODY TYPE
You can do lots of walking and do all the correct resistance exercises, but if you aren’t eating a healthy diet and aren’t eating the right amount of food, you won’t get results.
To lose weight overall and make your legs skinny, you need to be eating less food than your body needs. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy diet:
- COUNT CALORIES FOR ONE WEEK - We often underestimate how many calories are in the foods we are eating. I recommend counting calories for just 1 week to get an idea on how much you’re actually eating.
- WORK OUT HOW MANY CALORIES YOUR BODY NEEDS - Read this blog post to find out your daily calorie intake. Once you know this, you can work out how many calories you need to eat to lose weight.
- DON'T BE TOO RESTRICTIVE - I don’t recommend counting calories long term, as this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Just keep it to one week so you have a better understanding of what you’re eating.
- EACH BODY TYPE HAS A DIFFERENT "PERFECT DIET" - This free body type quiz will tell you which body type you are and you what you should be eating to get thin legs. If you haven't done it yet, I highly recommend you do.
If you made it all the way through here – good job! Let’s recap everything we’ve covered and then you can check out some amazing progress pics of women who completed my programs as well as the most frequently asked questions.
HOW TO EAT & TRAIN TO GET SKINNY LEG [FINAL SUMMARY]:
- Low to moderate intensity cardio (i.e. walking) burns FAT
- Walking is by far the best type of exercise for getting rid of excess fat on your legs
- Aim to walk every day, and on a flat surface
- The more walking the better – 10km per day is a good goal;
- Running, HIIT and resistance training do not burn fat while you are doing them, but still lead to overall fat loss
- Resistance training will help give your legs shape and tone, and reduce cellulite
- Avoid heavy resistance exercises such as squats and lunges, and focus on lighter Pilates-style exercises such as donkey kicks, glute bridges and lying leg lifts.
- There are 3 main body types (ectomorph, mesomorph, endomorph). Knowing your body type will help you understand the best exercises and diet for you.
AMAZING LEAN LEGS TRANSFORMATIONS
“As I've been nearing 40, I found that I was holding more weight in my thighs and mid section. Doing the videos and walking most days has been so amazing for leaning down my body, but also calming my nervous system. No more pushing my body to get results! I now feel much more in tune with myself and my body has slimmed right down in response.”
“You are the only one who solved my problem with big legs. Thanks to you I finally found out what kind of training I should do and I love it! I know that this is not the end of my journey, but thank you for getting me back on the right way!
I want to stick with the training and diet. Thank you for getting me back on the right way!”
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Let's move to the most frequent questions I get asked by women I am working with on the topic of lean legs.
DOES RUNNING BURN FAT OR MUSCLE?
Running is an anaerobic activity (remember, I discussed it above).
This means that when you are running, your body will burn glycogen and creatine phosphate, not fat. But, at the start when you are building up speed, it might burn fat.
If you run really slowly for a longer distance, so you aren’t really puffed out, your body might use some fat. But, in that case I believe you are better off getting the full benefits from running by running faster. This will help you increase your fitness and it will burn LOTS of calories.
If you want to burn fat and get lean legs, walking is better than slow running. Some women have told me that they get overly muscular just from running.
This is because running does build some muscle. I know that a lot of Victoria’s Secret models don’t run for this reason.
As I mentioned above, if you are shorter and are an endomorph body type, your body might get bulky from running. If you find that this happens to you, I would avoid running. You can still get great results from walking, so focus on that!
WILL RESISTANCE TRAINING HELP ME BURN FAT?
Resistance training is an anaerobic activity, so it will burn stored glycogen (carbs) and creatine phosphate (unlike walking which burns fat).
However, resistance training improves your metabolism, which in turn increases the number of calories you burn.
This is important for losing weight overall. So, it is very important when it comes to fat loss.
Resistance training does build muscle though, so you need to be careful. You need to do the right type of resistance training so you don’t pack on too much muscle in the wrong places.
WHY SHOULD I DO RESISTANCE TRAINING TO GET SLIM LEGS?
You might be tempted to avoid resistance training altogether, but it is still important.
As I just mentioned, it increases your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories throughout the day.
DOES HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT) BURN FAT?
Not immediately. While high-intensity interval training does cause weight loss, it doesn’t typically burn fat while you’re doing it.
Like resistance training, HIIT burns stored glycogen and creatine phosphate.
The biggest benefit of HIIT is that you will burn lots of calories in a short workout, you will still continue to burn calories after your workout, and it builds muscle which improves your metabolism and helps you burn more calories throughout the day.
To give you an idea, I will usually burn the same number of calories in a 25 minute HIIT workout as I will during a 1-hour power walk.
HIIT is not necessary for getting lean legs and can often cause your legs to bulk up (especially the endomorph body type).
So, you just need to be careful when doing HIIT workouts and avoid overdoing it on leg exercises such as burpees, jump lunges, jump squats, box jumps, etc.
If you are trying to reduce muscle on your legs or you bulk up easily, it might be best to avoid HIIT altogether.
HOW TO GET SKINNY LEGS WITH HIIT CARDIO
I mentioned that HIIT doesn’t really burn fat. BUT you can do HIIT cardio in a way that causes you to burn more fat and lean out your legs.
My favourite type of HIIT to get slimmer legs specifically is interval running.
Most people do sprints at their maximum pace for around 30 seconds and then rest for 30-60 seconds. This type of sprinting is going to make you fit but may cause bulky legs.
I like to do my HIIT cardio by doing 2-minute fast pace runs (not an all-out sprint) and then walking for 1 minute. I then repeat this 5-10 times, depending on my fitness level.
Usually, I do fast pace runs around 13-14 km/hr.
This type of workout burns a LOT of calories and is great if you want to push yourself. But, it is really difficult and if you’re not already fit, I would not recommend it.
If you are fit and would like to do it, I would do this once per week at a maximum.
HOW CAN I REDUCE MUSCULAR LEGS?
Unfortunately, the only thing that will help you to reduce muscular legs is time and avoiding using these muscles.
Walking doesn’t build muscle, but it doesn’t make you lose muscle either (unless you are eating suuuuper low calories and low carb, which I don’t recommend).
Running actually builds some muscle, but not as much as resistance training and high-intensity interval training.
I know that sounds a bit confusing, so I have written a much more detailed blog post on how to reduce muscular thighs. Have a read if you need more information on this topic.
CAN YOU REALLY GET RID OF FAT JUST FROM YOUR LEGS (I.E. SPOT REDUCING FAT)?
OK, so I know a lot of you are probably thinking that you can’t spot reduce fat from certain body parts.
And this is true to an extent.
However, my legs get a lot slimmer when I do low-intensity cardio and a series of exercises described in my 3 Steps To Lean Legs Program, even when my diet is not perfect.
I can’t choose exactly where the fat comes off from my legs. But most girls, including myself, store most fat around the inner thigh area.
And this is where I tend to notice the most difference.
I do believe that you can’t really spot reduce fat from a certain body area, especially your stomach, arms, face, etc.
But you can reduce the fat from your lower body specifically, you just can’t pick whether that comes from your calves, thighs, butt, etc.
I have done a lot of cardio in my time including walking, running, cycling, swimming and aerobics classes such as body step and body attack.
The most effective cardio for slimming my legs has always been walking.
Diet also plays a part in helping slim down your legs, but cardio will always play the biggest part.
In my own experience, doing lots of walking and eating a moderately good diet is better for getting lean legs than eating a perfect diet and not doing any walking.
IS ANAEROBIC EXERCISE GOOD OR BAD FOR ME?
Anaerobic exercise (running, HIIT, resistance training) is fantastic for you and your overall health!
The only issue that a lot of women have with this type of workout is that it causes them to get bulky and build too much muscle in their legs.
That’s because these workouts are designed to do that.
You can still do these workouts in a specific way so that you don’t get bulky.
DO I NEED TO CHANGE MY DIET?
Eating healthy is extremely important. But if you’re not used to having a healthy diet and you’re not sure where to start, I suggest you try it for a week or two.
I have a FREE 7 Day Weight Loss Meal Plan that will help you eat a healthy and balanced diet, and slim down not only your legs, but your entire body.
You can download it below :)
Change takes time. But if you are committed, this is how to get skinny legs fast.
First of all, you just need to start! You can do all the reading you want, but if you don’t put it into practice, you’ll never get the legs that you want.
Walking is great for getting lean legs, and I recommend that you do lots of it! BUT it is not the most effective way of losing weight from your entire body.
You should be using both your aerobic and anaerobic systems to increase your overall fitness, increase your metabolism and burn more calories.
This means doing some higher intensity exercises such as running and resistance training, as well as walking.
A good workout program for overall fat loss should include a combination of all of these types of workouts:
- Running; and
- The right type of resistance training
Lean Legs Program
If you want results fast, you need the right type of program, so that you don’t waste your time testing and trying different things.
Something that is tailored to give you the EXACT results you are looking for, a plan that has been tried and tested by others, written by someone who has been where you are right now.
So are you really ready to get lean legs? If the answer is yes, my Lean Legs Program is the answer!