How To Slim Down Muscular Thighs – Get Toned Legs Without Bulk

Last updated on May 8th, 2020 3:20 PM

It’s unbelievable how many girls are asking me how to slim down muscular thighs!

If I have to pick the most popular question I am asked on my weekly Instagram Q & A, it would definitely be that!

And I understand why this is such a popular question.

I also used to struggle with getting the answer to this myself. I spent 3 years figuring out how to exercise to keep my legs slim and thin… without gaining too much muscle in the process.

Who knew it would be so hard to get this right?

Unfortunately, women tend to store most of their body fat in their hips and thighs.

So it’s no wonder a lot us feel like no matter what we do, we just can’t seem to lean out legs and make our thighs smaller. 

And, since the majority of personal trainers and fitness gurus seem to always push women to lift heavy (or do tons of squats and leg work)…it’s actually no surprise why I see girls constantly complaining about their thighs.

More and more women are coming to me explaining that they feel like their thighs got too bulky for their own liking.

I’ve already written a detailed guide on how to get lean and toned without adding too much muscle overall, but since I know how many of you are struggling with this, I want to focus specifically on how to get smaller thighs in this blog post.

CAN YOU GO FROM MUSCULAR TO SLIM/SKINNY THIGHS?

I know most people go to the gym to build muscle, but many women actually have issues with getting overly muscular legs when they exercise. 

Some girls have even told me that their legs get bigger in size with running, barre, yoga and other exercises that you wouldn’t expect to bulk up your thighs. 

So, be careful and track your body’s response to different exercises as it is very individual.

Let me get something straight- there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having strong, muscular thighs.

But, some women prefer to look more slim and toned and they should not be judged for it or told that that’s not a look to aspire to.

EVERYONE’S IDEA OF “BULKY” IS DIFFERENT

Everyone’s idea of “bulky” is different – I cannot stress this enough. This is something I believe every personal trainer should be aware of.

For some women, having just a little bit of muscle in their thighs might be too much, and for others, it might be too little as their goals are different.

For me personally, when I do weights and HIIT, my arms and stomach tend to slim down but my legs get too muscular for my liking.

I don’t have too many examples of photos of me when I’m like this (I didn’t like taking pictures of myself at the time), but here is one so you can get an idea.

how to slim muscular thighs

So what you should do if you want to get skinny thighs without building muscle?

There are 3 steps you should follow to get slim and toned legs.

HOW TO LOSE (OR REDUCE) MUSCLE SIZE IN THIGHS IN 3 STEPS:

  1. LEARN YOUR BODY TYPE – Your body type plays a massive role in how you tend to build muscle and lose weight and some body types are more likely to bulk up. You need to know your body type so you can learn how to train and eat accordingly.
  2. DO THE RIGHT TYPE OF CARDIO – Do more low to moderate-intensity cardio such as fasted walking. This type of cardio is the key to getting slim legs.
  3. EAT AT A SLIGHT CALORIE DEFICIT AND FOLLOW A LOW CARB DIET – If you want to reduce muscle and body fat, you should stay in a slight calorie deficit and eat a low carb diet.

Let’s cover each step in more detail.

STEP 1: LEARN YOUR BODY TYPE

how to slim muscular legs without building muscle - learn body type
All three body types (endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph) respond to training and diet differently.

Knowing your body type is super important as some body types tend to bulk up more easily in their legs (and in general) than others, i.e. ectomorphs versus endomorphs.

There are three main body types and they all lose weight and build muscle differently. 

I’ll briefly cover all three of the female body types, and also link to the articles that explain your body type in detail.

ECTOMORPHS

Ectomorphs are usually naturally slim (like Victoria’s Secret models) and they find it difficult to build muscle

If you are an ectomorph body type, you probably already have naturally thinner legs. So, your goal here is to maintain (or perhaps lose a bit of stubborn lower body fat) while building lean muscle. This way your leg will get tone and definition and you’ll avoid the skinny fat look

To find out more about the ectomorph body type, read this blog post on how to slim muscular thighs if you are an ectomorph.

MESOMORPHS

Mesomorphs can be quite athletic and respond quickly to exercise, which means they build muscles easily. 

They can lose weight very fast, but can also gain weight quickly too. Usually, they are of average size.

If you are a mesomorph, overdoing workouts like squats and lunges can easily result in bulky legs. So, your goal here is to reduce body fat percentage and avoid exercises that will bulk up your legs in the process.

For more detailed info on mesomorphs, I’ve written an article on how to get skinny legs without building muscle for mesomorphs.

ENDOMORPHS

Endomorphs naturally have a strong build and larger frame. They can build muscle very quickly and it’s slightly harder for them to lose weight. But, it’s not impossible! 

If you are an endomorph body type, your goal is to really focus on reducing overall body fat and to completely avoid any workouts that may cause you to bulk up.

To learn more about the endomorph body type, read this blog post on how to slim muscular thighs for endomorphs.

If you are not sure what is your body type, I have created a free body type quiz which will help you determine your body type in just 2 minutes.

Now that you know your body type and have a general idea on what to do and not to do, let’s go to the next step.

STEP 2: FOCUS ON LOW-INTENSITY CARDIO WORKOUTS

1. START WITH STEADY STATE RUNNING

Ever noticed the difference between marathon runner legs and a cyclist or sprinter’s legs? There is a reason why.

Marathon runners have usually skinny legs because they do long duration steady–state cardio, as opposed to high-intensity sprints and cycling.

When you do long-distance running, your body is using slow-twitch muscles (the ones we refer to as long and lean) and is using fat (and glucose / carbs) as a source of energy. 

I would run at a medium-fast pace and aim for 5kms for at least 30-45 minutes. But, longer is better if you’re trying to slim down muscle (ideally around an hour).

For speed, I would recommend somewhere between 9-12 km/hr. You should be able to maintain a conversation on your optimal speed.

And always make sure you’re running on a flat surface. Any uphill running will use your quads more and will contribute to bulkiness.

Also, running long distance is much more effective at slimming down your legs than the cross trainer/elliptical.

I should also mention that if you are very short and are the endomorph body type, your legs may actually get bigger with running.

If this is a problem for you, I would focus on walking.

2. DO MORE POWER WALKING FOR LOSING LEG MUSCLES

how to slim down muscular thighs with power walking
The right type of cardio done first thing in the morning (aka fasted cardio) will help slim down your muscular legs much faster.

Power walking is the best exercise for slimming down your legs and still burns a surprising number of calories, so don’t feel disheartened if all you can do is walk.

The main reason that power walking is so great is that it actually burns FAT as the primary source of energy. So yes, walking will help you burn more fat.

If you want more details or have more questions about cardio, read my Q&A Cardio Post.

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

3. TRY FASTED CARDIO FOR FASTER RESULTS 

When you do cardio, your body will burn stored glycogen (carbohydrates) first, and then fat, followed by protein (muscle).

If you do cardio before you eat in the morning, you will have less stored glycogen, and your body will, therefore, burn more fat and muscle.

Less fat and less muscle size equals slimmer legs. 

But for this to work, you need to eat low carb (try not to eat carbs for dinner the night before so your glycogen levels are already low), and you need to do cardio for a fairly long period of time (over 60-90 minutes).

I have written a much more detailed blog post on fasted cardio, so have a read of this if you’re interested.

STEPS 3: PROPER DIET FOR SLIMMING DOWN LEG MUSCLES

1. EAT AT A SLIGHT CALORIE DEFICIT 

Decreasing your calorie intake will help you lose weight overall and also muscle. Muscles are a metabolically active tissue, so they require lots of calories to maintain.

If you reduce your calories, your body will not be able to sustain your muscle size, and they will atrophy (meaning they will decrease in size).

To work out how many calories you should be eating, read this blog post on how to calculate your daily calorie intake.

2. EAT A LOW CARB DIET 

diet for slimming muscular thighs

If you eat high fat, moderate to low protein and low carb, while staying at a slight calorie deficit, your body will use fat and protein (muscle) for energy, rather than carbohydrates. 

This will help you decrease your muscle size much quicker.

Focus on getting your energy primarily from fat, and do not overdo the protein intake as well.

If you follow these 3 steps, your leg muscles will start to decrease. However, it is also important to know what NOT to do.

WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO SLIM MUSCULAR THIGHS

1. AVOID EXERCISES THAT HEAVILY TARGET YOUR QUADS (I.E. HEAVY LIFTING, SQUATS, BURPEES)

how to reduce leg muscle
Avoid any kind of exercise that causes pump in your quads and hamstrings- to help lean down your legs faster.

As long as you are lifting heavy or doing exercises that put a lot of strain on your quads and hamstrings, you won’t lose the leg muscle. You will still continue to build or maintain leg muscle, even if you are doing cardio and eating at a calorie deficit.

Use it or lose it. It’s really that simple.

Even if you’re doing light weight and high rep, you still won’t lose the muscle. You won’t necessarily build muscle, but you will maintain the muscle that you currently have.

Therefore, I recommend avoiding anything you’re doing that uses your legs heavily, including the traditional squats, deadlifts, burpees, and leg weighted machines. Just avoid “leg days” in general.

I would also stay away from workouts such as CrossFit and HIIT routines that have lots of squats, burpees and lunges.

2. AVOID EXERCISES THAT GIVE YOUR LEGS A PUMP

As I mentioned, some women experience bulky legs when they do running, barre, or even yoga.

If you notice your legs increasing in size with a particular exercise, don’t do it! It is very individual, and you need to do what works best for you.

Again, this is the advice for girls who want to drastically reduce muscles in their legs.

If you’re happy with the size of your thighs or you’re not really bothered by it, please, by all means, do all the workouts you enjoy.

On my blog, I do have some HIIT exercises that won’t cause you to bulk up.

However, if you are an endomorph, if you are very short, or very very sensitive to building muscles in your thighs, these exercises still might cause you to build too much muscle for your liking. So, I would do these with caution.

If they work for you, that’s great! If not, don’t do them.

3. DON’T SPRINT

Cardio is good for slimming down your legs, but not if you’re sprinting.

Again, think of sprinters vs marathon runners legs. Sprinting engages fast-twitch muscles responsible for fast bursts of energy, especially in your quads. 

Your muscles will adapt to the size they are needed for an often performed activity. It’s that simple.

So, make sure your cardio is always done steady-state to lose muscle from your legs faster. And again, make sure it’s on a flat surface (no hills or stair runs!).

HOW TO EXERCISE TO GET SLIM WITHOUT BULKING UP YOUR THIGHS

how to slim leg muscle and train without bulking up

There are still lots of different types of exercises and resistance training workouts that you can do to tone up, without targeting your quads and hamstrings and making them bigger.

ALL of the workouts on my blog are designed to help you tone up without getting bulky, so I would highly recommend giving them a try! :)

  • For the lower body, my favourite exercises are pilates-style moves and exercises that focus on toning up your butt, rather than increasing the size of your thighs.
  • For the upper body, I absolutely love swimming and boxing for toning up (as well as burning LOTS of calories) without bulking up.

    When I lift weights for my upper body, and especially when I do pull-ups and overhead pressing, my back and shoulders get really wide. However, if you still want to do weights, read my blog post on how to do it without getting bulky.

    Boxing tones up my shoulders and arms without getting broad. Swimming is also great, but just be careful not to overdo it, or your back might get broad.

In the video below, you can find a full-length workout for a whole body that is designed to get you toned, but not bulky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP8Bm0BQ4Ro

And it will definitely NOT bulk up your legs, but it is focused on slimming down your thighs.

SUMMARY: HOW TO SLIM MUSCULAR LEGS FAST

So to summarize, if you want to make your muscular thighs smaller, here’s what you should do:

  • Learn your body type so you can understand the best exercises and diet for you.
  • Do more long-distance running on a flat surface.
  • Do power walking – This type of low-intensity cardio burns fat and is the best exercise for slimming down legs.
  • Do fasted cardio – this will help reduce your muscle size and body fat percentage quicker.
  • Follow a low carb diet and stay at a slight calorie deficit so your body can burn more fat and protein (muscle).
  • Avoid exercises that target your quads specifically – lunges, burpees, squats, etc.
  • Avoid exercises that make you bulk up even if they aren’t supposed to. (Some women have told me they bulked up from yoga.)
  • Avoid sprinting and stair runs – make sure you run and walk at a steady-state and on a flat surface.

BEST PROGRAM FOR LEAN & TONED LEGS (NO BULK)

If you are looking for a long term solution, I’ve created a 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program which focuses on helping you get a lean and toned body (especially legs, as this is a trouble area for a lot of women). 

The 3 Steps to Lean Legs Program includes cardio, a complete 8-week meal plan and the style of resistance training that I have mentioned in this blog post. 

Also, the resistance training part of my program now has FULL-LENGTH videos that you can follow from warm-up to cool down.

And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask! 

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.

192 comments on “How To Slim Down Muscular Thighs – Get Toned Legs Without Bulk”

    meytav says:

    Hi! I’m trying to get a long, narrow, and shapely look.
    I combine yoga, pilates, and resistance training with weights.
    Would you consider lifting 35 pounds in a deadlift and 40 pounds in a hiptrust as lifting light weight ?
    What is the range of weights considered light?

      Sara - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely <3,

      I responded to your other comment on another post! :)

      Love,
      Sara

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