Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness By the Fire: Training lower body for lean muscle mass over bulk

by Ron Kennedy • November 28, 2016
As a seasoned personal trainer and fitness professional, one of the most common statements I encounter when working with new clients typically is uttered as the following… “I want my legs to be leaner, but not bigger. And I would REALLY like to have a muscular butt.” Such a proclamation forces me to inquire what they have been doing to condition their legs up to that point, and most of the time the potential client will list of several activities and exercises that do just the contrary. They all focus on bulk muscle conditioning, or fitness enthusiasts who avoid working their lower body all together to avoid further mass gains. It is a very common misunderstanding as to how to properly work the lower body muscle groups within a fitness regimen to produce lean muscle mass over large bulky “tree trunk” thighs that most exercise people wish to avoid. So, let’s set the record straight for proper planning!

The major difference between overly sized muscular legs and tight lean smaller versions is body fat percentage.  Generally, women’s legs and thighs start to get skinny around a body fat percentage of 18%. For your thighs (especially your inner thighs) to become leaner, thinner and tighter and cellulite free, your overall body fat must be reduced through a combination of proper nutrition, exercise and consistency. Your nutritional plan must include frequent healthy meals and snacks to control blood sugar levels (5 small meals a day) and a slight calorie deficit. How much you are able to slim down your legs will depend on your body type, i.e. whether you are an endomorph, mesomorph or ectomorph.
Calculated cardiovascular sessions in addition to or directly after resistance training is another effective habit. Try doing 5 days per week of cardiovascular exercise. Your exercise routine should include 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise (moderate intensity) and interval training, which you can do on alternate days. HIIT (high intensity interval training) is incredibly effective at getting rid stubborn fat. If you can, add some circuit training into the mix. This will strip the fat off your legs and develop shapely muscle for fantastic definition. If you feel you have overly muscular legs, avoid interval training and stick to long duration cardio instead. This will strip fat and even decrease the size of your leg muscle a little (read more about slim down leg muscle here) to develop leaner, smaller legs. However, most women need to increase leg muscle to increase the shape and firmness of the thighs and get rid of cellulite. Generally only mesomorphic women have no need to increase leg muscle, as they tend to already have muscular legs and any increase may cause bulky leg muscles. If you enjoy using the elliptical trainer to burn fat, make sure you are using the elliptical trainer correctly to avoid building large thigh muscles. You should sit back on your heels a little and stick your butt out as much as you can. This posture ensures that you target your butt, outer thigh and hamstring muscles, instead of your quadriceps. This will avoid building very large muscular thighs, as many inadvertently do on the elliptical machine.

Try choosing exercises that directly use your legs, i.e. power walking, jogging, in-line skating, step machine, aerobic or spinning classes. The benefit is that you are burning fat, as well as developing your leg muscles. As your body fat drops and you develop tight muscles in your legs, you will start to notice a leaner look. If you are already doing cardio that directly uses your leg muscles, increase the difficulty and add interval training to your workout. When you do cardio at a low to moderate intensity, the body’s preferred fuel is glycogen (carbohydrates) first, and then fats. However, the longer you exercise, the more fat your body will burn. So, by doing longer power walks, your body will burn more fat. When I do this type of cardio, I notice most of the fat coming off my legs.
Does “Spot Reduction” for fat work?

Personally, I don’t put a great deal of thought to spot reduction fat loss training, though it is by far one of the most common request that our prospects and clients typically mention. Fat loss goes from the head down and the ankles up so to speak. That means that when you do begin to burn fat from proper diet and exercise the results start show from the face, neck and shoulder area first, then followed by the ankles, calves, and knee area. The waist line being the last place for fat to hide. So, you might be 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, even when my diet is not perfect. I do believe that it’s very difficult to 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 running, hiking, playing football, and countless hours on cardiovascular conditioning equipment. The most effective cardio for slimming my legs has always been running. Diet also plays a part in helping you slim down your legs, but cardio will always play the major part