Which Is Better to Build the Legs: A Treadmill or Weights?

Back squats develop strength and size in your glutes, quads and calves.
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Having strong, toned legs will boost your confidence. Not only because you’ll be happy to throw on a pair of shorts or a skirt, but because you’ll be able to squat down and climb stairs with ease. The way to build strength and size in any muscle is to put it under enough stress that it becomes overloaded. When your leg muscles are overloaded, that means they’re hurting a bit, with small tears throughout your fibers. While you’ll likely see improvements by working out on a treadmill, the best way to overload your muscles is with weight training.

Weight Training Versus Treadmill

    The workout that is best for toning and strengthening your legs is the one that most effectively overloads your leg muscles. According to the American Council on Exercise, weight training is the best activity for building muscle. In fact, the best workout for building legs will feature a couple of exercises for each the major muscles in your lower body, with these exercises being done for multiple sets. However, running on a treadmill can result in increases in leg size too. According to a 2002 study published in the "Journal of Applied Physiology," there is evidence that running on a treadmill set at an incline for multiple days a week leads to increases in muscle mass.

Weight Training Workout

    Choose two days per week to do your leg weight-training workout, giving your legs two days of rest in between scheduled sessions. To design your leg workout to maximize muscle building, choose a couple of exercises for each of your major muscle groups. You’ll want to target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. For your glutes and quadriceps, pick from squats, lunges or step-ups. To hit your hamstrings, perform hamstring curls and deadlifts. For your calves, complete both seated and standing calf raises. You’ll want to do at least three sets of each exercise, and women wanting to focus on muscle building should do three to six repetitions per set, notes Pauline Nordin of Bodybuilding.com.


    While weight training will give you more bang for your buck, if you don’t enjoy that type of workout, you may want to train on a treadmill instead. Workout consistency is key to seeing developments in your leg muscles. If you hate lifting weights, you’re likely not going to be as consistent as you need to be. So, if you like running on a treadmill better, consider trading one of your two weekly weight-training workouts with a high-intensity treadmill session.

Treadmill Workout

    If you’re going to go the treadmill route, understand that it will likely take you longer to see significant results. Like weight training, schedule your high-intensity treadmill workouts two days per week. You’ll want to set the incline on the treadmill, because this increases the stress placed on your leg muscles. Keeping a slower pace on a flat treadmill surface won’t make your legs work enough to see results. Structure your treadmill workout into intervals. Do eight minutes of near-sprinting with the treadmill set at an incline, followed by two minutes of a slow jog with no incline, and then start over in the cycle. Continued in this manner throughout the workout. Try to go for 30 to 60 minutes.

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