You may feel the burn, but it's not because fat is melting from your legs as you push that leg-press plate. While weighted leg exercises build lean muscle mass in your gams for sculpting, they have no immediate effect on fat deposits. This doesn't mean you should ditch the workout -- all exercise helps make you leaner over time. However, fat loss primarily comes from a calorie deficit, and you can't choose a specific body part to trim down.
Fat burning is all about calories, and while weighted leg moves do burn some, they are not a stand-alone solution for weight loss. On average, lifting weights burns about 112 calories in half an hour for a 155-pound person. Considering a pound of fat is about 3,500 calories, you can see how impractical it would be to slim down with nothing but a weight machine. The truth is that the sustained activity of cardio exercises, such as jogging, cycling, jumping rope and hiking, burns far more calories than weight training.
Muscle for Metabolism
Don't give up on the weights just yet -- they can be an important part of your fat-loss strategy. These exercises build lean muscle mass, which means two things: you'll wind up with shapelier legs as well as a slightly higher metabolism over time. That's because body composition affects your metabolic rate; the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. Muscle requires more energy to sustain than fat, which is essentially dead weight. So building muscle causes your body to burn more calories 'round the clock.
Strength Training Guidelines
Weighted leg exercises fall into the strength-training category, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has something to say about this type of workout. The organization recommends performing strength training at least twice per week (in addition to cardio) to maintain strength and balance as well as fend off chronic disease. But don't just focus on legs -- you need to work all major muscle groups, which include the legs, hips, back, abs, chest and arms. Always allow at least a day for muscle groups to recover before training them again.
Although exercise is essential for good health, the quickest way to shed fat is to change your diet. This means cutting back to 1,200 calories per day, according to MayoClinic.com. Get your energy from nutritious sources such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals, and lean proteins such as legumes, soy and yogurt. Stay away from trans and saturated fats, sticking to olive oil, nuts and other plant fats.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism is Modifiable with the Right Lifestyle Changes
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- MayoClinic.com: Fewer Calories, Healthy Food Best Weight-Loss Plan
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.