Trying to spot-tone is a losing proposition, since your body won’t tone on command. No number of leg lifts, sidekicks and hamstring curls will tone your legs unless you add cardiovascular activity and weight loss. The more weight you lose and strength you build in your legs, the shapelier and more tone your legs will become. The sharpest tool in your toning toolbox is a treadmill, so turn it on and get ready to work.
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For a treadmill workout to help tone your legs, you need to run at a speed that gets your heart rate between 60 percent and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, according to The American Heart Association. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. Using this formula, a relatively healthy 35-year-old will have a maximum heart rate of 185 beats per minute. To figure out this same adult’s toning heart rate target, multiply maximum heart rate, 185, by 60 percent and 80 percent, or .60 and .80, and you’ll get a target heart range of between 93 and 157 beats per minute. Keeping your heart rate in this target zone will help you burn more calories during and after your workout and increase your metabolism.
Alternating between fast and slow treadmill speeds for a set period of time is called interval training, which can help boost your target heart rate and increase the physical impact of the workout. Changing speeds on your treadmill means you will work different muscles in your legs, which can help shape and tone your entire leg. Slower speeds will challenge your calves and quads while the faster you go, the more you engage your hamstrings, which are the muscles along the back of your upper legs. No matter your speed, your glutes get a workout. Start at a speed you can easily maintain for three or four minutes, then run as fast as you can for one minute, then lower back to the easier speed for three minutes and keep repeating the pattern for the duration of your workout.
Most treadmills let you set an incline of between .05 percent and 15 percent, with an incline of between .1 percent and .2 percent the equivalent of walking on a sidewalk. To intensify your treadmill workout, adjust its incline up. The higher your incline, the harder your calves and hamstrings work, the more muscle you will build and the more calories you will scorch. Runner’s World suggests walkers, joggers and runners go as quickly as you can at an incline. When adding an incline to your interval training, plan to raise your treadmill to between 8 percent and 10 percent and alternate 30-second sprints with 30 seconds of recovery for 10 minutes, to get the most for your legs from your workout. For beginners, don’t go so fast at an incline that you can’t hold a conversation.
Keep In Mind
You won’t see results in a day, and not even in a week, so give your body, heart and lungs time to adjust to this increased physical activity. You don’t even have to run or jog. Walking on a treadmill, at an incline or not, can yield the same results, just not as quickly. To help prevent injury, warm-up with three to five minutes of easy walking before going all-out. Before beginning any type of exercise program, consult your doctor.
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.