When you want to slip into a pair of skinny jeans without ripping the inseam, increase exercise repetitions and decrease weight for toned, slender legs. Lifting heavy weights with fewer than eight repetitions results in muscle hypertrophy, an increase in muscle size. Certified Personal Trainer Joanne Giannini says, “I have found that women beginning a weightlifting program may indeed bulk up a bit at first since the muscles have grown and the fat has not yet had a chance to melt off on top. This is a temporary condition that corrects itself after a few months of continued exercise.”
High-Intensity Interval Training
Giannini recommends high-intensity interval training to her clients to burn off the top layer of fat and reveal the sculpted leg muscles underneath. She suggests performing an intense activity -- such as box jumps -- for 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest, and repeating that cycle eight times with a minute of rest between sets. Repeat for a total workout of about 20 to 30 minutes. A study published in the June 2012 issue of “The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” found this type of training more effective at improving body composition than traditional steady-state cardio exercise among young women.
Engaging in yoga tones all of your muscles through isometric contraction. Although simple yoga poses such as warrior two may not appear challenging, they are. A study published in “The Asian Journal of Sports Medicine” found that women who performed sun salutations -- a simple sequence of yoga poses -- for about five months decreased BMI and total body fat percentage. Some key poses to tone the legs include crescent pose, triangle pose, warrior one and two, and chair pose.
Gary Faber/Photodisc/Getty Images
Take a cue from the svelte, female Olympic swimmers and hit the pool. Breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle swimming work all of the muscles of your legs with high repetitions and low resistance. The different kicks performed in each stroke activate different muscle fibers in your legs, resulting in enhanced muscle definition without bulking up.
Running is the ultimate high-repetition low-resistance exercise. It burns calories to reduce body fat while simultaneously toning leg muscles for a sleek appearance. Stretch before and after running to improve range of motion and to prevent injury.
Exercises to Avoid
Uphill hiking and exercising on a stair climber torch calories, but because of their relatively high resistance, they may contribute to muscle hypertrophy. Women who tend to build muscle easily may wish to avoid these forms of exercise in favor of hiking on relatively level ground or exercising on an elliptical trainer.
- Joanne Giannini, CPT: Body Solutions, Norwood, MA
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: High Intensity Interval Exercise Training in Overweight Young Women
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: How Effective is Sun Salutation in Improving Muscle Strength, General Body Endurance and Body Composition?
Pamela Ellgen began writing in 2000 for "The Asian Reporter" newspaper. She is an award-winning journalist and writes on religion, culture, health and fitness. Ellgen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Washington State University and is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.