Take a look at any top female athlete. Chances are, her legs aren’t skinny; she probably has beautifully defined muscles from hip to toe.
Phrases like “thunder thighs” have, unfortunately, made women see toned, thicker legs as a bad thing, when we should be celebrating toning our muscles.
Growing your legs doesn’t mean gaining weight or increasing your fat percentage. Instead, it means sculpting muscles that allow you to compete or workout at a higher athletic level.
To grow your legs and give them the toned appearance, you must grow your muscles while reducing your fat percentage. This is achieved by challenging the muscles (lifting heavy weights) and getting proper nutrition.
Growing your legs for a toned look
Ready to transform your legs? Use the steps below to get started.
Hit the weights
If you want to grow your legs, you need a weight lifting plan.
Physiologist Brad Schoenfeld, who created the “Love Your Legs” workout, notes that while squats help define muscles, they don’t make women’s legs expand to the extent men’s do, since women lack testosterone.
If you are lifting light weights and doing endless repetitions, you will get a lean look but not a toned, muscular one. In fact, by lifting just a few pounds of weights, you will decrease size!
This is how you know if you are lifting heavy enough to grow your legs: If you can complete your number of desired repetitions (say 12) easily and could continue with a few more, then you are not lifting heavy enough. You should be able to lift comfortably for the first few reps, and complete the last 2 reps of your set with difficulty. Your muscle should be fatigued enough to continue further than the 12th repetition.
As you adapt to the weight, increase it. Do not stay with the same weight for weeks at a time. Once you can complete the 12th repetition easily, then add weight and follow the same standard.
In order to grow your legs, you must keep on adding weight as your body adapts. The trick is to challenge the muscle.
To try the “Love Your Legs” workout, do the following. Each exercise should include 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps:
Split squat: Place your left foot on a chair positioned behind you, hands on hips. Squat until your right knee reaches 90 degrees. Switch legs. Add dumbbells for more challenge.
Sissy squat: Using a chair for stability, stand with feet hip-width apart and rise onto your toes. Simultaneously bend your knees and lean your torso back until your knees reach 90 degrees. Maintain a straight line between knees and shoulders.
Pistol squat: With feet hip-width apart, lift your right foot a few inches off the ground, toes pointed up. Squat until your left knee reaches 90 degrees, keeping your right heel off the ground.
Goblet squat: Stand with feet farther than shoulder-width apart, turning your toes out. With your hands, hold a dumbbell near your chest (like a goblet), keeping elbows out to the sides. Squat until your knees reach 90 degrees. Jump slightly as you rise.
Three-way lunge: Place feet hip-width apart and hold your hands together in front of your chest. Do three lunges, each with your knee reaching 90 degrees: one toward the front, one toward the side, and one to the back.
Good Morning: Put feet shoulder-width apart and hold the ends of a dumbbell with your hands. Place the weight under your chin. Slowly bend forward from the waist to 90 degrees, keeping your legs straight and pressing your butt back backward.
Single-leg dead lift: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend at the hip, extending your right leg behind you and keeping your abs tight. Hinge forward until your body is parallel to the floor, arms hanging down.
Bridges: Lie on the floor and place a small towel under your heels. With arms by your sides, lift your hips off the floor, pressing your heels into the ground and forming a straight line from knees to shoulders.
Calf raise three ways: Stand on a box or stair, letting your heels hang back over the edge. Then turn your toes inward and lift your heels. When you’ve done 2 to 3 sets of that, repeat the exercise with toes turned outward and then with them pointed straight.
Do each exercise around 10 to 12 times for 3 to 5 sets.
You can also try this quick and effective workout for killer legs.
To most effectively grow your legs, you’ll also need to incorporate cardio into your workout.
Livestrong.com suggests keeping your cardio to short, fast bursts: sprint for 10 seconds, for instance, and then rest (walk slowly) for 20. Depending on your ability, you may start with anywhere between 10 and 20 sets, increasing that number as you get stronger. Add incline for more challenge.
Biking and running, in combination with weight-lifting, are also beneficial for toning your leg muscles.
Be cautious about doing too much: if you’re just starting to weight-lift, you should back off of cardio workouts for a little while until your body adjusts.
Slight diet changes can also help you sculpt muscular legs.
Though we’ve all heard that carbohydrates are evil, it’s not true: as you weight-lift, you need carbs in order to replace depleted glucose stores. Without glucose, the body will extract protein from your muscles.
Though it depends on how much you work out, you should try to set a daily goal of between 2 and 3.5 grams of carbs for each pound of body weight.
Make sure to get plenty of protein, too. Within an hour of your workout, get 10 to 20 grams of lean protein. This will improve your body’s ability to build muscle during that training session.
After the workout, you should also consume some protein, maybe in the form of a shake or bar.
If you do not consume enough protein, it does not matter what you lift – your muscles will not grow.
With the right combination of weights, cardio, and nutrition, you’ll be well on your way to toned, muscular legs.