Whether you’re falling victim to chub rub, hate hearing the thunderous round of applause your legs give you when you run in shorts, or just don’t like going to battle with your jeans day after day, there are plenty of good reasons to make slimming down your lower half a top priority. So we chatted with the experts who share some of the very best ways to lose leg and thigh fat. Gear up to slash the fat and sculpt an all-around leaner, more toned body.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, if you’re looking to “spot reduce,” we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but losing weight in just one body part at a time is a total myth. Instead, it’s important to have just the right tips and tricks on deck to help you melt excess body fat all over, which in turn, will help you address the “problem area” you’re looking to get into shape.
Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, a member of our Medical Expert Board and a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, explains that performing leg exercises won’t specifically burn leg fat, even though they are effective in helping you grow bigger leg muscles. Needless to say, ways to lose leg and thigh fat are healthy habits that will help you lose weight all over your body. Plus, building stronger legs is chock-full of benefits. After all, your legs get you from one place to the next on the regular, and they help you crush hobbies and sports you love, like skiing, hiking, soccer, paddleboarding, tennis and pickleball, running, and more.
Keep reading to learn what the experts have to say about achieving a fitter figure and stronger lower half. And when you’re finished, be sure to check out the 10 Tips To Lose 5 Pounds Quickly.
When it comes to weight loss, making the right moves in the kitchen and at the gym is the name of the game. Dr. Bohl explains that daily cardio exercise is one of the most productive “calorie-burners.” He adds, “If you aim to do some sort of cardio every day, like jogging, running, or biking, you’ll not only lose some leg fat, you’ll tone the leg muscles as well.” So lace up your sneakers, and get ready to kick up your cardio!
We’ve established that your go-to cardio routine is productive at burning calories, but strength training is just as important if you want to lose leg and thigh fat. (And no—strength training won’t make you appear “bulky,” so get that mindset out of your head!)
According to Dr. Bohl, “As the body loses weight, it naturally loses some muscle as well, so strength training gives you the best chance of maintaining—and even gaining—muscle while losing fat. A good strength training routine should focus on all parts of the body, not just the legs.”
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines bursts of high-intensity exercise with short rest periods. It’s an excellent form of training if you’re looking to melt fat, lose weight, and get fit—and research backs this up. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, engaging in HIIT can boost fat oxidation during exercise (FatOx), especially among individuals who are obese/overweight.
Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., RDN, nutrition consultant, the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and The Portion Teller Plan, and a member of our Medical Expert Board, agrees that HIIT can play an integral role in your weight loss journey, explaining, “The more calories you burn, the bigger the calorie deficit you can create in your diet, which can increase one’s chances of losing fat.”
Cycling is a stellar physical activity to work your leg and thigh muscles and really feel the burn. “It burns an excess number of calories which can help with overall body fat and increased leanness,” Young says. “Cycling is one of the most effective workouts for thigh and leg fat as you are using your thigh muscles the most during a cycling workout.”
Chocolate chip cookies, candy bars, and ice cream sundaes sure taste delicious, but they aren’t doing your weight loss journey any favors. Dr. Bohl stresses the importance of cutting out excess sugars from your diet. He explains, “One of the things that makes it hard to lose weight is excess sugar that might be in things you don’t even think about, like beverages. To make sure you’re staying under your calorie target each day, cut out excess sugars in liquids like juices and sodas as well as sugar that gets added to coffee or tea.”
When making tweaks in your diet, you should also focus on increasing the amount of protein you consume, specifically lean sources such as fish, chicken, and/or plant-based proteins. “This protein can help keep you full and also serves as an important building block for muscle recovery after your strength training workout,” Dr. Bohl says.
Along with packing in the protein, fiber is a necessary inclusion in your diet. Young explains, “Replacing your diet with more fiber and protein can aid in weight loss in leg and thigh fat. Enjoy high-fiber and high-protein foods to help to keep you full for a long period of time and can help you cut back on calories.”
Not all carbs are created equal. It’s important to work healthy carbs into meals and nix carbs that don’t offer nutritional value. (We’re looking at you, refined carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages!)
Young stresses that refined carbs and sugars are bad news and “can contribute to weight gain, as they cause our blood sugar levels to spike, followed by a crash which in turn leaves us hungry and craving more unhealthy foods.”
But don’t forgo carbs altogether. It’s all about choosing the right ones! Dr. Bohl adds, “Even when you’re trying to lose weight, carbs are still an important part of the diet—especially right before a workout to give your body energy. When you’re picking what carbs to eat, focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
Skimping on sleep is not the way to go if you’re looking to lose weight. Although it may seem a little counterproductive that curling up for some shuteye can help you melt excess fat, it’s really a key part of the process! “Sleep deprivation is often associated with higher caloric intake and weight gain,” Dr. Bohl explains. “Adults should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.”
One easy way to get the ball rolling on fat loss outside the gym is a habit you probably already have: drinking coffee. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that obese study subjects whose diet was supplemented with caffeinated coffee significantly increased their metabolic rate, and subjects of an average weight shed more pounds, too.
While calcium is generally thought to be primarily beneficial for bone health, it’s also crucial for building strong muscles. Calcium is essential for encouraging muscle contraction, which promotes muscle growth. Fortunately, for those who need to shed fat on their legs, calcium-rich foods can also help them feel the burn; research published by the American Diabetes Association reveals that increasing calcium intake promoted fat loss among overweight diabetic study subjects on a calorie-restricted diet.
Having a solid support system can make all the difference in the world when you’re striving to achieve a fitness goal. Dr. Bohl recommends recruiting a buddy to join you in your journey.
“Weight loss can take time, and often it’s difficult to stay motivated,” he says. “If you find a friend to go on your weight loss journey with you, though, the two of you can help keep each other motivated. You can work out together, share recipes, and keep each other up to date on your progress.”