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Exercise holds the key to achieving strong, lean legs, and you need to include a variety of exercises in your routine for balanced toning. Although muscle-building exercises increase lean tissue, they don’t burn fat directly from the target area; therefore, if excess padding is hiding your muscles, pair your workout routine with a nutritious, reduced-calorie diet to lose total body weight. If you’re new to exercise or have any health conditions, see your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Traditional Strength Training

Strength training, whether it involves dumbbells, barbells or your own body weight, is a go-to method for toning. ShapeFit.com reports that compound strength-training exercises, which involve movement at multiple joints, are superior for building muscle to isolated strength-training exercises that only involve one joint. For example, squats and lunges — which you may perform with or without weights — as well as deadlifts are ideal for leg toning, while leg extensions and leg curls are probably somewhat less effective.

Plyometrics

Plyometrics, also called jump training, tones legs and increases power with springing movements that stretch muscles before contracting them. Plyometric exercises include jumping rope, double-hopping and jumping on and off benches or boxes. Most plyometric activities are best suited for people of advanced fitness levels, and should be used sparingly as part of a well-rounded workout program. For all plyometric activities, the American Council on Exercises recommends jumping on a soft surface, such as grass, and landing lightly from toe to heel to reduce impact. As a strength-training exercise, plyometrics focuses on intense, controlled movements rather than high repetitions.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardio exercise typically doesn’t have the same muscle-building power as strength training, but it does provide some toning. It also burns calories at a faster rate, helping to expedite fat loss. Exercises such as running, cycling and using an elliptical machine or stair stepper all target the leg muscles, and even brisk walking is enough for beginners. Cardio classes, such as step aerobics and aerobic dance, are also effective options.

Exercise Guidelines

For optimal muscle building, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing strength training for all major muscle groups — not just the legs — two to three times per week, allowing at least 48 hours for recovery. It suggests two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each activity, starting with very light resistance for beginners. In addition, ACSM recommends five, 60-minute sessions of moderate cardio per week, or three sessions of vigorous cardio ranging from 20- to 60-minutes long. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as walking, before performing strength-training or vigorous cardio. Without a warmup, you may be more susceptible to muscle strains and injuries.

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