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The Best Aerobic Exercise to Get Your Legs in Shape

By George W. Citroner ; Updated December 29, 2017

There are few better ways to get the legs in shape than by doing aerobic exercise. Unlike conventional resistance training with weights — aerobic exercise will tone the leg muscles while also burning loads of calories. As body fat goes down, legs become leaner as well as shapelier.

Here are some fantastic aerobic exercises (both conventional and calisthenic), that can shape and tone from hips to calves while making the whole body leaner and more sculpted as the fat melts away.

1. Running

According to research published in the April 2012 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, just running at a moderate pace of 6 mph can burn upwards of 550 calories per hour. Running is also a natural movement for the body that will work almost every lower body muscle — from glutes and thighs to calf muscles — and help to develop leg strength and stamina. Running also engages the core for tighter abs as the body gets leaner from all the calories running burns.

2. Stair Climbing

Stair climbing is a tough form of aerobic activity that will get the heart rate up fast. Regardless if it’s on a stair climbing machine or in a stairwell, climbing stairs requires that you lift the weight of the whole body each time you take a step.

Stair climbing works the glutes, calves, hamstrings and quadriceps to tone the entire lower body and burns hundreds of calories per hour. An article in Harvard Health Publishing states that a 155-pound person can burn over 220 calories with only 30 minutes of stair climbing.

3. Bike Riding

Bicycle riding exercises most of the muscles of the legs while providing an enjoyable way to burn calories and develop cardiovascular fitness. Although outdoors bike riding is great for enjoying the scenery - according to a July 2013 article from the American Council on Exercise blog; stationary bike riding burns lots of calories and is a convenient way to exercise the legs as long as the seat height is adjusted properly.

4. Kickboxing Aerobic Class

Kickboxing aerobics is a martial arts-inspired class that offers a whole-body workout but places a lot of emphasis on exercising the legs. Kickboxing classes use many different kicks, like:

  • High kicks
  • Low kicks
  • Combinations of kicks
  • Spin kicks
  • Jumping kicks

All that kicking should sculpt the muscles of the legs while burning loads of calories and building better aerobic fitness.

5. Aerobic Calisthenics

Moves such as burpees, jacks and mountain climbers train your leg muscles. When you put them into a workout circuit style, meaning you them in quick succession for about 1 minute, then rest, and repeat the cycle four to eight times, you get a calorie scorching, leg-burning cardio session.


Burpees tone and shape almost every muscle in the lower body while especially stimulating the quadriceps and glutes. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a low-volume, high-intensity bout of burpees is comparable to sprint interval bicycling in providing the intensity and duration needed to improve aerobic fitness.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand up with arms at sides, bend over and put both hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, then squat down and kick both legs back, landing with the body in a plank position. Finally, pull both legs forward into a squat and stand up.

The Burpee, like running in place, can be done for time instead of reps - use a pace that allows around two minutes of Burpees for between four and five sets.

Mountain Climbers

This old-fashioned movement will powerfully stimulate the muscles of the legs and hips and quickly raise the heart rate into the aerobic training zone.

HOW TO DO IT: From a push-up position on the floor (arms extended, hands shoulder-width apart, back and legs straight, ) bring one knee and foot to chest level. Kick that leg back again while bringing the other leg to chest level. Repeat.

Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are a space-efficient way to get the legs in shape while reaping the benefits of cardiovascular training. Visit ExRx to learn how to do jumping jacks correctly.

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