As summer approaches and we begin to ponder what we’ll look like in shorts, many will scramble for ways to tone up their legs.

While there’s no such thing as a rapid spot treatment that can specifically target your legs, what you can do is develop a routine that gets rid of overall excess body fat. Choose exercises that help to tone your leg muscles, and you’ll look and feel healthier by your first beach day.

How does leg fat develop?

First things first: It’s normal, and healthy, to have body fat. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), men of normal weight have an average of 18 to 24 percent body fat, while women have 25 to 31 percent. Body fat is often distributed evenly, but you may have a few “problem areas.” This is usually due to your genes.

Leg fat may be comprised of different types of fat cells:

  • Subcutaneous fat: most common in the thighs and located right beneath the skin
  • Intramuscular fat: fat dispersed within the muscle itself, much like the marbling seen in meat

The majority of leg fat is subcutaneous, which poses fewer long-term health concerns.

Read on for three ways to reduce your leg fat and tone your legs.

1. Do aerobic exercise

The first step to burning overall body fat is aerobic exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. Whether you walk, swim, or cycle, it’s important to choose a type of exercise you can complete at a moderate intensity to get your heart rate up and to maximize calorie burn.

One of the best aerobic exercises for the legs is cycling. The low intensity is especially helpful for beginners, and it doesn’t strain the knees. Cycling also increases muscle endurance in the:

  • calves
  • hamstrings
  • glutes (gluteal muscles)
  • quadriceps

If you’re not up for a cycling class, you might consider investing in your own stationary bike at home. Better yet, hop on a bike and head outdoors for some stress-blasting fresh air.

2. Strengthen muscles

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Losing fat alone can leave you with flabby legs, so you’ll need to invest some time in defining your muscles. Weights and rowing machines are effective tools for leg-strengthening exercises, but you can work on leg muscles just as effectively without any special equipment.

Lunges are among the most comprehensive leg workouts because they tone the quads and the hamstrings while also slimming the inner thighs and buttocks. Follow these steps for a perfect lunge:

  1. Stand up straight. Place your hands on your hips for extra balance, if needed.
  2. Step your right leg forward, left leg back, and bend your right leg at the knee, creating a 90-degree angle.
  3. To prevent injury, make sure your right knee doesn’t extend past your ankle.
  4. Press your weight down into your heels.
  5. Press back up to your starting position.
  6. Complete your desired number of repetitions (reps) and then switch legs.

Other at-home strengthening exercises include:

  • calf raises
  • leg lifts
  • squats

3. Reduce calories

Exercise is the most effective way to tone your leg muscles, but you also need to fight fat cells from the inside out.

Reducing your calorie intake is the first step to take because your body will naturally utilize excess fat as its next energy source. Think of the calories you eat as a budget — try to stay within or under your budget most days of the week.

There is no magic diet to get rid of leg fat, but watching what you eat can help.

Before making significant dietary changes, you should talk to your doctor or dietitian, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions.

Leg transformation takes time

Many diet companies and exercise moguls promise quick leg transformations with their programs. As with weight loss, getting the legs you want takes time and consistency. Patience goes a long way toward building a leaner, stronger foundation for your body.