The inner thigh area can be a serious anxiety trigger for many people. It’s an area that tends to lend itself to fat storage and is up there with the lower belly and upper arms for its inclusion in the question trainers often receive: “How can I get rid of this?”
I totally relate to this and still feel the sting of my eighth-grade friend who likened my thighs to the shape of a grand piano because of that little curve of adipose up at the top.
I grew up in the age of the Thighmaster and “toning exercises” cut out of my mother’s women’s magazines, and I put in the hours trying to shrink away that jiggly little piece of myself.
In college, while working as a personal trainer and taking many anatomy and training classes in pursuit of my exercise science degree, I learned that strengthening the inner thighs won’t actually burn the fat there.
At best, with inner thigh exercises you will build stronger muscles under the fat, and if you are really seeing muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), you may increase the size of your thighs in the process.
So how can you get rid of that inner thigh fat?
The short answer is that you probably won’t lose much if genetics predispose you to fat storage in that area.
The longer answer is that you can reduce your body fat with exercise and diet, but you’ll lose that fat from all over your body. You can’t spot reduce areas of your body with exercise.
Don’t give up hope, though. An increase in muscle and a little reduction of body fat can make your legs more shapely within the confines of your genetic potential. I’ll include some exercises to help you with both of these goals.
The best way to thin your thighs is through a combination of diet and exercise. Let’s tackle diet first.
While weight loss is not always as simple as fewer calories in than calories out, there is some wisdom to that approach.
Burning more calories through exercise than you take in creates an energy imbalance, meaning you therefore need to tap into your energy stores (fat) to meet the calorie demands on your body (
This is a delicate balance, because too much of a calorie deficit can actually work against your metabolism, slowing it in response to way-too-low calorie intake. To keep your metabolism healthy, be mindful not to create a deficit of more than 500–1,000 calories per day (
Diet is only part of it, however. You can definitely rev up your metabolism and burn fat with exercise. You can burn fat pretty efficiently with certain types of workouts.
HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is one of the most effective tools for building strength, blasting fat, and revving up your metabolism. It not only burns abundant calories, but it actually influences your overall metabolism by positively altering your insulin response (
HIIT allows for a certain level of variability but ultimately consists of alternating bits of high, often explosive, intensity with bouts of recovery-intensity exercise.
To get the real metabolic benefits of HIIT, the high intensity intervals (which can last from 30 seconds to several minutes) need to be performed at 85–95% of your maximum effort.
The benefits of HIIT are many, and the greatest benefit may be the enhanced metabolism it offers. If you legitimately push yourself during HIIT workouts at 90–95% intensity, you’ll keep burning fat and calories at a higher rate for at least 24 hours (
Another advantage of HIIT workouts is the variety they offer. You can alternate bodyweight exercises like burpees and pushups with aerobic recovery intervals or use resistance-based exercises, such as weighted lunges and kettlebell swings, for your work interval.
You could even do an all-cardio HIIT workout, although if your goal is to change your body composition and create a leaner thigh, you are probably best off doing weighted strength exercises as the high intensity part of your workout.
One consideration with HIIT is that because of its intensity, you’ll need to mix in other types of workouts. The intensity of HIIT is high enough to warrant adequate recovery, and if you’re trying to change your body composition, it’s important to keep active on your days off.
For most people, 2–3 days per week of high intensity is plenty. It’s important to mix in some cardio days and other forms of recovery, such as yoga and other gentle movement, to keep your body strong, recovered, and ready for the next big push.
Yes, you read that right. Many people underestimate the impact strength training has on body fat, because the calorie burn elicited from a single training session is so much lower than what you burn when doing HIIT or cardio exercise (7).
However, research has shown that having more muscle on your body means you burn more calories (
And while your calorie deficit might not increase by a huge amount, recent research on mice suggests that weight training sets off a hormonal reaction in the body that stimulates fat cells to break down in a process called cellular crosstalk (9,
Why? Well, other studies in mice have found that fatty acids released into the bloodstream after fats break down may actually help with tissue repair (
In other words, when muscle fibers break down during weight training, fat cells jump in to help rebuild.
Don’t forget good old cardio for fat burning. By combining it with a strength-based interval training plan and at least one day per week of recovery, you can keep your metabolic fires burning with a couple of good cardiovascular workouts during the week.
You can mix and match your modality (running, biking, or swimming, for example) and the type of cardio workout you do to keep your body and mind interested and responsive.
Long, slow distance cardio
Long, slow distance, or LSD, is an easy workout to get into if you have a bit of time to dedicate to the task. It’s a cardio workout done at a lower intensity for a longer duration.
For instance, a slightly longer swim at a slower speed or even a long, gentle hike in the woods. Intensity is not a goal of this workout, just endurance.
You will burn primarily fat for energy in this type of workout, and while the ultimate calorie burn level is lower, it’s still fuel for the fire of your goal of getting leaner. An LSD workout is good for endurance and can be used as a recovery workout if the intensity is suitably low (
While reducing fat through diet and exercise is your best bet for shaping your inner thighs, keeping the muscles strong will still give you that nice lean look. Here are some effective exercises to target this area.
1. Sumo squat
- Set your feet out wide, turning toes out to about the 10:00 and 2:00 positions. Hold a dumbbell for added resistance.
- Keep your chest up high as you bend your knees, keeping knees pointed out over toes. As you come up out of the sumo squat, squeeze your abs, glutes, and inner thighs.
- Do 2 sets of 12–15 reps.
2. Side lunge
- Stand tall with your feet together. Hold a dumbbell at your chest for added resistance.
- Step out with your right leg and begin sending your hips back as you bend your right knee. During the descent, your knee should not move more than about 2 inches beyond your toes and you should keep your knee aligned between your second and third toe.
- Push off with your right leg to return to a standing position.
- Repeat on the left leg to complete 1 rep.
- Do 2 sets of 12–15 reps.
3. Curtsy lunge
- Stand tall with your feet together.
- Step your right leg behind the left, bending both knees and pulling both knees slightly toward the midline to squeeze your inner thighs.
- As you stand to exit the curtsy lunge, you can either tap your right foot or lift the knee for a greater intensity and balance challenge.
- Repeat on the right side for 10–12 reps.
- Repeat on the left, and then do an additional set on each side.
- Stand with your feet together, knees slightly flexed, and abdominals engaged.
- Push off with your right leg to hop to your left, allowing yourself to leave the floor on the way.
- As you land on your left leg, cross your right leg slightly behind, in a small curtsy lunge, hinged forward at the hip.
- Return to the right side with a small hop to complete the first full rep.
You can do these faster as more of a power move with a strong cardio effect or go slower with emphasis on range of motion. Either way, you’ll strengthen your inner thighs along with your glutes and abdominals.
5. Side-lying adduction
- Lie on the floor on one side with your top leg bent and dropped forward, supporting your top leg with a yoga block or a pillow for comfort if necessary.
- Extend your bottom leg long. Keep hips stacked as you lift your bottom leg, engaging your abdominals as you lift and lower your leg.
- Do 15–20 reps before switching to the other side and repeating. Do a total of 2 sets on each side.
Social media sites often tout the benefits of “fascia blasting” for fat loss, the idea being that your fascia (broad bands of connective tissue throughout your body) contributes to the appearance of fat on your body.
The “blasting” part of this equation involves buying a certain product and using it in an admittedly painful process of massaging areas of your body to reduce fat and the appearance of cellulite.
Unfortunately, there has been only one study of this method, and it was both funded and performed by the manufacturer of the product (15).
A search of the Better Business Bureau shows a pattern of complaints (16).
While fascia blasting may yet offer some benefits, the evidence does not suggest that it’s as effective as diet and exercise in sculpting shapely thighs.
When it comes to reshaping our bodies, we are limited to a large degree by the genetic lot we draw at birth. Some of us are just not meant to have thigh gap, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change anything about our shape.
By sculpting our muscles with strength training and keeping lean with HIIT and cardio, we can have beautifully strong legs of many shapes and sizes.