While leg strengthening exercises are best to build muscle on your lower body, there are some cardio machines that can help reduce your body fat while increasing definition in your legs, giving you a toned muscular look.
The 6 best cardio machines to tone your legs are:
- Curved Treadmill
- Stair Climber
- Upright Bike
- Assault Air Bike
- Rowing Machine
In this article, I’ll tell you which of these machines you should do based on your goals and how to integrate them into your workout program.
Toned Legs & The Spot-Reducing Myth
Before we get started, it’s first important to establish the myth of spot reduction.
This refers to the belief that targeted exercise can reduce body fat in a specific place in your body.
For example, doing leg exercises will help you lose body fat in your lower body only.
This is actually not true.
When you exercise and burn fat, this can occur in any part of your body and this greatly depends on your genetics.
So while some people may lose body fat in their lower body first and see a difference in their face last, it may be the complete opposite for others.
What specific exercises can do, however, is grow muscle in whichever part they’re targeting.
So if you want to tone your legs, gain some definition as well as strength, then workouts that target the lower body is beneficial.
While strength sessions are best, in this article, we are going to run through the best cardio machines that can also help give you that toned look for your lower body.
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6 Best Cardio Machines To Tone Legs
It’s no surprise that the treadmill is one of the best cardio machines to tone legs. By walking and/or running or both, you’ll be giving your lower body a good workout, not to mention, your cardiovascular endurance.
To get the best results though, you need to ensure that you are maintaining the correct form and posture while on the treadmill.
- Look straight ahead with your torso upright. Once you’re more comfortable with running on the treadmill, you can incorporate a slight torso forward lean.
- Try not to tense your shoulders and bunch them up to your neck. Keep them down and back.
- Engage your core so that you are balanced and keep your arms loose by your side. Don’t tense them too much.
- As you run, focus on the length of your strides. Keep your feet under your hips so that you’re not taking too much of a step forward and overextending. It’s better to have a shorter and quicker stride.
- Land on the balls of your feet and keep it as light as possible. Being heavy footed won’t do you any favors and will make it much harder to run on the treadmill. To land lightly, you need to relax your body.
Now that you have the posture down, you can increase the difficulty to ensure that you’re constantly challenging yourself because in order to tone your legs and improve muscle definition and endurance, you need to be working harder with each session.
With the treadmill, speed is not the only factor you can focus on to constantly challenge yourself. The incline that you run on is also a measurement of progress. It’ll give you a more intense leg workout as your muscles need to work harder to fuel your uphill run.
Related Article: 10 Types of Cardio Workouts For Fat Loss (That Actually Work)
2. Curved Treadmill
You may have seen curved treadmills becoming popular in the gym. The belts on these treadmills have a concave shape with no monitor.
The purpose of the curved treadmill is to better enable a natural human movement and stride so that you can run with proper foot technique. It is also a great option for those looking for a low-impact machine for your joints.
Apart from the curved belt shape, the main difference from a normal treadmill is that this one is completely self-powered (sort of like sprinting outside).
Because it doesn’t rely on a conveyor belt to move, it actually relies on you and the effort you put in to generate leg drive and power to run. As such, you’ll be recruiting more of your hamstring and glutes to use the curved treadmill, also engaging your core to keep stable.
Here are some tips on how to use the curved treadmill:
- Position yourself near the front of the treadmill. You may find that you need to take shorter strides as well.
- Keep your upper body upright and face forward. Look straight ahead.
- Ensure that when you swing your arms while running that your elbows don’t come too forward in front of the body. Keep your elbows back.
Unlike the typical treadmill, there is no speed or incline levels that you can adjust to make it more challenging.
If you want the curved treadmill to go faster, then you’re going to have to run faster.
Just be careful if you’re new to this type of cardio machine. Get comfortable with using the concave conveyor belt first, both for sprinting and jogging for longer periods of time, before you try to up the stakes.
Check out our article on the Top 5 Cardio Machines For Weight Loss.
3. Stair Climber
The stair climber or stepper is one of the best machines you can use to improve your cardiovascular endurance while simultaneously working on your muscle definition in your lower body.
It involves the repetitive motion of climbing stairs, which provides big focus on your legs and glutes. Not to mention, it is a versatile machine so you can mix things up and change your stance, direction, and levels.
First, we’re going to take a look at how to perform the typical, stair climber posture on the pedal stepper (the most common stair climber machine). Master this stance and you’ll be able to use it as a foundation for the other versions of the stair climber.
- Look straight ahead with a slight forward lean of your torso at the hips.
- Rest your fingertips or hands lightly on the bars provided. Don’t put too much of your upper body weight on it otherwise you’ll be using too much support from your arms and taking away work from the legs.
- Take one step at a time, planting your entire foot onto the pedal. Engage your core at the same time so that you keep stable.
Likewise with the treadmill, changing the speed is one way to really work your legs. On a stair climber cardio machine, this is referred to as levels, with each level representing a certain number of steps per minute.
To increase your leg toning results, you can also change your stance from a normal, upright posture to a squat. By getting down low, you’ll really feel the burn in your lower body, particularly your glutes and quads.
You can also focus on a single leg by side stepping instead of facing forward. This will target more of the gluteus medius (side part of the glute) vs gluteus maximus (the underside of the glute).
Finally, with the stair climber, you can also add resistance to the movement by wearing a weighted vest. If you can do 10-minutes of consistent stepping with your own bodyweight, at a moderate pace, then you can consider adding a weighted vest.
Related Article: Cardio for Beginners: 6 Mistakes to Avoid (Plus 3 Workouts)
4. Upright Bike
There are different indoor bicycle types you may find at your gym, but the better one for your legs is the upright bike (as opposed to the recumbent bike). The upright bike better emulates the outdoor bicycles and so offers optimal results to toning your lower body.
Here are some tips to consider:
- Firstly, you need to adjust the seat so that it’s at a height that’s appropriate for you. You want to be able to keep both feet on the pedals comfortably, with your knee slightly bent at the bottom position.
- Move the seat forward so that your front foot is beneath your knee when your pedal is parallel to the ground.
- If you need to adjust the handlebars as well, do so, so that you can comfortably hold onto them. However, make sure that you’re not gripping it too tightly and causing your upper body to tense up. Keep it loose and relaxed with slightly bent elbows.
- Lean forward with your torso slightly and ensure you engage your core.
The great thing about the upright bike is that it tones all parts of your legs. Your quads and dominant when you push the pedal down, switching to your hamstrings as you bring the pedal back up.
To challenge yourself further, increase the intensity so that there is more resistance acting against you as you cycle.
Read our other article that answers Are Exercise Bikes Good For Weight Loss?
5. Assault Air Bike
The assault air bike is another type of indoor cycling that is challenging and a great workout for your legs.
It comes with two independent handlebars that you move back and forth as you ride. The resistance comes from the large fan situated at the front of the bike that generates air to ride against. The amount of resistance you generate depends on how hard you pedal; the harder you work, the higher the resistance.
Here is how you should set yourself up on the assault air bike so that you can perform it correctly and get the best results for leg drive:
- Adjust the seat height so that you can comfortably rest the ball of your foot on the pedal even when it’s in the bottom position, with a slight bend in the knee.
- When it comes to moving the seat back and forth, this really depends on you. The seat being closer to the front makes your indoor cycling more quad-dominant. However, moving the seat a little further back will engage the posterior chain. To determine what works best for you, give it a go moving the seat in different positions.
- Try to look straight ahead while cycling. Many people bobble their head back and forth because their arms are moving at the same time, which is fine occasionally but looking forward with your head and eyes will keep your head in a neutral position.
It’s also really important to note that despite being able to move the bike back and forth with your arms, don’t rely on arm power to cycle.
This is a leg-dominant exercise and depending too much on your arms will actually tire you out faster, as your upper body doesn’t have as much endurance as your lower body. So use the arm pedals but only to a certain degree; it’s all about the legs.
A lot of people use the assault bike for HIIT workouts. Check out our article on the benefits of HIIT cardio compared to steady state.
6. Rowing Machine
The rowing machine not only works your lower body but also your upper body and abdominal muscles as well.
The main legs muscles used with the rowing machine are the quads, calves and glutes but to really reap the benefits of this cardio machine, you need to execute proper form, which we’ll go through now:
- Sit on the seat and strap your feet into the foot rests.
- Hold onto the handles with both arms. Bend your knees and tuck them into your chest, sliding the seat closer to the handles. Sit up nice and tall.
- Engage your core and push from your legs, driving yourself back. As you do so, simultaneously pull on the handles and lean back slightly. Be sure to keep your back straight though, bringing the handlebar to your chest. Your legs should be straight.
- Once you’ve pulled the machine back, slide the seat back towards the front of the machine, bending your knees and tucking them into your chest. Let the handlebars slide back as well.
- That’s one rep. Continue until you’ve rowed for distance or time.
Sample Workout Using Cardio Machines To Tone Legs
Now that we know the best 6 cardio machines to tone your lower body, here is a sample workout that you can do.
If you would like more ideas though, check out the FitBod app. FitBod will generate a customized training plan and workout session for you depending on your goals and equipment available. Just choose the options that best suit you and see what other workouts it comes up with.
- Rowing machine – 5 minutes warm up
- Stair Climber:
- Minute 1 – Level 6
- Minute 2 – Level 10
- Minute 3 – Level 6
- Minute 4-5 – Level 10
- Minute 6 – Level 6
- Minute 7-9 – Level 12
- Assault Air Bike – 5-min cooldown
Related Article: Are Exercise Bikes Good For Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
If you want to work your lower body while also your cardiovascular endurance, then check out these 6 cardio machines. By performing them with the correct form, you’ll be able to tone your legs while getting your heart rate up. If you would like more ideas, then don’t forget to check out the FitBod app as well.
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.