The treadmill is one of the most commonly used pieces of cardio equipment because it can be used by anyone at any level of fitness. Walking and running are effective forms of aerobic activity, but many people don't understand what kind of results to expect. Some women fear that working their legs will cause them to build bulky muscle, but that is not true. Many men who are looking to build muscle assume that running will do the trick, and that's not true either. Your results depend on how you use the treadmill and what else you are doing to reach your fitness goals.
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The Importance of Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is important for everyone, no matter what your fitness goals are. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 2 1/2 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week for healthy adults to decrease their risk of chronic disease, but you should do even more if you want to lose weight. The term "moderate exercise" means that you are working at 45 percent to 69 percent of your maximal heart rate (220 minus your age), but if you can talk but not sing, that's a good indication that you're in the correct range. If your workout is easier, you aren't getting as much benefit. If your workout is harder, you are at an increased risk of injury.
To Shrink Your Legs
Simply walking or running on the treadmill will not build big leg muscles. If you have very little muscle, it may increase the appearance of some of your leg muscles over time, but they will not bulk up. The most a treadmill workout will do is tone your muscles, which will give you a leaner, tighter look. If you want to make your legs thinner, you must lose fat -- building a little lean muscle will help with that because muscle burns more calories than fat. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, six days per week. Try incorporating sprint intervals to boost your calorie burn. Don't worry -- big leg muscles do not happen by accident.
To Bulk Up Your Legs
On the other hand, if you are trying to build muscle in your legs, you must take a different approach to your treadmill workout. To build muscle, you have to strain the muscle. Keep working at a moderate pace, but slow your speed a little and compensate with incline. This slows your calorie burn -- you need your calories to build muscle -- and encourages tiny muscle tears that form new growth as they heal during recovery (overnight). A treadmill workout described in "Fitness" magazine keeps a steady 4 mph pace but varies the incline from 2 percent to 12 percent. This allows you to concentrate on strength rather than endurance.
Mix It Up
Whatever your fitness goal, it is important to mix up your routine. Performing the same workout every day allows your body to become comfortable with it, and you see diminishing returns as your body becomes more efficient at working that way. Try speed intervals to lose fat or high-incline intervals to build muscle. Do both occasionally, or try a different form of cardio altogether. By varying your routine, you can avoid a plateau.
Consider Your Diet
Diet is an important factor for both weight loss and muscle growth. To lose fat, you must burn more calories than you consume. To build muscle, you must consume more calories than you burn. Neglecting your diet will keep you from seeing your results. Your toned muscles may still be covered with fat, and your incline workouts may actually shrink your muscles if you're not eating enough to allow for muscle growth. Eat a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and limit sugar and saturated fat. This way, it's not so much a temporary diet but a lifestyle change that will help you reach and maintain your goals.
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