Tight abs and muscular legs come from hard work at the gym. While cardio helps you burn the fat from these areas, it's the work you do to target these muscles that build and define your physique.
What makes the best ab and leg workout depends on your specific goals. To develop long, lean muscles that work functionally without a lot of bulk, go for Pilates or Ballet Barre. If, however, you want to create solid, muscular legs and a six-pack, classic strength training is your best bet.
Classic Strength Training
Strength training using resistance from dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or machines is an old standby for a reason — these tools build muscle and strength. You don't have to do fancy moves to get results. The best workouts for your abs and legs from a classic strength-training perspective include moves such as:
Back squats: Place a loaded barbell on the back of your shoulders as you squat.
Goblet squats: Hold a dumbbell in front of like a chalice as you squat.
Hamstring curls: Use the leg curl machine to pull weight toward your buttocks.
Forward lunges: Hold dumbbells or a loaded barbell on the backs of your shoulders as you alternate lunges.
Kettlebell swings: Use your hips to propel a kettlebell forward and back to train your abs and upper legs.
Deadlifts: Bend your knees and hips to lift and lower a heavy barbell or dumbbells.
Hanging leg raises: Hold onto a pull-up bar and draw your knees up toward your shoulders.
Woodchops: Set a cable machine at its lowest height, face it sideways and pull the handles from the outside of your foot to above your shoulder.
Plank: Get into the top of a push-up position and hold for 30 seconds or longer.
Dinky weights won't bring change. Use resistance that makes you fatigued by the last two or three efforts in a set of eight to 12 reps. Work your way up to three sets of your chosen exercises.
Pilates, both on the mat and with equipment such as the reformer, focuses on the "powerhouse," the name Joseph Pilates gave to the muscles of the hip, back and abs. A Pilates workout might look easy, but looks can be deceiving. It requires a good deal of control and strength from deep internal muscles. Head to a class or steal a few moves to create a solid leg and ab workout.
Several of Pilates' exercises are more effective than the classic crunch when it comes to ab training. For example, the IDEA Health and Fitness Association reported that the Teaser is 266 percent more effective in training the external obliques, which are side stabilizing muscles, and the Roll-Up is 38 percent more effective in training your front ab muscle, the rectus abdominus, and 245 percent better at training the external obliques.
In all Pilates movements, keep your torso stable and be very deliberate in your action.
Leg circles: Lie on your back and extend your right leg on the floor while reaching the left leg to the ceiling. Point your left toe and draw precise circles with the left leg in both directions, then switch.
Roll ups: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet planted. Reach your arms by your hips as you roll your upper body one vertebra at a time up out of the mat. Avoid jerking or kicking to get up.
Teaser: Lie on your back and extend both legs to a 45-degree angle with the floor. Reach your arms forward and roll your torso up, one vertebra at a time, to create a v-shape with the floor. Pause and return to the start.
Pilates emphasizes quality over quantity. Go for perfect form and complete just six to eight repetitions of each move.
Dance and fitness are old friends. Ballet barre classes combine classic dance techniques with calisthenics, yoga poses and Pilates to create a workout that tones your legs and tightens your core. A class is your best option as you'll benefit from expert instruction.
The exercises target multiple muscle groups at once and challenge you in a way that traditional strength-training misses, so you may be sore and shaky in ways you don't expect. Some sample ballet barre moves include:
Plank with core hold: Get into a classic plank position on your hands and toes. Draw your right knee into your chest and round your back slightly. Hold for three to five counts and repeat with the other side. Alternate for about 10 rounds.
Lunge scoop and reach: Get into a lunge position with the right foot forward and the left leg back. Bend your right knee and reach your arms overhead, interlacing the fingers. Exhale and round your spine as you bring your cupped hands in front of your chest and bend your left knee toward the floor. Return to the start position. Do 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
Power Legs: Stand and face the back of a chair or counter and place your hands on the elevated surface. With your feet hip-distance apart, lift your heels up and bend your knees. Hold as you keep your knees lined up with your toes and draw your belly in toward your spine. Pulse up 1 inch and back down 10 to 15 times.