Can A Treadmill Build Leg Muscle?

Person treadmill running to build leg muscle


By Simon Gould

What sort of leg muscles do you want? Do you want lean and toned leg muscles, or do you want big leg muscles like a bodybuilders. A treadmill can help with both as it’s a versatile piece of equipment. I’ll go through how you can achieve both and how the treadmill can help. First I’ll explain how it can help you get lean and toned leg muscles.

How to get lean and toned leg muscles

These muscles are gained through aerobic exercise. This type of exercise activates the slow twitch muscle fibers. This means the leg muscle isn’t going to get very big but is going to get lean and toned. A treadmill is perfect for this because you get it through endurance activities. So running a longer distance is what you need to do.

A marathon runners legs are full of slow muscle fibers and their legs and very lean and toned. Now that doesn’t mean you need to cover a marathon. But running for 20 or 30 minutes is a very good start. You will be likely to lose weight doing this and your legs will look leaned and toned. If you’re new to running then my couch to 5k routine is designed for the treadmill and for beginners.

The whole body gets toned

While a treadmill primarily builds the legs. Your whole body is affected in a good way. You’ll burn fat in the legs and their shape will be more defined. This will be repeated in your abdominal area. Your bum will also get a more appealing look. If you have big thighs then a good treadmill workout will reduce their size.

A great way of using a treadmill to build leg muscle is to use the incline. You have to work harder to go uphill and this affects the muscles in your legs. Sometimes my legs have felt sore after a workout and this is a good thing. It means the muscles are recovering from the work you’ve put them through and come back stronger.

How to get big leg muscles

Big leg muscles are gained through anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise activates the fast twitch muscle fibers. This will build leg muscles that look bigger and more defined. The shape of the muscles of the legs will be more pronounced. Primarily you will want to lift weighs with your legs and there are a few exercises that can do this.

Sprinters like Usain Bolt have many fast muscle fibers as they need that explosive sprint and you typically can’t do this type of exercise for very long. Exercises will be squats, leg curls, leg extensions and calf raises. You go with the a heavy weight so you can only repeat the exercise 8 to 10 times and for 3 sets, 3 times per week. Over weeks of doing these exercises you will be able to do it with heavier weights.

A treadmill can help build leg muscles but you won’t be doing endurance runs you will be doing sprints and other interval training. I have devised a sprints routine through that link. You may also want to try high intensity interval training. A combination of weight training and a treadmill workout will increase the size of all your leg muscles like the quads, hamstrings and calves.

3 Treadmill workouts to build leg muscle

I’ve divided these workouts into incline, sprint and endurance. Each of these workouts build the legs. They each target your leg muscles in different ways and the benefits will be visible to you. Try all 3 of then and see which one you prefer.

1. Incline workout

This workout will be a walking one. You shouldn’t run on an incline for long as it affects your joints negatively. The incline numbers I’ve given aren’t written in stone. The idea is to walk uphill to put stress on the legs. This is what increases muscle size.

Speed – 2 to 4 mph

Incline – 5% to 15%

Duration – 30 minutes

Set the incline to one that means you can last the full 30 minutes. You don’t need to feel exhausted at the end, but ensure you make it hard on your legs. Feel free to adjust the incline as you go and make it a brisk walk.

2. Sprint workout

This workout will be like high intensity interval training (HIIT). You’ll be sprinting briefly, followed by a brief recovery. So you’ll be changing the speed a lot. The sprints are when the legs will get the most work. It’s a hard workout, but an enjoyable one.

Sprint speed – 7+ mph

Recovery speed – 4 to 6 mph

Incline – None

Duration – 20 minutes

Workout – Sprint for 1 minute, then recover for 1 minute, 10 times

Do a brisk walk for 5 minutes before and after the workout to warm up and cool down. I call it sprint and it should be fast for you but not too fast that you can’t go for the full 20 minutes.

3. Endurance workout

This is a jogging workout and the idea is to build stamina in the legs. This will tone the legs and body the most. This is because you’ll burn the most calories doing this one. You might have to build up over a few weeks to be able to jog for 30+ minutes, but it will give your legs a great workout.

Speed – 4 to 6 mph

Incline – None

Duration – 30+ minutes

As with the sprint workout, warm up and cool down by doing a 5 minute brisk walk.


If you’re a female and you’re worried about getting freakishly large muscles, you’ve no need to worry. Females don’t produce enough testosterone for your muscles to get very large. To summarize you need to build endurance on a treadmill to really help you get lean and toned legs. Also lose weight if you need to which will help improve the shape of your legs especially round the hips and butt.

Big leg muscles require explosive and short exercises which will feel hard to do but the results will be rewarding. Which ever you want to do, remember an exercise routine is very beneficial to your health so stick at it and you will feel wonderful. The shape of your body and your confidence will vastly improve. It’s really not that hard to do and shouldn’t cost you too much either.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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