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February 25, 2013

How to Lean Out Your Legs

The most frequent request I’ve received from clients over my 12 years as a trainer is this: Jill, help me get rid of this belly! My stomach! Help me! :) I get it, and for beginners to living a lean lifestyle, usually it can seem that our waistlines are in the most dire need of attention. We’ve written on that many times. As has Metabolic Effect.

BUT, something happens for many women once they start getting leaner and their stomachs flatter–THE HIPS, BUTT AND THIGHS HOLD ONTO STUBBORN FAT even as the rest of the body gets leaner. In fact, this is THE #1 trouble area for my figure competitor and bikini clients. Everything else seems to tighten up right away but when all is said and done, the saddle bags, inner thighs and cellulite butt remain. Ever happen to you?

I have a confession to make: I have cellulite. I join the ranks of the over 95% of adult women who have at least some visible dimpling. And thinking back, really the only time I have had ZERO was when I was in show shape (<12% body fat) and dehydrated from cutting water and tanned up. Exhibit A, below.

I think it’s important for all of us to realize that most women–even competitors, models, etc have cellulite to varying degrees. Perspective is key here :) BUT, with attention to a few specific practices, it is possible to drastically reduce the appearance of cellulite and also lean out the legs. It can take months and even years, but when it comes to stubborn fat, that’s the price you pay for results (As per usual, Debbie Downer here! Lol.)

And it’s not about burning more and more calories, but about working SMARTER. Why? Because the answer to leaning out the legs lies in understanding hormones, not lowering calories to death. Of course this is an issue of hormones–how else can you explain the fact that women store fat preferentially in the lower body, while men store in their midsections?

Quickie science break-down:

This is more than a caloric issue. In fact, most women who go on a low calorie diet will lose fat from their upper bodies, and none from their lower. Same with many women who embark on marathon training programs, only to end up a more pronounced “pear shape” at the end of it—muscle and fat loss up top and no change to the legs.

This happens because stubborn fat storage is about hormones, not calories, and we store based on 2 types of cell receptors: alpha adrenergic receptors and beta adrenergic receptors. The former encourage fat storage, while the latter release fat. And surprise, surprise! Women have much higher densities of the former in the legs, butt and thighs, while men have a great density of the alpha adrenergic receptors in their midsections.

Not to get too much into the science, but all you need to know if you want to burn fat from stubborn areas is that decreasing alphas and increasing betas is ideal. This is also related to our estrogen to progesterone ratio, so cutting down on non-organic food and coffee, increasing consumption of cruciferous veggies, drinking lemon water, reducing use of plastics and dry brushing can help.

Before You Start, Commit to Consistency

Before I get into some to-dos, I want to point out one thing, and that is that … if you are storing stubborn fat in a specific area, it is going to take a lot more CONSCIOUS EFFORT OVER TIME to see improvement. The women who I work with who compete, many of them have been working on reducing their lower body fat FOR YEARS.

The key to this is CONSISTENCY with training and nutrition, over time. You cannot get around that. You can’t quit the Lean Lifestyle for months and then come back and expect to see results after a couple weeks of effort. Making headway with stubborn fat takes patience and commitment.

Steps To Burn Fat In the Hips, Butt & Thighs

So what are some of the tried and true techniques for reducing lower body fat?

Well, I asked my favorite science nerd, biochemist and the founder of Metabolic Effect Inc, Jade Teta (aka, my husband) to break it down for me:

  • Exercise fasted. This puts the body in a lower-insulin state during exercise, which will suppress ALPHA receptor activity. It also causes us to increase catecholamine hormone production (adrenaline/noradrenaline), which now can preferentially increase BETA receptor activity.
  • Start your workouts with 5-10 minutes of intense sprint training or interval training. Warm-up and then sprint hard for 1 minute. Rest for 1 minute and repeat 5 times.
  • Utilize intense lower body weight training 1-3x per week. Focus on multi-joint movements that recruit a larger amount of muscle mass (don’t focus on just leg curls and extensions). My favorites are lunges, squats, bench step-ups and deadlifts. As always, lift intensely using heavy weights. Incorporate plyometrics like squat jumps, switch jumps and burpees. These power moves elevate the heart rate, incorporating more of a cardio component.
  • End your workout with low slow relaxing walking for at least 30 minutes. This will make sure the increased fat released indeed gets burned rather than restored (increases beta oxidation, not just lipolysis, for you biochem nerds).
  • Drink green tea during the day. It can stimulate fat burning by bypassing the alpha receptors altogether.  But this trick only works when you are eating relatively tiny amounts of starchy foods.

Obviously there are a bunch of other to-dos we could add to this list, but in the interest of keeping things as SIMPLE as possible (ensuring the best chance of us actually doing them), I don’t want to overwhelm. Maybe I’ll do a Lean Legs 2.0 version in the future :)

Until then, try the above and report back!


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