The question I got asked the most in the last 10 years by female clients was ‘How do I get leaner legs and shape up my butt’? Between chicks, it’s definitely a point of intense discussion and debate!
Legs, and how to tone them, strengthen them, suck the fat out of them etc. is also, always a feature on the front page of most women’s health and fitness magazines (they know what matters the most to us girls!!). I’m sure the boys have things they focus on, like chest, arms, abs, whatever, but the legs and butt are a female fascination.
We all get born with an individual shape and size, but we pretty much fit into one of three body types, Ectomorph (Kate Moss), Mesomorph (Halle Barry) and Endomorph (Jennifer Lopez). Your body type will determine those legs: long and leggy, short and rounded, lean and muscular etc.
The three body types are:
- Ectomorph:(thin) characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are not predisposed to store fat nor build muscle.
- Mesomorph:(muscular) characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorphs are predisposed to build muscle but not store fat.
- Endomorph:(curvy) characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat, or chunky. Endomorphs are predisposed to storing fat.
I remember the first time I realised my legs were of interest to anyone, it was in primary school and a boy in my class said, you would make a great footballer with those calves! Now I did not see this as a compliment as such but rather an observation that I had huge calves! It was a shame football was not offered to girls at my school as this could have been my sport!
I think I’m definitely skewed towards the endomorph body type, and I would have to work very hard with a strict diet to achieve really lean legs and even then I’m not really going to fight my natural genetics or ideal bodyweight. A real supermodel body type, Naomi, Claudia, Christy, Elle etc., are apparently 1 in a million genetically, so in the big scheme of things, it’s probably not good to aspire to those shapes.
My sister is a classic Ectomorph and has legs that go on forever, the complete opposite of mine and now her beautiful daughters have inherited them too. School is where you realise we are all different shapes and sizes and sometimes it gets pointed out to us in the most crude manner. Growing up my sis remembers being called a ‘Giraffe’, whilst one of my earliest memories is being chased around the school yard by boys shouting, ‘get the fat one’ and when I looked around, I realised they were talking about me – shock, horror!
The thing to understand is that your body type and structure will always dominate and if you want to change things, specifically the biggest muscles in your body – butt and legs, then you will have to work super hard with a controlled diet and a specified training regime. Cutting back on food and overdoing cardio to achieve skinny legs can often result in deficiencies elsewhere in the body and leave you lacking in nutrients, resulting in a sluggish metabolism and a flat butt!
It’s just as hard to put on muscle and fat for ectomorphs as it is for endormorphs to lose it. Along with our body type, we are also pre-disposed to storing fuel as fat or burning fuel, hence some folk can eat whatever they like and not put on weight, especially when they are younger. So if you know what body type you are, then know it will take a lot more work and determination to get lean legs if you fall into the endomorph category. A few lower body lunges and squats twice a week is not going to cut it! You will have to do some ‘body building’, literally, to re-shape and sculpt your body, combined with a diet to support this.
From my experience, there are some ‘tried and tested’ methods at creating toned legs and dropping inches off the butt and thighs, some of which I’ve highlighted below, but I will share my first ever experience of literally changing my lower half, which happened around 12 years ago. I was really into my running and doing big distances every week, training for an ultra marathon, when disaster hit and I got the dreaded ‘shin splints’, which are hell on earth for any runner. You can try to ice, massage, rest, but if you don’t fully rest, the symptoms keep coming back. I was chronic, so bad that I could barely touch my shins/calves without wincing.
I decided to take 3 months off running to get rid of the inflammation. I was gutted and reverted to aqua-jogging and swimming to try and keep my cardio up. Jack could see my frustration and disappointment, knowing I would lose the fitness I had gained, so he suggested I get a 3 month membership at the nearby leisure club and hit the gym. My program, courtesy of Jack, was the following: 20 minute row on a concept rower (achieve 3,500 metres in 20 mins); 3 x 25 floor to ceilings with 5kg weights, building up to 7kg weights (basically hold a weight in each hand, squat down and rise up, add a bicep curl and a shoulder raise, repeat); 3 x 10 push-ups on the toes; 80 x abdominal exercises and 1 minute of the plank. Done and dusted in 25 minutes!
Now if you’ve ever sat on a rowing machine for 5 minutes, you know how hard it is, hence you can always get on a rower at the gym, but never the treadmill J. Having a goal of 3,500 metres in 20 minutes keeps you honest, no sitting around daydreaming – you are on the clock! So I rowed and rowed 3 x per week, added the weights, push-ups and ab routine and hey presto, 3 months later, I’d changed my body-shape. I personally did not notice anything significant at first, but other people did and started committing on my legs and how they’d seem to have trimmed down! I soon got back into my running, and even though it took a while to work up to the longer mileage again, I felt stronger than before, especially in my hamstrings and butt, thanks to all that rowing!
Now for those of you who are keen to get shapelier, leaner, but definitely not longer, legs and butt read on for a few more tried and tested tips (straight from a endomorph chick who knows!)
- Change your diet: A western diet, foods on our supermarket shelves, take-aways, etc. are full of sugar and ‘bad’ fats and geared at storing food as fat, not the other way around – burning food as fuel! Eat a lot, but the right type of foods. I love hot chips, it’s the quickest way of getting glucose into your body, the starch turns to sugar really quickly and is released into your blood stream to be used or stored: this is great if you are in the middle of running an ultra-marathon and need some glucose at the 80km mark, but not so great if you are going home to sleep for 8 hours and then commuting to work in your car the next day and sitting down for 8 hours!
- Change your diet: I know I’m repeating myself, but this is crucial. An alkaline diet, full of ‘greens’, anything green is ‘God’, will help you with your ‘lean legs’ goal, much quicker than any exercise program. Bulking up on vegetables, salad and proteins and cutting back on grains and starches is all part of the plan. Eat most of your carbs morning and lunch, pack in the big salads, veggies and protein of choice at dinner. You’ll be losing weight and eventually your body will release the weight in your thighs, butt and legs.
- It’s a long-term strategy: pick the longest school term and dedicate that amount of time to your goal. If we could learn or achieve anything in 2 to 3 weeks, then school/college and uni would not be set in chunks of 8 to 12 week blocks. We need consistency over a longer period for any changes to happen; this is true for both mental and physical adaptations.
- Sprinting, of any kind: In my experience this is the most effective way of burning fat fast and causing enough metabolic stress and lactic acid build up to achieve weight-loss in the legs and butt area. A sprint program twice a week can make a significant difference over a 12 week period to both your fitness and body-shape. It’s not nice though! I would book a trainer perhaps, or go to a class that promotes this, or just ‘suck it up’ and do it yourself! I used to do 6 to 10 x 400metre sprints around an oval and I hated every single second, until I finished and then in my head, I had practically won a gold medal for doing it. Incidentally, I was doing sprints to improve my running times, not to lean up my legs, but it helped with both.
- Choose a sprinting session that works for you: if you don’t want to run outdoors then you can do any of the following: treadmill sprints (1 min sprint, 1 min walk or jog for 10 reps); stationery bike (1 min sprint, 1 min slow for 10 reps); Rowing machine (1 min sprint, 1 min slow for 10 reps).
- Weights: Any weighted lunges, squats and dead-lifts are going to build up the muscle in the legs, tone and define them. This takes some guidance to build up slowly and perform each move correctly. Personally I use TRX for resistance training and my own body weight – 1 legged squats definitely achieve a superior burn and that’s what you are aiming for, going beyond your lactate threshold!
- Plyometric work: If you can handle it, then jump squats, box jumps, lunge jumps, tuck jumps etc. will help develop muscle fibres in your legs that will help burn fat. Similar to sprints, these should be included in your weekly program. My favourite: Tabata TRX jump squats 8 x 20 secs jumps with 10 sec rest in-between – ahhh!
- Walking or running up hills or stairs: you cannot beat going up to get your heart rate through the roof and the burn in your legs. There is no doubt in your mind that you are working your lower body and your heart muscle! Always choose the stairs, walk up hills, cycle up hills, add some incline to anything you do and you’ll be working those lower limb muscles. If you are short on time, hit the stairs, find a hill or get on a stair climber. 10 sets of running up stairs/hills and walking down takes a lot of effort – that’s the point!
Unfortunately, lean legs are not something you create in a weekend and for some, the sheer boredom, discipline and routine of dedicating all the time and effort to achieve the legs you want is too much work, unless you are getting paid to look good, sooooo…..
- Love your legs!!…… Finally, watch ‘Me before you’, a very sweet and soppy movie which made me again appreciate and love my legs. Seeing anyone struggle to walk, run or move, due to injury or disability, is a sure-fire way for me to acknowledge how amazing my legs are and to appreciate how far they’ve taken me, we’ve had some great adventures together and I really do love them, however big or small.