Diet, yes. Hormones and genetics too. But mostly it’s all about learning to love the lunge
1. What’s the one killer move to get leaner legs?
If I had to pick a single move I’d probably go for walking lunges. Aim to do 10 on each leg or set a distance of about 20 metres. Repeat 3x. Add a good 5 seconds hold as you sink into the lunge before stepping into the next.
If you want to work harder, you can even add little pulses through your buttocks to that hold for another 5-10 seconds.
NB: your lunge technique should be perfect before executing a whole series of walking lunges, so:
- Stand with your legs hip width apart and take a big step forward with the right foot. The front (right) knee should be above, not in front of, your ankle.
- Make sure your knee points slightly outwards and press through the heel and outside of that foot.
- Bend the back (left) leg so the knee just hovers above the ground.
- Your hips should be square, slightly hinge forward from your hips to guarantee a straight back and more load through the glutes.
- Make sure your body weight sits just behind that front heel and you keep the shoulders retracted, chest proud and belly button drawn to your spine.
Hot tip: Take the stairs. Always. Everywhere. Anytime. No more elevators, no more escalators.
2. Why does it work?
A walking lunge works a whole lot of leg muscles at the same time. What’s more, maintaining balance and proper positioning through the exercise also activates the core and the stabilizer muscles. Thighs, calves, glutes, and hamstrings will be worked. A lunge sequence can be integrated in any cardio session (best in interval or fartlek style, as it burns more calories).
Climbing stairs works the same muscles used in lunges. (Good news also for us women, it automatically trains the pelvic floor, too). However, it still needs good technique to be properly effective – make sure you place your feet fully and flat onto each stair instead of tip-toeing up or down, and don’t let your knees fall inwards.
Hot tip: Approach your goals in a holistic way – so rather than focus on a single ‘magic’ exercise, think about everything that’s involved to reach a target and bear in mind that once attained, maintaining it will require a change of habits, if not lifestyle.
3. How do we get leaner legs?
Number 1 – eat well.
You can’t get slimmer legs without reducing all-over body fat – and that means cutting out the bad calories from your daily diet.
Let’s face it, for most people, the problem is not that we don’t know how to eat healthy and lean. It’s that we cheat, or find excuses about not having the time or lifestyle to stick to our nutrition plan. Without writing another “how-to-eat-well” guide I’m going to mention just a few well-known do’s and don’ts. So for best results:
- Eat wholesome and balanced, complex carbs only, no sugar, no juice, no sodas, no alcohol, loads of greens and other vegetables, drink sufficient amount of still, filtered water.
- Stick to as much unprocessed and fresh food as possible.
- Don’t overeat, but have 3 main meals a day and healthy snacks in between to keep your blood sugar level constant (eat every 3-4 hrs).
- Cut out vegetable oil and any deep fried food, and as much dairy and soy as possible. Stick to good fats like extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil etc.
- Cut out products labelled ‘low fat’.
- Always read food labels and avoid products which contain chemicals i.e. preservatives, colour, flavour, any E…’s, etc.
Hot tip: Boil water (1-2 litres) in the morning and drink it hot (but drinkable) from a thermos throughout the day. This is a simple Ayurvedic remedy to detox, reduce hunger attacks and stimulate the peristaltic motion.
Number 2 – exercise.
The more you ‘surprise’ your muscles, they better they’ll respond – so blend/do many different workouts and/or sports.
Don’t only focus on your legs – we need to lose overall body fat to get to those leaner pins. Running, swimming, (indoor) rock climbing, cycling, dancing, rollerblading, Barre, Pilates, fast-paced team sports i.e. basketball or touch rugby are great in addition to strength training.
Start with functional training and light weights to strengthen your stabiliser muscles and ligaments before you go over to heavier resistances. Use TRX, free weights and bodyweight exercises instead of machines.
Train your bottom as much if not more than your legs. A lifted and toned bum automatically makes your legs look leaner and longer. Do squats of all varieties, lunges of all kinds, side-lying glute work i.e. leg circles, clamshells, side-lying leg press (at TenPilates we’re famous for the effectives of our rear work), and some inner thigh work.
Number 3 – hormonal balance.
If you talk to nutritionists, endocrinologists or BioSignature practitioners, you might find it interesting to hear that your hormonal profile is responsible for where your body stores fat and that hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain (or loss).
US Nutritionist and BioSignature practitioner Paula Owens has written an overview about this subject on her blog (thepowerof4-paula.blogspot.co.uk). Check out her views on hormones and weight gain, and how oestrogen dominance/low progesterone is partly the reason why females store fat around the waist, thighs and hamstrings.
Number 4 – go with your genetics.
Last, but not least, everybody is different in figure. Short, tall, straight athletic type, or apple, pear, hourglass type… once you’ve dealt with all variables (the factors we can change) like maintaining a normal weight and good level of fitness, as well as having had a look into your hormonal profile, we should learn to love our genetics as they are.
Plastic surgery is of course an option. Though a better – and, frankly, healthier – option is to embrace the ‘fit not thin’ ethos, enjoy the fact that we actually have two healthy, functional legs, and focus on loving them and keeping them strong and toned.