Want to lean out your thighs? You won’t believe what you’ve been missing…
Okay, maybe it’s a cheap shot that I’m buying into the whole Upworthy practice of writing ridiculous headlines! Now that I’ve gotten your attention…Recent conversation with two girl friends of mine reveal that I wasn’t the only one a bit self-conscious of my thigh area. This seems like a more common nuisance among asian girls, whether genetically or culturally, as our mamas love to call them “childbearing hips” and move on to comment on our other body parts as they usually see fit. Asian moms mean well, I’m sure :)
It shouldn’t be any revelation on my part – girls have been subconscious of how they look for centuries. What’s ironic to me is how small my two friends are in contrast to me. They’re both really fit girls who know how to take care of their body. Our conversation took an inevitable turn and they asked me for workout advice to tone and lean out their legs. I’m both surprised and flattered that they’re seeking advice from me. After all, I only started weight-training like what…6-7 weeks ago (and may I add, only on the weekends). Though I’m no expert and have no original advice to give, I did recall what my chiropractor told me – 40 seconds as the defining time under tension. I decided to take it upon myself to do a bit of further research (aka doing a lot of Google searches).
I love lists and categorizing, don’t you?
I took the liberty of outlining some areas to consider in a list:
– genetic predisposition
– caloric input vs. output
– body composition
– hypertrophy vs. strength
“Genetics do play a role, in that women tend to carry more fat in the upper legs and hips than do men.” – This fact taken from an article from the Dailymail.co.uk “Femail” section doesn’t surprise me a bit. However the next paragraph says that “Scientists, led by researchers at Oxford University and the Medical Research Council, looked at the genetic code of more than 77,000 people, and found 13 gene locations that may influence fat deposition on the hips.” Does that mean you should just give up on the whole pursuit of getting slimmer legs?
Genetic predisposition – gender, genetic body fat distribution and body shape, play a huge factor on how our lower body is shaped. Fat on the lower body for women is tricky as it often is the last place to show signs of weight loss. Unless you are genetically lucky in a sense and have naturally slim legs, your body fat % will have to be in an uncomfortable level and drop below 20% or more to achieve the “definition” zone. Many bikini and fitness models will reach this body fat level (15-17%) and some may not be able to menstruate.
Caloric input vs. output
This seems very logical and has been a long-standing formula for manipulating weight. When your caloric output is greater than your caloric input, you lose weight. It seems simple and all, except that it completely neglects the type of food you’re putting in your body and the type of exercises you should do. Certainly, one boiled egg which is equivalent to a chocolate bar calorically cannot be regarded as the same nutritionally. Same can be said about the caloric output. Can all exercise whether it’s running, weight training, circuit training, zumba be considered to have the same effect on your body as long as the caloric output is the same?
Another common saying that we’ve been fed growing up in the 90s is the “fat burning zone”. The longer you stay in that zone, the more fat you can burn. Many think that cardio for a sustained period of time can contribute to fat loss.
According to this women’s running site, a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology discovered that regular 30-minute workouts resulted in more weight loss than regular 60-minute workouts. “At the end of the 13-week study, the half hour workout group lost 8.8 pounds, while the one hour workout group lost 8.4 pounds. Scientists hypothesize that our bodies compensate as the exercise session drags on, thereby dampening the results.”
The human body is amazing in adapting to external environments and harsh circumstances. When you train for a long-distance event, your body gets better at it which also means it becomes very efficient in using the least amount of energy possible to complete that event. This can improve your performance in endurance sport but may work against you if your goal is fat loss.
Body Composition and Metabolism
There was a blog post written a while ago that spread like wildfire on the topic of “running makes you fat?” It certainly would be easy for me to jump on that bandwagon and start trash talking all the marathon runners and that they’re setting themselves up to get fat with their training. The logic behind their explanation makes sense to me but I also believe that the human body is very adaptable and our ancestors were probably good at both steady state activities (ex. running or jogging at a steady pace)and burst activites (ex. sprinting).
To give this whole argument a bit more context, these writers hold the point of view that steady state activities, running long distance for example, will enable the body to go into self preservation mode. Some of the reasons include:
- Training consistently above 65% of maximum heart rate shifts the body to salvage as much body fat as possible, ultimately slowing down your metabolism
- After regular training, fat cells stop releasing fat during moderate-intensity activities like they once did.
There are many reasons why one wants to run a marathon. For one, it’s a real and measurable accomplishment. I absolutely admire endurance athletes for their determination and mental toughness (things I wish I have… sigh). However, I find myself siding with the above viewpoint that if your goal is to lean out and lose weight, training to run for 26.2 miles may not be your answer.
I did find some tips on how to prevent your body from going into “self-preservation” mode if you’re continuing your endurance training. Thanks to many more google searches, I stumbled across the Science of Triathlon blog – also listed below.
1. Do not restrict calories intake when initiating endurance training
Isn’t that the first thing we girls do when we want to get that beach-ready body – ramp up the cardio and cut down on calories. According to Science of Triatholon, that’s the last thing you should do. Generally you’d notice the weight loss as your caloric output exceeds your normal calorie intake 4-6 weeks into training.
2. Eat Fat!
You heard that right. Gone are the days of the 90’s way of thinking. Fat is essential for hormone production and absorption of vitamin D. Not eating fats during endurance training would only mean your body hoards the fat even more.
3. When you’re training hard, think about what that food does for you nutritionally before you put it in your body.
Here are some opposing viewpoints around this whole “running makes you fat” issue:
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get to the bottom of my list so keep an eye out for a Part 2 post to discuss the last bullet points (metabolism, hypertrophy vs. strength). You would think fitness experts and trainers could have exhausted this topic by now. The deeper I’ve gotten into my research, the more opposing viewpoints and training methodologies I’ve discovered. Apparently there’s still a lot more to be said. Until then, ladies, what say you, LET’S DO SOME SQUATS! :)