Toning Your Body -- and Your Thighs
By Miriam E. Nelson, PhD
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
For many people -- particularly women -- hips and thighs are trouble spots. Efforts to achieve slim, trim thighs can seem futile, especially since exercise and diet won't necessarily reduce fat in the places you'd like. Though you target your stomach, the excess fat may come off your bottom, or vice versa. Still, dedication to exercise combined with good nutrition will trim fat throughout your body and help you tone all over, including your thighs.
Cardiovascular and Aerobic Exercise
Not only does aerobic exercise keep your heart and mind strong, but it can also help to make hips and legs more shapely and stronger. Exercise can't change your DNA; it can only do so much to counteract a genetic disposition to, say, cellulite or a particular leg and hip shape. But a good sweat will keep you healthier and firm up whatever you have inherited from your parents.
Many women trying to trim down shy away from strength training because they fear they will "bulk up" -- exactly the opposite of what they want. But unless you are eating a very high-calorie diet, bulking up -- which requires heavy weight lifting -- is unlikely. The benefits of strength training for hips and thighs are twofold: Your legs will look and feel more toned and shapely. You will be stronger so that aerobic exercise, as well as daily physical activities, will be easier and more fun.
Strength training is a type of weight training that emphasizes low weights and high reps, as opposed to the "bulk-up" type of weightlifting. Strength training helps to burn calories more effectively, enabling you to trim body fat. In addition, you'll burn more calories during your aerobic workout and even when you're sleeping because you have more muscle, which is metabolically active.
Going for It
There are a wide variety of exercises you can do at a fitness center or with strength-training equipment. Using machines such as the leg press, leg (knee) extension, leg (knee or hamstring) curl and the hip abductor/hip adductor are great ways to get started.
If you don't have access to equipment, you can use your own body weight as resistance during lower body exercises, which can be very effective in toning and firming calves, hips, and thighs.
Below are a few strengthening exercises to get you started. If you have a health condition that limits your activity, check with your physician before doing any form of exercise. You might also want to consult with an expert trainer at your gym, who can show you how to use the machines safely and effectively.
Side Leg Raise
Originally published November 27, 2002.
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