With the Christmas party season fast approaching, it’s time to get the legs back out for one last time in 2017. Sadly, despite the best of intentions, completing a celebrity workout DVD once a week is not going to get you the results you’re after.
So how can we really tone up our lower body, while at the same time losing belly fat?
Chris Wharton, co-owner and director of the Better Body Group, explained it is important to understand the whole concept of ‘toning’ is bit of a misnomer.
He said: “For argument’s sake let’s say that those looking to ‘tone’ their legs are aiming to firm up the areas that are covered in a layer of fat.”
“This can only be achieved by combining the following…”
1. Create a calorie deficit
No amount of squats and lunges will ever get rid of the fat on your legs – or any other part of your body for that matter – unless you are in a calorie deficit. I sound like a broken record when I tell people this, but it is literally impossible to lose body fat without burning off more calories than you consume on a consistent basis.
The easiest way to achieve this is by lowering your food intake and moving more. Set yourself a calorie target and focus on eating nutrient rich whole foods – consisting of vegetables, lean meats and fish, and some complex carbohydrates around workouts. Also aim to avoid drinking too many calories, dodge the lattes, smoothies and booze where possible as they are guilty of pushing you over your calorie target with very little nutritional value.
2. Include resistance training
Another common misconception is that ‘toning’ is achieved by endless repetitions of an exercise using light weights. Incorrect.
Muscles themselves do not ‘tone’ or get more firm, they simply shrink or grow in size. To achieve a more ‘toned’ look you must include some resistance training. At this point a lot of people – particularly women – are concerned that lifting heavier weights will cause them to bulk up. This is simply not true. Women possess a fraction of the testosterone of their male counterparts, and as such will find it much harder to get ‘big’. What’s more, if you are training in a calorie deficit it’s even harder to bulk up. The good news is that lifting heavy weights is the quickest way to achieve the toned physique you are looking for.
Aim to train with a resistance that causes fatigue between 8-12 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps with a weight, it is simply not heavy enough.
Also include exercises that hit every muscle group rather than just smashing the legs every session. Compound lifts such as press ups, pull ups, deadlifts and lunges will help boost overall calorie burn, increase total fat free mass, and improve your resting metabolic rate.
Chris added that while it is true you cannot choose where you lose your fat from, it is still wise to focus on working the legs to fatigue with a variety of exercises 2-3 times per week as part of your overall training plan.
Sadly, not all leg exercises are created equal. Here’s a few of Chris’ favourites to get you started:
1. Squat pause
- A staple inclusion to any exercise programme, the squat is still king when it comes to creating shape and tone in the legs. Compound exercises like these are also great for burning a ton of extra calories and raising your resting metabolic rate.
- Start with your feet standing shoulder width apart with toes pointing at eleven o’clock and one o’clock.
- Keeping your chest proud, lower down into a full squat position until your upper leg just passes parallel to the ground.
- Pause at the base for 2-3 seconds.
- As you drive up, be sure to push your knees out and imagine you are screwing your heels into the floor, this will help prevent your knees from collapsing inwards.
- Squeeze the thighs and glutes at the top before repeating 10-12 times.
2. Reverse slide lunges
A challenging variation on the normal lunge, adding a slide board will help engage more of the smaller, stabilising muscles of the lower body whilst still working the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
- Place a towel or slider underneath one foot whilst standing up straight and facing forward.
- Slide the towel back with one foot and allow the knee to drop into a lunge position.
- Keeping your chest proud, drive up from the static leg back, thrusting the hips forward, back up into the standing position.
- Squeeze thighs and glutes at the top and repeat 10-12 times on each leg.
- Hold a weight such as a kettlebell to add more resistance.
3. Barbell hip thrust
This is my favourite lower body exercise. No set of ‘toned’ legs would be complete without working the rear. The hip thrust has been shown to engage more muscle mass in the glutes than any of the other compound lifts mentioned above. Add in these hip dominant thrusts to engage the glutes and hamstrings to help compliment your new shapely thighs.
- Begin seated on the ground with a bench directly behind you, whilst resting your shoulder blades on the bench.
- Hold a padded barbell over your hips, bend your legs and keep your feet shoulder width apart.
- Begin the movement by driving through your feet, extending your hips vertically through the bar.
- Keep your feet flat and use the bench to support your weight.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top then slowly lower the bar back to the starting point.
Note – If you do not have access to a bench or barbell, simply replicate the move on the floor using one leg at a time.
But if you think that nailing loads of lower body exercises will automatically qualify you for a toned set of pins, you are in for an unpleasant surprise.
Chris said: “It requires a whole makeover of your lifestyle – specifically your nutrition – to reduce body fat from anywhere on the body. The success formula comprises a calorie deficit, whole body compound exercises and body part specific drills, like those mentioned above, for your legs to really start taking shape.”
Chris Wharton is the Co-owner and Director of the Better Body Group, a chain of gyms in the South East that specialises in body transformation, injury rehabilitation and improving fitness performance, all delivered by graduate-level personal trainers. Find out more on the website www.betterbodygroup.co.uk/