Get Strong, Sexy Legs: The Anatomy of Your Leg Muscles
Thinner Thighs in 30 Days
Last fall, with the help of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition's Risk Factor Obesity Program lab, I tried an experiment. I did every exercise I routinely avoid on the chance it would make my legs look like Schwarzenegger's: dozens and dozens of squats and lunges each week combined with the stairclimber and Spinning classes. And a funny thing happened. I lost 10 percent of the fat from each thigh in four weeks, according to the lab's DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) body scanner. By eight weeks, during which I also stuck to around a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, I'd lost more than an inch from each thigh. Try that with Spanx.
"You can change the composition of your legs -- the ratio of fat to lean mass," Dr. Wright says."Increasing your strength and endurance will lead to a change in how your legs look. Strong legs are shapely legs." And there was my proof in the form of the X-ray-like DEXA readouts, which showed that the grayish halo representing the fat on my thighs was shrinking.
But here's the kicker: The darker center consisting of my quads and hamstrings wasn't busting at the seams after those gazillion squats. In fact, it had pretty much stayed put, which is the moral of this story. If I hadn't done those thigh-frying reps while I was dieting, my muscles probably would have shrunk a little, too, and along with them, my metabolism. (You can find the 1,500-calorie diet I followed as well as the Love Your Legs workout at fitnessmagazine.com/sexylegs.)
Stronger legs may indeed be a secret to staying slim. "When you increase the strength and endurance of your legs, it generally makes it easier to exercise and move around, leading to greater physical activity throughout the day. You burn more calories overall," McCarthy says. In fact, a University of Alabama at Birmingham study found that women who maintained weight loss one year after dieting had much greater leg strength than those who didn't.
Certain data from the SizeUSA study seem to back up this research. It found that the circumference of an average woman's thigh ranged from 24 inches for active women under age 45 to 26 1/2 inches for less active women of the same ages. That's a two-and-a-half-inch difference. (Of course, there are cases in which bigger can mean better -- see the superfit thighs of Serena Williams.)
As for me, my legs are now about as lean as they were when I was a competitive distance runner. For the first time in 10 years I fit into my favorite pair of Levi's, the ones I bought right after college, and I finally zipped my athletic calves into a pair of tall boots. But the best part of all? Becoming a shank steak.
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