There are two major types of fat, the visceral fat that accumulates on the abdomen and produces the classic potbelly and the subcutaneous fat that tends to accumulate around women's hips and thighs. The good news for women, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that subcutaneous fat causes fewer long-term adverse health effects than visceral fat. While knowing that your thunder thighs don't cause diabetes is reassuring, that knowledge doesn't help you fit into your skinny jeans.
The distribution of fat on your body is determined by your age, gender and genetic predisposition. That means that where your body stores the mocha latte and muffin you just ate is not under your control, nor can you choose whether your workout burns fat from your thighs or your breasts. It's impossible to "spot reduce" fat stores by working a specific muscle group. Instead, there are two ways to slim your hips and thighs. First, if you lose overall body fat, eventually you will lose fat from your problem areas. Second, by doing strength training, you can make your hips and thighs firmer and more compact, even without actually losing fat.
Methods of Fat Loss
The only way to lose body fat is to expend more calories than you consume. You can do this by reducing your caloric intake, increasing your metabolic rate or expending more calories through exercise. The Mayo Clinic recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio and two strength-training sessions per week for basic fitness, but adds that many people will need up to 300 minutes a week of cardio for fat loss. Because muscles are more metabolically active than fat, strength training not only firms your hips and thighs but also increases your metabolic rate, helping you lose fat.
Cardio for Burning Fat
Aerobic exercises, which should be performed for at least 10 consecutive minutes at a time for cardiovascular health, are recommended for sustained calorie burning. How many calories you burn doing aerobic exercises depends on your weight and the intensity with which you perform the activity. For example, a 200-pound person will burn 255 calories an hour walking at a leisurely pace and 1,074 calories per hour running at a pace of 8 miles per hour. In practical terms, one large muffin is the equivalent of two hours of slow walking or 30 minutes of fast running.
Principles of Strength Training
Resistance exercises, which strengthen your hip and thigh muscles, will make those problem areas firmer and more compact, as well as increasing your overall muscle mass and metabolic rate. To gain strength you need to challenge your muscles by using enough resistance so you can do no more than 15 repetitions of a given exercise. Because you break down muscle fibers when you work out and then rebuild them with stronger muscles as you recover, allow 48 hours between strength workouts.
Compound exercises work several different hip and thigh muscles simultaneously. Add resistance bands or hold dumbbells while doing a combination of lunges, reverse lunges and side lunges for a convenient hip and thigh workout you can do at home. Advanced weightlifters do barbell squats and deadlifts as part of a compound leg and hip workout, but these should only be done after you have been lifting weights for several months in the presence of a trainer or spotter. The leg press, multihip and Roman chair back extension machines at gyms let you do safe compound hip and thigh exercises.
You can isolate thigh and hip muscles with exercises using cables, resistance bands, ankle weights or selectorized machines. With ankle weights or resistance bands, you can lie on your side and lift the lower leg up to tone your inner thigh or the upper leg to work the outer thigh. Turn over on your stomach and lift one leg at a time to exercise gluteals and hamstrings. Sit on a chair with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor, using ankle weights or resistance bands for resistance, and lift and straighten one leg at a time to develop your quadriceps. At the gym, abductor and adductor machines work, respectively, the inner and outer thighs. Leg extension machines work the quadriceps running along the front of your thighs and leg curl machines work the hamstrings along the back of your thighs.
- MayoClinic.com: Belly Fat in Women: Taking — and Keeping — It Off
- American Council on Exercise: Why is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- BodyBuilding.com: You Can't Spot Reduce
- ExRx.net: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- ExRx.net: Thigh Exercise Menu
- ExRx.net: Hip Exercise Menu
- BodyBuilding.com: Five Leg Workouts for Mass: A Beginner's Guide
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.