How to Lose Weight Off Your Thighs.

As part of trying to write occasionally I have thrown the content out to Results FAST gym and personal training members this week to answer their questions:

The first question to come back is “How do I lose weight on my thighs.” I’ll explain the “why it’s there” before the “this is what to do.”

In general, this question most of the time is only asked by women. Why? Well females have different fat deposition patterns to men. Simply women store fat preferentially on their chest and thighs while men generally are more predisposed to storing body fat on their belly. These is thought to be hormonal in nature though there are also some slight subtle differences in sites called adrenoreceptors which are found around their hips and deal specifically with fat mobilization. We are all slightly different from person to person and this is also seen in our fat deposition patterns.

The issue with the adrenoreceptor balance highlights that people may preferentially store fat in a certain area. It also means that it becomes hard for fat to be burnt in the lower body- primarily because the catecholamines (which adrenaline is the one most people will recognize) can’t act on the specific cells they need to and rivalling adrenoreceptors also play a role in decreasing blood flow meaning if this balance is one way rather than the other you will have a preference to store body fat in this area and it will be harder to mobilize fat from this area due to lower blood flow. Which pretty much sucks if you are one of these people…. But what do you do and how do you preferentially burn fat from the thighs though?

While you can cannot directly target an area for fat burning you can work the muscles in that area to build muscle and lean tissue which has a greater effect on elevating your metabolism and turning over more calories at rest. This doesn’t necessarily lose weight of our thighs but will help tone that area. Typically, if you are a beginner body weight exercise could work but resistance training may provide a better variation of training load and stimulus to help you progress quicker.

Reducing your calorie intake to a level where you are in deficit will mean that fat will be more likely to be mobilized though these areas tend to be stubborn and take time to reduce in size. There are no magic foods or plans which apologize whole heartedly for.

Activity as a whole will help. Low levels of activity will increase calorific burn, and this is a good thing. That said it can take a long time if you are primarily using low level intensity exercise for your weight loss (it’s effective but patience is a must).

Modifying your training programme may also be effective. Interval training or training at a higher intensity is a useful strategy and could be considered the most adrenaline stimulating activity. It’s not the complete answer but may help if you incorporate it as part of your programme. Organized weight training may have the same effect as interval training if programmed properly. Low level activity such as walking can be really useful if you have a low threshold for exercise and poor fitness levels but it can be incorporated in to your programme at any point.

There is no magic bullet but in turn knowing what hand you are holding is always important before you play cards. It therefore makes sense that you utilize the right type of programme if shifting lower body fat is your target.

The Trouble With HIIT

HIIT training or High Intensity Interval Training is dominating the mainstream media this January as a fix all to lose body fat for time poor individuals.

While training with intensity is a useful thing to do, to say it is the most effective way of training is a bit misleading- especially when you are looking to change your body composition.

HIIT in itself can fit nicely in to short bite size chunks this message of simplicity first is one that personally I like- it’s often better to do something rather than nothing. For people though who train regularly I want to investigate whether this is an efficient and effective way to train and if instagramable routines are the future.

Bring On The Science

Here’s the science bit…. When training there are three main energy systems we are challenging:

1. ATP-CP also termed Alactic System.

This systems provides immediate energy for about 10 seconds at maximal output.

2. Glycolytic also termed Anaerobic System.

This system provides a bridge between the ATP-CP system and the long term aerobic system. After 10 seconds of maximal effort this energy system kicks in. The primary fuel here is stored carbohydrates. At full tilt this system has about 2 minutes of work before lactic acid build up and other factors compromise performance.

3. Oxidative also termed Aerobic System.

This system is the default energy system of the body at rest and during recovery. It provides long term lower intensity energy. The aerobic system plays a role in all work and it’s role starts to build after 30 seconds of activity. Therefore a strong aerobic system maintains a strong power output for longer.

Why is this important?

Your training programme will challenge all of these energy systems but which ones you challenge is important for how you adapt and develop your fitness.

 

Cardio Confusion?

Training on a typical HIIT programme will work the ATP-CP system initially and then if your interval is sub 2 minutes the anaerobic system, after this the aerobic system kicks in to gear taking all the load (if you are going full tilt).

Most interval training proposes an interval of 30-60 seconds with a parallel recovery. In most routines I have watched the intensity level being worked at is no where near maximal (this is okay in certain situations and I’ll explain why in a bit). In this situation the perception is that the glycolytic system is being challenged but what is mainly taking the work load is the aerobic system.

The aerobic system will maintain work at sub-maximal workloads. This is okay if we are looking to develop a base level of fitness. This is why beginners see decent results from this type of training for about 6 weeks before their conditioning plateaus off as they adapt.

Most of these programmes tend to ignore one of the most important component of a workout… recovery.

 

Recover to Go Harder.

Basically, if recovery is inefficient you are not challenging the energy system you set out to train and all work becomes predominantly aerobic recovery.

Working out at high intensity is hard work- the longer you work without recovery then the lower the intensity. What we are trying to do is increase the amount of work done in a given time in order to facilitate all those cool adaptations in the body that mean your fitness is enhanced.

 

What Not To Do.

So how do we guarantee a result?

Unfortunately if you want to burn a lot of fat or get super fit one block of burpees for 4 minutes won’t cut it unless you are dieting yourself in to a hole. This January has seen the publication of the 1 minute workout (seriously)…. With the need for quicker fixes all the time it had to happen at some point though.

Truthfully, I can’t deny there may be good markers for health from short term interval work (the science is really patchy in truth) but the returns level out once you become adapted to this type of training.

 

How Do I Work Out Smart(er)?

What follows is a rough template of workouts I have used for a variety of clients from athletes to those looking to shape up. As the list goes down what you will notice is that the intensity decreases and the recovery time needed increases. As a side note we do not prioritize all energy systems at the same time. Training is about adaptation and specificity so making everything as hard as possible isn’t really working that smart You also need to do enough work at a given intensity to develop certain energy systems- this basically highlights that your one minute workout won’t cut it for energy systems development after 6 weeks. Just to also highlight one thing aerobic work can cause the same positive changes meaning HIIT is no more effective than performing aerobic work if you are a beginner.

 

1. Aerobic Steady

Emphasis Aerobic output- can be used as recovery from intense sessions.

Duration: 30-60minutes or more

Recovery: None

Number of Sessions: 1-3

Description of Exercise: Steady paced cardiovascular exercise or low level weights circuits

Intensity: Steady Pace

 

2. Aerobic Intervals

Emphasis Improving oxygen utilization of the muscles balancing speed and endurance.

Duration: 1-2 sets of 10-20 minutes.

Recovery: 5-10 minutes

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week

Description of Exercise: Anything that can be paced rowing, air bike, ski-erg,

Intensity: Pacing is key- this type of session is based on resistance as opposed to speed. Your heart rate should sit at around 150bpm or around 65-80% of max (individuals vary though).

 

3. Intervaled Recovery

Emphasis: Fast twitch power output and resistance to fatigue increase oxidative recovery.

Duration: 8-15 sets of 2minutes.

Recovery: 1 minute “active” recovery.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week.

Description of Exercise: Complexes and Multi-joint lifts such as kettlebell swings twinned with a core or mobility exercise.

Intensity: Again around 150bpm/ 65-80% max with recovery down to sub- 130bpm.

 

4. Anaerobic Endurance

Emphasis: Power endurance.

Duration: 4- 6 interval sets of 4 to 8 minutes

Recovery: 2-4 minutes of low level recovery

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with at least 48 hours recovery between sessions

Description of Exercise: Multi-joint compound movements/ “full body”

Intensity: 90% maximum of your heart rate

 

5. Max Output

Emphasis: Maximal efforts so working the ATP-PC system. Typically the most risky for injury due to explosive nature

Duration: 10-20 sets of 10-30 seconds.

Recovery: 3-5 minutes of recovery between sets.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with 48-72 hours between workouts.

Description: Generally, works better for task specific drills e.g. sprints, jumps and explosive throws.

Intensity: Maximal effort “explosive” in nature, speed shouldn’t be compromised by fatigue.

You may not perform all of these style of workouts in a week. Indeed this depends on the person you are working with and what you are trying to achieve and what energy systems you are trying to develop. When you consider things like the Tabata protocol and why it has become popular (20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds rest) is simply is that it is easier to perform that than grinding out 2-4 minutes at 90% of your maximum heart rate for 10 sets.

Does it matter for beginners? Well I guess something is better than nothing. However if you are stressed, tired and with a bad diet maximal sessions may not be beneficial for your health and steady aerobic work may be restorative and invigorating without burying you under more “stress.”

From an anecdotal point of view for a period my average client was the stressed out, time poor client averaging 2 or less hours of activity in a week. These individuals just aren’t in the position to do high intensity work.

 

A Note On Training For Body Composition.

Which one of these gives me a six pack though?

Well, they are all activity- that is great for creating a calorie deficit. They all will improve physicality so therefore you can work at a higher intensity to burn more calories. As a side note the maximal output has the lowest calorific yield for time spent. The other options will depend on relative intensity maintained as well as duration. Intensity does play a role in fat mobilization so stimulating adrenaline to cause fat breakdown requires intense work so the Intervaled Recovery method and the Anaerobic Endurance method are my favourite. That said the duration you can perform these well will be compromised by your anaerobic fitness (they are mentally the hardest as well).

Time should be spent also developing efficient aerobic pathways highlighting that there is a lot of value in steady state work as it can be performed more frequently for longer so for some individuals it may be more suitable for creating a calorie deficit and can be performed more regularly. This is definitely the case if you are managing fatigue, injuries or in general are a bit out of shape. Developing an efficient and effective aerobic base allows you to do more well in the future which is very important when you are looking to develop a progressive training approach.