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with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bottoms Up! 6 Ways to Tone Your Legs, Thighs and Butt

There you are, flat on your back, desperately trying to wriggle into your breathing-optional jeans. You’ve tried everything from walking to running to leg pressing to wishing the extra fat off your lower half. And, nothing’s worked. So, after minutes of grabbing and pulling, you finally suck it in, zip it up and check yourself out in the mirror. And, with shock and horror you suddenly realize that sitting down without splitting seams is now mission impossible.

Welcome to “stand up only” jeans. Aren’t you’re tired of all of this? Something’s got to give  -  and it’s going to be your pants or skirt if you don’t take action now. Plus, it’s summertime and your bottom half is on center stage in your swimsuit, shorts and dresses.

How about we get you on the right path to shaping and leaning up your legs and behind?

First up is my usual rant about genetics. Everyone, look in the mirror. What body shape are you? If you’re an apple shape, you carry most of your weight around your middle. If, however, you’re pear shaped, the bottom’s have it and you tend to store your extra fat in your butt and legs. You can’t change genetics, but you can optimize your shape.

Second, I want all of you to start being kinder to yourself when you’re addressing your bottom-half body parts. Instead of bemoaning the fact that you don’t have 3 feet between your upper thighs like the clothes-hanger aliens that populate the runways, concentrate on how powerful and fit your legs are. Recently, in preparation for the Iron Girl Triathlon I’m doing with my Peeke Performers in August, I just participated in a Mini-Tri in which we swim nonstop ten 25-meter lengths, hop on a bike for 4 miles and run 1.5 miles. This is a great preparation for the much longer August event. Lo and behold, there were women of every size and shape who competed. One lovely and bottom-heavy 40-year-old school principal smiled as she watched small-bottomed and lanky-legged women line up with her at the starting line. “They may be able to fit into skinny jeans, but I’ll leave them in my dust on the bike,” she said. And indeed she did! That’s a winning attitude.

Concentrate on your strengths, not on what you think are weaknesses. That’s the Power Mind at work.

women working out

Barry Austin/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

OK, let’s get started. You should tone and shape your lower body with a combination of cardio and weight training. Cardio involves any activity that is weight-bearing. Walking, running, hiking, biking, climbing and spinning are great examples. Equipment includes the elliptical, stepper, rower and treadmill. To get great legs, you really need to cross train, so change it up as much as you can to challenge your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. The key is to be consistent with at least 5 cardio opportunities every week. That includes biking to work, taking the stairs and walking as much as you can.

For the strength training, you don’t need a gym, as you’ll be using your own weight and resources at home for each exercise. I’d suggest you purchase a set of single-arm dumbbells starting with a 3-pound weight up to 15 pounds. It also helps to work out in front of a mirror so that you can monitor your form. We love to multitask so most of these exercises will also work some part of your hips, thighs, butt and legs. Hey, and for a royal win-win, always be mindful of your core. Suck in your abs and keep a strong core as you do each exercise.

Before beginning any exercise program, please make sure to check with your physician if you have any medical condition or disability. I highly recommend that you consult a certified fitness professional who can help guide your training program. Also, warm up with about 10 minutes of cardio and cool down with simple leg stretches. For even more fitness and exercise tips, go to the WebMD Fitness & Exercise Center.

Because you’re all starting at different levels, here are some basic guidelines for your weekly program (which, of course, is done in conjunction with your upper body and core workouts that I covered in Week 2-4 of the summer swimsuit series).

Everyone needs to do strength training 2-3 times a week as a base. There must be a day of rest in between weight training days. You can do all of it at home and get terrific results. The key is to maintain excellent form. The minute you break form, stop or you’ll injure yourself. This is where it’s highly recommended to have a fitness professional observe and correct your form. You and a friend or group can sign up for one session to keep things cost-effective.

Beginner: Do one set of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise with either no weight or light weight.
Intermediate: Do 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise starting with light weight and then graduating to medium weight for the second set.
Advanced: Do 3 sets, using a lighter warm-up weight for the first set of 8-12 repetitions, medium weight for the second set of 8-12 repetitions, and heavier for 6-10 repetitions, all performed in good form for the third set.

1. Dumbbell Squat: Hold two dumbbells at your sides, with your palms facing in. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. While keeping your shoulders, back, and head upright, bend your legs at the knees and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Then, pushing from your heels, lift yourself back to the starting position. Keep your back as straight as possible throughout this exercise. If you have trouble balancing, try placing a sturdy, 1-inch-thick wooden block or a couple of dumbbell plates under your heels. Beware: Don’t allow your knees to extend beyond your toes. Your weight should shift backward into your heels as you lower down. Keep your ABS tight to stabilize your lower back.

2. Dumbbell Lunge: Stand with your feet together, toes pointed forward, a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your shoulders squared, your chin up, your back straight, and palms facing in. Step forward with your right foot. Bend at your knees, and lower your hips until your left knee is just a few inches off the floor. Push with the right leg, raising yourself back to the starting position. Repeat until you’ve done the planned number of reps for your right leg; then do the same for your left leg. Beware: Don’t point your toes in or out. Both feet should point straight ahead. Also, don’t lift your heel on the forward foot. Keep it flat. The proper form is with the kneed on the forward leg over your ankle, not out in front of it.

3. Chair Squat: This is one of my favorites because we have so many opportunities to do this every day. Getting up from a chair or out of a car, you can feel your strength, or lack of it. Stand in front of a chair with feet hip-width apart. Tighten your abs and keep your torso straight. Gradually bend your knees and lower yourself as if you were going to sit in the chair. When your butt is about an inch from the chair, stop and hold for 2-5 seconds, keeping your knees behind your toes, and then straighten up. You can do with or without weights. Beware: Don’t do this exercise if you have knee issues. Don’t lean forward as you straighten up, as you may lose balance and fall forward. Keep a strong core throughout the exercise.

4. Angled Calf Raise: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes out so your feet form a 45-degree angle. Keeping your legs straight, raise yourself on your toes as high as possible. Pause for a count of one; then slowly lower yourself down to the starting position. Beware: Don’t do this exercise on a carpet — find a solid surface, like a hardwood or concrete floor. Do not rotate your toes to more than a 45-degree angle because that would stress your knee joints. Also, make sure your knees are stationary and straight but not locked. Too much knee flexion inhibits calf isolation.

5. Hip Extension: Stand about 6 inches from a wall, both feet pointed forward and about a foot apart. Place your palms on the wall shoulder-width apart. Lift your right leg behind you about a foot off the floor, keeping the whole leg completely straight. Tightening your butt, hold for 5-10 seconds. Slowly lower to the floor. Repeat with the other foot. You can do this exercise with ankle weight to further challenge your gluteal muscles. Beware: Don’t lift your leg too high as you’ll stress your back. The goal is to tighten and strengthen the glutes and you can accomplish this without swinging your legs all over the place.

6. Toe Tappin’: You know those shaky and scary part of your butt and upper thighs? Here’s a nifty way to show who’s in control. Lie on the floor with your arms at your sides. Lift your feet, and bend your knees to 90 degrees so that your thighs are now perpendicular to the floor. Slowly and controlling each move, tap your right toes on the floor, and then rotate to your left toes. Keep alternating the toe tappin’ for one minute. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat for 2-3 sets. Beware: If you feel any back pain, adjust this exercise so that you don’t bring your toes all the way down to the ground.

Read more from the summer swimsuit series:

Are you ready for swimsuit season? Share your workout and diet tips on the Diet Community.

Posted by: Pamela Peeke, MD at 8:27 am

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