Leaning out for a show is by no means an easy task. In fact, weight loss in general proves to be a difficulty for most people. All you have to do is scroll through your instragram feed or mind the pop ups on your commuter to see that weight loss itself is a huge industry. This is even more so prevalent for women. While a fair amount of pressure to be thin is directed more towards women, they also have their own biology working against them. So how does one fight their own hormonal disposition to carry excess adipose tissue in the most womanly of ways?
Many competitors, including myself have the issue of “bringing in” their legs. I personally spend a lot of time on my feet, causing my body to hold more water in my legs. But water weight aside, hormones are the real issue here. Fat storage is based on 2 types of cell receptors, known as alpha adrenergic receptors and beta adrenergic receptors. Alpha receptors encourage fat storage, and are more prevalent in women, especially hips, thighs and glutes. In contrast, beta release fat. Science has proven that we can not decrease the number of fat cells in our body, only shrink the size of the ones we have. This is pre determined to a certain degree on genetics and childhood experience. So, if you want to burn fat from stubborn areas, how can you manipulate the ratio of alpha to beta cells?
Hormones. Both the answer and the problem is one. Estrogen, the female prevalent hormone, to progesterone, such as testosterones, ratios are key. There are a wide variety of supplements on the market to better help balance hormone levels, in addition to avoiding estrogen mimicking compounds such as soy, and plastics. Drinking green tea has also been shown to help, which can stimulate fat burning by passing alpha receptors. However, one of the best things any women can do is actually weight train. Increases in lean muscle tissue actually increase testosterone levels naturally in women, shifting the hormone balance in a more favourable ratio. In addition to the calories being burnt this is a favourable combination.
So, if lean legs are the goal, how can women utilize this knowledge to fight stubborn fat and bring in that desired leg definition? One method that seems to be widely used is fasted cardio or fasted exercise. When exercising in a fasted state the body in a lower-insulin state, due to a lack of glycogen, which the body has to pull from muscle stores. This state is desired because it results in suppression of ALPHA receptor activity. It also causes the body to increase catecholamine hormone production (adrenaline/noradrenaline), which now can preferentially increase BETA receptor activity. This type of catabolism will maximize fat burning, but especially help shift those stubborn type A cells.
If you aren’t able to do fasted cardio, or workout early in the day (before eating), post workout cardio is also useful. While weight training your body will also dip into those glycogen stores when there is no longer any free floating glycogen present for use. This is particularly useful in high volume training, such as that seen in most competitors during contest prep. The higher the volume, such as giant sets, supersets sets, or 100s, the more your body has to deplete its current stores. Doing cardio post workout, will then result in a similar state to fasted exercise. For this reason, I often shift my training during prep to train lower body twice or even three times a week is recovery allows. During this time you aren’t aiming to lift heavy, but incorporate higher volume and conditioning in order to release that stubborn fat and tighten the look of the legs.
The next issue to obviously address here is cardio. There is a large variety of types, and time of course, so what is going to best suit your individual needs? I highly recommend starting with 15-20 minutes of intense sprint training or interval training, utilizing the legs. While full body cardio may burn fat, the focus here is to address the legs specifically. This can be stepper sprints, sled pushed or bike sprints. HIIT cardio has been most effective for fat burning. But the key is to follow your sprints with some steady state, to ensure the increased fat released gets burned rather than restored. This is known as beta oxidation.
There is a time and place for different styles of training. Excessive fasted workouts and incredibly high volume will not necessarily lend to strength or size gains, which we will leave for another time, but this style of training when used properly in over a certain period of time will undoubtedly help when addressing stubborn lower body issues.