Women's Weight Training for Legs and Hips

Long Legs and Slim Hip Exercises

A lot of women want the "long leg", "slim hip" look of fitness competitors and Miss American contestants, rather than the bodybuilder legs/hips. Their two favorites from what I've read are squats, and lunges. So my question is, how do you create the illusion of the slim butt, long leg look using a minimal training program, if that is possible? In my experience lunges do create the long-line effect better than squats. What about foot stance for squats if a narrow effect is what is wanted. What about front squats and hack squats in achieving this. What exactly is being done to achieve this look? Developing rectus femoris? Would it be better to include 2-3 sets for Quad/Glute and reduce exercises somewhere else?

Kristy and Michelle

First, I must point out that achieving the bodybuilding look does not happen by accident. You don't wake up one day, look in the mirror and say, "Oh my word, I have the legs of a bodybuilder, I must have overdone it on the squats!"

It does not even come easy for those that have a tendency to put on muscle mass easily unless their legs are already muscular to begin with. Achieving legs approaching that of a Miss America or a fitness contestant is much more in line with the potential of most women, as opposed to achieving the much more developed musculature of a bodybuilder.

The differences between a Miss America contestant, a fitness competitor, and a female bodybuilder are essentially varying degrees of body composition. In order of body fat levels, the Miss America contestant would have the most and the bodybuilder would have the least. The opposite would generally hold true for muscle mass, with the top level bodybuilders either possessing an unusual predisposition to gain muscle mass or have typically used anabolic steroids at some point in their careers. In other words, most women do not have to worry about building muscles approaching that of female bodybuilders.

Weight training will be essential to achieving the look of a fitness competitor, however, appropriate dietary practices will play the largest role. This being understood, attaining this look is theoretically possible with a minimal training program, particularly since proper dietary practices are the largest piece of this puzzle.

Although most all fitness competitors typically employ more exercises on a split weight training program, a low volume program, including only one basic exercise per major muscle group would be sufficient to restore and maintain muscle mass while making the necessary dietary modifications to lose sufficient body fat necessary to achieve these looks. Also see Workout Creation Instructions.

One's potential will be dependent on certain genetic predispositions. Each individual's shape and proportions should be analyzed to determine a suitable program strategy. Women with both mesomorph and ectomorph body characteristics are already predisposed to a fitness competitor type figure, so this effect may be relatively easy to achieve with minimal training. Those endomorphic qualities will need to concentrate on fat loss, whereas, those more ectomorph may want to concentrate on muscular development in effort to accentuate the curves of the developed muscles. It's interesting to note, however, that many ectomorphs may already have the appearance of long legs due to combination of a smaller musculature and low body fat.

Although we cannot shape our bones and are somewhat limited in actually shaping our muscles, we can however, significantly change the way our bodies look by decreasing body fat while selectively emphasis and de-emphasis of the development of particular muscle groups as we monitor the resulting aesthetic changes.

A few different 'illusions' can contribute to the appearance of longer legs and narrowed hips in fitness competitors. Having low body fat levels, which reveal the underlining contours of the body is generally the most important factor in achieving this appearance. The vertical lines of the lower body can be accentuated with greater muscular definition. The shape of the developed lean muscles, strategic positioning of the body, and even the cut of the completion bikini, can all contribute to this look. Contestants of both the Miss America and fitness competitions wear high heels in at least one round which can also accentuate the length of the legs.

Exercises for quadriceps and hamstrings can normalize hip and thigh proportions. The accentuated curve of the hamstrings and glute along with fat loss on and below the glute area can decrease the sharp angle of the glute-ham fold. Fat loss around the hip and inner thigh with restoration of quadriceps fullness will normalize lower body shape and proportions. Development of the glutes with simultaneous fat loss on and below this area will lift and tighten this area. All of these improvements can accentuate the vertical lines of the lower body creating the illusion of longer legs.

The illusion of small hip can be accentuated with a slight muscular fullness in obliques and quadriceps, particularly the Vastus Lateralis when viewed from the front and the Rectus Femoris and the underlying Vastus Intermedius when viewed from more to the side.

The full body workout I had outlined is most appropriate for beginners. It could also be performed periodically months at a time by more advanced individuals. When you get to the point you want to add auxiliary exercises or additional sets to your program, a split workout would be more appropriate. This is where you work a part of the body one day and the other parts on another day.

For beginners, however, I would recommend to first build their base using basic exercises for the first few years, then specialize on refining their muscle development later as they become more familiar with how their body responds to training.

You could eventually perform an additional set on quads/glutes if you wish, just realize the first workout set will deliver most of the benefits (See low volume training). For this reason, I would suggest you add an additional exercise for your largest muscle groups before you add too many sets.

Squats are considered basic exercises that can be used as your only exercise on a full body workout or as your first exercise on a split workouts. Lunges typically considered an auxiliary movement and are traditionally performed after your basic exercise on a split workout. However, as a beginner within the context of a full body workout with minimum equipment, you may choose either as basic exercise since there are relatively fewer exercises in which to choose, particularly if you are exercising at home and switch up your exercises monthly.

Lunges do tend to emphasize the adductor magnus (front leg) and rectus femoris (rear leg), in comparison, bilateral basic movements like the squat and leg press. On quad and glute exercises, variations in foot placement will emphasize certain muscles, but that has no effect in reducing fat in these specific areas unlike some may be inclined to believe. See Spot Reduction Myth. Placing the feet wider will emphasize the hip adductors. Placing the feet higher on a hack squat or a leg press will emphasize the glutes and de-emphasize quadriceps. Front Squats and half squats will emphasize the quadriceps over the glutes. Also see Squat Analysis.

For those with higher levels of body fat, diet modifications (see Dietary Development) will play the most significant role in creating leaner and longer looking legs. Fat loss around the thighs and hips is critical in normalizing proportion and complementing vertical lines throughout the legs, however, a degree of muscular development is necessary to create this desired aesthetic appearance. Also see The Attractive Body.

Also see other Question and Answers for the women performing the minimal training program.

Reducing Thick Chunky Legs

I need to lose some weight and understand that lifting weights will help burn fat and tone my muscles when I am making changes to my diet. My legs were always strong and develop quickly when I lifted in college. I am concerned they are already too big compared to my upper body. Will I get the same fat burning effect working out only my upper body or should I include some lower body exercises with light weights?

Diana Chaloux: ExRx.net model

Although very few men and even fewer women can develop big muscles even if they wanted, there are some individuals that have certain muscle groups that develop more easily than most. There is somewhat of a dilemma since these large muscle groups (glutes, quads, and hamstrings) have the greatest potential of increasing the metabolism, yet, you don't want your muscles to get any more developed. The ideal scenario would be to lose enough fat to compensate for the slight increases of muscle mass you may initially experience.

A proper dietary regimen is typically enough to counter any increases of muscular development in all, except the extreme cases. Many people think of a starvation diet when they think of a proper dietary regimen, but this does not mean starving yourself, and actually the contrary. I am speaking about learning how and what to eat so you can lose body fat, while providing adequate energy for your workouts while you monitor your macronutrients (see Dietary Development). It needs to be a way of eating that you can live with, on a long term basis (most important) to lose adequate body fat while providing you energy to become more active. It only takes some effort initially when you are making the necessary changes learning what, how and when to eat. Then only after a few weeks when you begin to see the results, it starts to become a habit and eventually a lifestyle change.

The thighs and hips are commonly an area on women that appears to get lean after all other body parts. However, the muscles typically develop the fastest when you first initiate weight training, particularly if your muscles had already been developed some time in your past, even decades earlier, due to muscle memory.

You could consider not including certain exercises in your workout that work muscles groups you believe are already overdeveloped. Small muscle groups such as the calves could be omitted or discontinued later, that muscle if you believe they are unproportionally too large. Keep in mind, they will be conditioned indirectly during other leg exercises. In contrast, muscle groups like the glutes, quads and possibly the hamstrings are muscle groups that will allow you to rev up your metabolism. Not including these largest muscle groups in your program in some way could compromise your ability to increase your metabolism.

I would suggest only eliminating exercises for those larger muscle groups if you believe or find that you are not losing fat rapidly enough to counter the initial slight increase of muscle mass. Although a well proportioned figure might be considered ideal, keep in mind that great leg development can look quite attractive and even sexy, particularly when body fat levels are reduced to a certain level.

If this becomes an issue, you could try using lighter weight with more repetitions before you consider giving up your quad, glute, and hamstring exercises. Keep in mind you'll experience more of a burning sensation training with higher reps. The burning sensation associated with high repetition training may deter some people in pushing themselves as hard as what they could do when handling normally recommended workloads. It is the progression of intensity over time that will allow you to more greatly increase your metabolism even for hours after your workouts. Adaptations to higher rep training will eventually allow for greater tolerance over time, but many may still find it more challenging to perform high repetitions on your leg exercises even after doing it on a regular basis.

An alternative training method you might consider is HIIT. It's a modified form of sprint training which can be performed on a stationary cycle, outside on level ground or on stadium steps. Sprint swimming can be performed, but it may not adequately involve the lower body muscles as they wou ld be with traditional HIIT. But before you start sprinting, I would suggest a general condition where you prepare yourself for the specific type of sprints you plan on implementing. This will allow you to gradually build up the muscular endurance and intensity required for HIIT training. Even the anaerobic group in the HIIT scientific study had a 5 week conditioning period of traditional style cardio training on the cycle they later began using for sprints. Incidentally, unlike the original study, which implemented a passive recovery between sets (ie: just sitting there), I would recommend an active recovery (cycle on level one for about 4 minutes) between sprints. This should hasten recovery between sprint bouts allowing for greater intensity on each bout. Since cycling is fast and repetitive, it is recommended to position the seat so you have a small bend in the knees. If the seat is too low, or too close to the pedals, you may experience greater muscular fatigue due to this mechanical disadvantage and consequently lower your intensity.

Give these recommendations a try and make the recommended adjustments accordingly.

Also see Reducing Large Glutes.

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