So you have fat thighs. It could be worse: it could be a bulging belly. Because whereas belly fat can kill you (literally, if indirectly), some research suggests that the fat stored on your hips, butt, and thighs may actually help protect you from the same diseases that excess tummy fat can bring on. At the very least, lower body fat doesn’t seem to increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes the way abdominal fat does.
Of course, that isn’t much consolation when you’re trying to pull a pair of skinny jeans up past your knees. The sad irony is that the same properties of thigh fat that make it less dangerous to your health also make it harder to get rid of. It simply doesn’t break down as readily as belly fat does. The same methods you’d use to burn fat anywhere else on your body — good old diet and exercise — are your best bet for thinner thighs, too; they’ll just take longer to work. Still, there are some things you can do to make your thighs look firmer and more shapely when all that eating right and exercising finally melt off the fat.
Women and Thigh Fat
Where your body stores fat has a lot to do with hormones, and female hormones direct fat primarily to the hips, thighs, and butt. Unfortunately, once fat gets there, it’s reluctant to move. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense because when a woman breastfeeds a baby, her body draws specifically on hip and thigh fat for the extra calories needed for milk production. That’s why pregnant women tend to gain a lot of weight in their lower bodies, and why those who breastfeed usually lose that weight more quickly after their pregnancies. Of course, if you aren’t planning to nurse a baby anytime soon, you’d probably like to tell evolution where it can stick its thigh fat.
Cardiovascular exercise is crucial if you want to lose thigh fat. Thigh toning exercises can firm the muscles and skin to help your legs appear a bit thinner, but they can’t actually force your body to burn fat on your thighs instead of somewhere else. When the body uses fat as fuel, it takes it from all over, not just from the limb that’s in motion. So the best way to reduce inner thigh fat is to work your whole body with 30 to 60 minutes of cardio, five to seven days a week. Focus on athletics like running, swimming, biking, and other exercises that require a sustained effort rather than short bursts of energy.
Weight training is an important way to reduce thigh fat. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories your body burns to sustain itself while at rest. Again, don’t just focus on your thighs; the leg press will help firm your thigh muscles, but by also lifting weights with your arms, you can improve your body’s overall ratio of muscle to fat even more quickly. And the better that ratio is, the more fat you’ll burn just sitting around. As tempting as spot-toning may be, it just doesn’t work as well as a whole-body approach to burning fat.
Pilates can tone and lengthen thigh muscles. By definition, Pilates is whole-body exercise, which is, as we’ve said, the best kind. Because the point of Pilates is to move with precision rather than intensity, it doesn’t burn enough calories to reduce fat deposits on its own. But many people who practice Pilates say that the heightened physical awareness it gives them helps with appetite control. Plus, incorporating movements into your Pilates routine that specifically work the inner and outer thigh muscles will help ensure that when your diet and cardio efforts begin to pay off, the thighs that emerge from underneath that layer of fat will be strong and lean.
Tone your thighs with inner thigh exercises. The muscles on the inside of your thighs are called the adductor muscles. As you could no doubt deduce, the adductor machine at your local gym is designed to strengthen and tighten this group of muscles. It’s a pretty simple thing: two pads at knee level, attached to weights for resistance, that you press together between your legs while your feet go along for the ride in a pair of stirrups. You can also do this at home, sitting up straight on the edge of a chair or the floor with the soles of your feet flat on the ground, toes pointed forward. Squeeze a rubber ball, ThighMaster, or Pilates Magic Circle between your thighs, hold for a few seconds, and repeat.
Tone your thighs with outer thigh exercises. The muscles of the outer thigh are the abductor muscles, and you’ll find a machine at the gym designed to work these, too. It’s called — wait for it — the abductor machine, and it provides resistance as you push your legs outward against the pads. You can get a similar effect at home by standing on a resistance band with your feet about hips’ distance apart and your hands at your hips, holding the handles of the band. Step one leg to the side inside the band, then step the other leg over to meet it. Start with five steps to the left and five to the right, and add reps as you can.
More Tips for Losing Thigh Fat
Limit the fatty, salty, sugary, and processed foods in your diet. Replace them with whole foods and healthy snacks such as vegetables, fruits, and raw nuts.
Limit your alcohol consumption. Even moderate drinking can reduce your body’s ability to burn fat because alcohol is broken down into acetate in the liver, and as long as acetate is in the bloodstream, the body uses it for fuel instead of fat.
Move around more. You burn more calories gardening, doing housework, walking the dog, and pushing your shopping cart to the far end of the parking lot than you do sitting down.
Get enough sleep. Research shows that when we sleep for about eight hours a night, our bodies produce less of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin and more of the appetite-limiting hormone leptin. So being well-rested can make it easier to avoid overeating.