Whatever your ideal body shape may be, exercise and a healthy diet can help you achieve it. Regular cardiovascular workouts will torch calories for fat loss around your midsection, while strength training will help you build size in your thighs. Keep your calories in check, and eat energy-promoting foods to power you through your workouts.
Banish Your Belly
This should come as good news: You don't have to spend hours on the treadmill to achieve your body goals. In fact, spending less time exercising — but doing it more intensely — is actually better for burning tummy fat.
High-intensity cardio means giving it your all on the treadmill, the bicycle, the elliptical or in your cardio kickboxing class. It's the difference between jogging and running, or running and sprinting.
To get an idea of what a big difference working harder makes, check this out: Jogging at a pace of 5 miles per hour for 30 minutes burns between 240 and 355 calories, depending on your weight. You'd have to walk at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour for an entire hour to burn the same amount of calories.
The benefits of high-intensity exercise don't stop there. Working at a very high intensity has been shown to be significantly more effective at burning belly fat than lower intensity exercise, according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2009.
Sprinting for long periods of time just isn't possible unless you're a cheetah. But getting to that peak level of intensity is where you really start burning some serious fat.
Thankfully, you don't have to be there for long to get the belly-fat burning benefits. Brief spurts of very high-intensity effort, which you can achieve through high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, are enough.
HOW TO DO IT: Get on the treadmill, warm up for five minutes at a jog, then let loose. Sprint as fast as you can, don't hold anything back (keep it safe, of course). After 30 to 60 seconds (less if you need; more if you can), come back down to your jogging pace. Recover for a minute, then kick it up into high gear again. Do this for about 20 minutes, then cool down.
Build Your Thighs and Burn Fat
Building more muscle is one of the best ways to keep body fat at bay, and it's necessary for getting bigger thighs. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolism (RM).
Your RM is the how efficiently your body burns calories at rest. People with more muscle burn more calories when they're doing absolutely nothing. Of course, they have to work hard to get there, and so will you. But it will be worth it.
If you're already doing strength training, great. If you're not, it's time to jump right in. Two to three days a week, do some type of muscle strengthening activity that targets all the muscles in your body — arms, shoulders, chest, back, abs and obliques, butt and legs.
Now, strength training workouts come in a lot of forms. You might do Pilates or yoga, or take a regular cardio kickboxing class. All of those are weight-bearing activities that cause adaptations in your muscles, making them stronger and bigger.
If you want to target your thighs, however, you might need to do some more specific exercises at home or at the gym.
The best exercises to increase the size of your thigh muscles include squats, deadlifts, good mornings, hamstring curls, leg extensions, step-ups and lunges. These exercises also target all the other muscles in your lower body, so you can do them as part of your lower-body workout.
Choose a few of these in each workout. Do three to five sets of eight to 12 reps of each using a heavy enough weight that your thighs are feeling zapped by the end of your last one or two sets.
What About My Abs?
You do not need to do a lot of ab exercises to get flat abs. In fact, you can do crunches all day long, but if you have extra body fat, you won't see your abs. So do a couple of ab exercises each workout, and focus more time on total-body strength training and cardio.
Makeover Your Diet
What you eat plays a huge role in how much body fat you have, especially around your midsection. It's important to find that sweet spot where you're taking in just enough calories to support an active lifestyle, but few enough to stay in a caloric deficit for weight loss.
Work with your doctor or a nutritionist to find that number, then stick to it by following these food rules:
- Make fresh vegetables the focus of your diet
- Eat lean protein from fish, white meat chicken, beans and tofu
- Choose whole grains over refined ones. Quinoa and brown or black rice are great options.
- Limit your intake of dairy
- Snack on fresh fruit and nuts
- Avoid fried, processed and sugary foods
- Save sweets for an occasional treat
- Drink water and unsweetened tea instead of sugary beverages
If you follow these rules, losing belly fat is much easier. You'll also have the healthy energy you need to workout and the protein and other nutrients your body needs to build muscle.