This month’s question is asked by reader Karen Parsons:
“I love running and have done so for years, but I have developed really muscular legs that I don’t particularly like. Is there any way to slim these down?”
John Jones – Dietitican
The only way to really slim down your thigh muscles is to change your training routine. This is because as you run, your muscles start to develop and the amount of body fat is reduced, which gives your thighs a muscular appearance. Your body becomes more effective at preserving and developing the muscle tissue. So, to overcome this, you should consider different forms of exercise, such as swimming, and avoid training just your legs. Changing your diet may also help. However, it is very difficult to reduce muscle. Our body prefers to use its fat and stored glucose instead. You would need to reduce your intake of protein, but this can also lead to other health problems and nutrition deficiencies.
John is an accredited practising dietitian with a passion to provide practical solutions for creating a healthy lifestyle. His interest in nutrition began during his pursuit of a rugby league caeer with the Newcastle Knights. However, his focus changed after becoming obese. He holds an MBA and has a special interest in Diabetes, which gives him a wider view of the role nutrition plays in our life. He is the owner of the award winning business Energize Health and is a sought after speaker. John relaxes by spending time with his wife and two goreous children.
Vanessa Auditore – Human Behaviour and Wellbeing Specialist
Karen there are a couple of approaches here, depending on the type of runs and your natural build. For example, do you tend to cover large distances or is a shorter fast paced run?
Option 1: Changing your routine and mix it up from your usual runs. This will cause the body to adapt and use different muscle fibres.
According to the BBC Science and Nature Journal, there are two different fibres in muscle. The slow twitch muscle fibres, which contract slowly, but keep going for a long time. And, the fast twitch muscle fibres, which contract quickly, but rapidly, and get tired.
Endurance or Speed
Slow twitch muscle fibres are good for endurance activities like long distance running or cycling. They can work for a long time without getting tired. Fast twitch muscles are good for rapid movements like jumping to catch a ball or sprinting for the bus. They contract quickly, but get tired fast as they consume lots of energy. Most of your muscles are made up of a mixture of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibres.
Option 2: Another option is to ensure you are lengthening the contracted “ bulky” muscles. Yoga is great for this or using foam rollers combined with stretching.
Personally, as a strong legged personal trainer and figure competitor, I find interval training at high repetitions with low loads very helpful in keeping my legs lean, along with cross fit styled training. My overall message is to enjoy your runs and diversify your training plans.
Vanessa Auditore has been working in the health and wellness industry since 1998, when she graduated as a master personal trainer. Since then, she has continued her professional development to include transformational life coaching, counsellor QMACA, presenter and lecturer for the Australian fitness industry, expert advice consultant for national magazines including Cleo, Cosmopolitan, Fitness First, Blitz magazine and has developed a successful online presence via the SuccessheadQ blog. In addition, Vanessa features regularly as a guest on many Australian based health and wellbeing blogs, and has also competed in natural figure competitions, at a national level. Vanessa is continuing to expand her academic pursuits with a double degree in behavioural science and communication and media, and is applying her expertise to achieve personal goals by integrating holistic practices.
Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer
Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called No Regrets Personal Training. Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.
Amanda Ferguson – Owner and Founder of Blue Sky Health & Fitness
There are a couple of things you can do to slim your legs down:
- Longer distance running can help to change the size and structure of your leg muscles, you would develop leaner leg muscles over time.
- Make sure you stretch all the time, this will re-lengthen your muscles, so that you don’t continue to exercise on shortened muscles, which can cause you to bulk up.
- If you are doing any weight training, use lighter weights, or just body weight and go for more repetitions, rather than how much weight you are lifting
- If you really enjoy running, your leg muscles need to be strong to ensure you can continue to run, I know what I would prefer – strong, toned legs that allow me to run, which I enjoy vs fat, un-toned legs.
- The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when not exercising, as your body is working harder, which is great for your metabolism too!
- Something that you can’t really control is if it is genetic!
If you love running, which it sounds like you do, be happy with your runners legs. I am sure lots of women would love legs like yours!
Amanda is the owner and founder of Blue Sky Health & Fitness, based in Melbourne, and is a highly experienced and qualified personal trainer who was educated at Australian & European Institutes of Fitness. Amanda’s passion and dedication to exercise and health is shown not only in her continual educational pursuit but also in her own training program.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter and Facebook or read her Fit Mummies blog, which is situated on her website.
Katie Hunter and Julie Montagu – Co-founders of iNourish, London, and Power Yoga
Stretch out those muscles! Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity. Your muscles that have been repeatedly contracted by actions such as running will begin to open up. However, your body developed these muscles to carry the weight of your body and needs these muscles to do the job well. So, some weight loss could help slim down your legs too. A good option is power yoga. Have a look at iNourish power yoga DVD. This is a more cardiovascular form of yoga that aids in weight loss and lengthens the muscles at the same time.
Katie Hunter and Julie Montagu are co-founders of iNourish. They are certified yoga instructors, each hold a Bachelors of Science degree and both studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.
The pair have also just recently released their first Power Yoga DVD, which is now available on their website or at Amazon.
Sasha Moon – Ultimate Sports Nutrition In-House Sports Nutritionist
Hi Karen, many women are tempted to stop exercising altogether in fear of developing extreme muscular bulk but this is in fact the worst thing you could do. Running, cycling, swimming or walking each day for at least 30 minutes enhances your fat loss and cardio fitness – so don’t give up on your love for running!
I would also suggest incorporating some endurance training that can transform the structure and size of your legs. A perfect example of this is leg size and shape between endurance athletes and sprinters. Endurance athletes tend to have more ‘slow twitch’ fibres, whereas sprinters tend to have more ‘fast twitch fibres’. Whilst we are born with a certain amount of slow and fast twitch fibres, endurance training tends to decrease the size of your legs whilst power movements tend to build size. Another great technique is to also include resistance training at least twice a week but cut back on lifting heavy weights. Aim for weights which you can lift 15-20 times each leg exercise (and repeat 3 times with 1 minute rest in between), which can give you sexy toned legs without putting on mass. Last but not least, it is easier to embrace your genes rather than trying to change it!
To achieve optimal performance through exercise, it is advised to provide your body with the correct fuel. USN’s Performance range includes three premium products, Enduro Carbs, Cyto Power and Recover Max, and is aimed at endurance athletes who participate in intensive training and endurance events, such as running that place high energy and nutrition demands on the body.
Each stage and product provides you with what is necessary to prepare, perform and recover including increased energy in preparation, increased endurance and reduced fatigue whilst performing and rapid muscle tissue recovery whilst recovering.
Sasha takes an integrated approach to health and fitness, without considering one to be more important than the other and promotes healthy living as a combination of a well managed nutrition and an active lifestyle. Breaking out of the corporate world in 2007, Sasha left the 9-to-5 desk job to pursue a career in health and fitness and has succeeded with top qualifications and credibility. Sasha’s aim is to help her clients achieve a range of goals through professional personal training and nutrition advice and support.
Sasha’s knowledge and experience created the opportunity to work in the health and fitness industry and now holds the position as the in-house Sports Nutritionist for Ulimate Sports Nutrition (USN). USN is an international leader in sports nutrition and the products are formulated with extensive research and development using the latest technology, scientific findings and clinic trials.