Although nothing can replace the benefits of aerobic exercise for the heart and lungs, aerobic training does not tone muscle or burn fat at anywhere near the level of resistance training. The biggest mistake I see in my profession is too many women putting all their focus on cardio thinking it will help them lose weight faster than lifting weights. This simply isn’t the case.
Resistance training has a number of benefits over cardio training. In addition to the positive visual changes that result from proper resistance training (you get a booty by squatting, not by running) there are numerous health benefits that only resistance training can provide for women, such as:
- Slowing down the aging of the skeleton and improving bone mass – this is especially important as we get older since women are more likely to suffer from osteo pyrosis than men.
- Improving the strength and function of tendons and ligaments – the more muscle you have to support your joints, the less pain and stiffness you will have later in life.
- Building muscle revs up your resting metabolism – for every pound of lean muscle you build, an additional 50 calories per day will be burned while at rest.
- Replacing the 1/2 pound of muscle that we lose each year as we age beginning at around the age of 30.
Many women have an unfounded impression that lifting weights will make them big and bulky like a man. This is simply not true. Women have far less testosterone than men, which makes it difficult for them to build large bulky muscles. You’d have to be training very hard for a long time in order to reach a rippling muscly physique.
Women naturally have more body fat than men as well, which means even if you build a LOT of muscle you’ll still retain a softer, more slender body than a man.
This part of the program is heavily targeted at the common problem areas for cellulite; the gluteals and hamstrings. It is not aimed at fat loss. You won’t have to spend hours in the gym every day doing full body training. For those who do want to lose some fat, I’ve included some low-intensity cardio exercises toward the end of the chapter. Many people don’t know this, but there is a specific heart rate range that is ideal for burning fat, and going over this means more effort for fewer results.
Key Muscle Groups
Here we will review the target muscle groups you will be focusing on. These are the muscles that make up your butt, thighs, and upper legs.
The gluteals (or ‘glutes’) are the group of 3 muscles that make up your butt; the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Besides determining the shape of your backside, they also affect what size jeans you wear, and how much cellulite you have. Let’s dive deeper into each of the three:
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the gluteal group. Its origin is the posterior line of the upper ilium, the posterior surface of the lower sacrum, and the side of the coccyx (don’t worry about memorizing all that). The lower and larger portion of the gluteus maximus ends with a thick tendon that passes through the hip and into the iliotibial band.
The function of the gluteus maximus is primarily thigh extension. So think about thrusting the leg in a backward motion from a squat position. Example exercises are bent-leg deadlifting, leg press, and squat.
The gluteus medius originates on the outer surface of the ilium above and in front of the anterior gluteal line. The insertion of the gluteus medius converges on a tendon that attaches to the lateral surface of your hip joint.
The gluteus minimus originates in front from the outer surface of the ilium between the anterior and inferior gluteal lines. In back, it originates from the margin of the greater sciatic notch. It inserts on the deep surface of a radiated aponeurosis via a tendon that attaches to the anterior border of the greater trochanter.
The two smaller gluteal muscles perform similar functions. With the knee extended, they abduct the thigh out to the side away from the opposite leg. When running, they stabilize the leg. With the hips flexed, they internally rotate the thigh. With the hips extended, they externally rotate the thigh.
This is the most important muscle group to train for women with cellulite since these muscles make up most of the area where cellulite tends to develop. In the next section I’ll show you exactly how to train these muscles to get maximum results with minimum effort.
The Hamstrings also consist of three muscles; the Biceps Femoris muscle, the Semitendinosus muscle, and the Semimembranosus muscle. These muscles combined are primarily responsible for the flexion of the knee joint (bending of the knee) as well as assisting the extension of the thigh (moving the upper leg backwards). In addition to these functions the hamstring muscles work in tandem to rotate the knee, assist in maintaining a standing position with knees slightly bent as well as limiting how far we can bend forward as we try to touch our toes without bending our knees. The hamstring muscles also play a role in our posture by assisting to straighten out the lower curvature of the spine which curves the pelvis forward when sitting.
Let’s look at each of the 3 muscles a little closer:
The origin attachment point of the Biceps Femoris muscle arises as two heads from the Ischial Tuberosity region of the pelvis as a tendon which is shares with the Semitendinous muscle. Another shorter head arises from the outside edged of the Linea Aspera. The fibers of the short head merge into those of the long head, which then have an insertion attachment point on the head of the fibula.
The Semitendinosus muscle has an origin attachment point from the Ischial Tuberosity region of the pelvis as a tendon shared with the biceps femurs. and has an insertion attachment point on the upper shaft of the tibia.
The Semimembranosus muscle has an origin attachment point from just in front of the Semitendinosus muscle on the Ischial Tuberosity region and has five insertion attachment points the main one on the posterior portion of the medial condyle of the tibia a second insertion point is the fascia which covers the Popliteus muscle and the remainder insert joining the Tibial Collateral ligament of the joint and the fascia of the leg.
Behind the glutes, the hamstrings are the second most common area for cellulite to materialize. Many women have cellulite on their butt and it often extends down the upper thighs, which is where the hamstrings lie. This is the other section of the body where we will put a lot of focus, mostly through compound movements that work both the gluteal muscles and the hamstrings at once.
Compound Movements vs Isolation Movements
Resistance training is comprised of two types of movements; compound and isolation.
Compound movements give you the dost bang for your buck, because 8-10 exercises can stimulate all the major muscles in the body and create the greatest change in body composition in the shortest amount of time. As an added bonus, compound exercises help develop the body proportionately.
Compound exercises also increase strength and size far more effectively than single-joint, isolation exercises. This doesn’t mean that single-joint exercises are ineffective. Exercises that isolate certain muscles and muscle groups do have an important role in fitness, especially for advanced lifters. However, if your schedule calls for reduced exercise time, compound exercises are the way to go.
Examples of compound exercises:
- Leg Press
Then there are isolation movements which focus on one specific muscle or muscle group. These are important for toning specific problem areas that you may have. In our case the only isolation moves we will bother with are ones that target the hamstrings and glutes.
Examples of isolation exercises:
- Leg Curls
- Hip Abduction
- Hip Extension
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s review the most important compound exercises you’ll need to tone your problem areas and fight cellulite. This will be the primary part of your workout program.
When it comes to building your bum, there is no single exercise more important that the squat. Not only is it the queen exercise of butt building, but it also burns a ton of calories, improves your cardiovascular system, and helps your body release more human growth hormone.
An important tip for women who want to build their glutes without adding a lot of muscle to their quads (the front side of your thighs) is to go “wide and high”. Keeping a wider stance and your weight shifted back will put more focus on your glutes and less on your quads. Most of us spend the majority of our day sitting, which causes the gluteal muscles to weaken and makes us rely more heavily on our quads and hamstrings.
If you want to crank things up a notch, add single leg squats to your routine. This puts your body in an unbalanced position, so you’ll have to recruit untapped muscle fibers in order to maintain your balance. This small change can make a world of difference in your progress.
To perform a single leg squat, just hold one leg out in front of you, raise your arms in front to aid in balance, and squat down keeping your upper body as upright as possible. Another variation of the single leg squat is the split squat.
To perform a split squat, simply place one leg up on a bench (or other flat surface) behind you, while standing on the other leg straight underneath you. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your side and slowly bend the leg you’re standing on to move into the squat position. Then simply straighten your leg until you’re at the top of the position. After you’ve finished all your reps on that side, you then repeat the exercise standing on the other foot.
While the squat is considered the queen of all leg exercises, the leg press is another popular leg builder of the royal family. It is performed in a similar fashion as a squat, except it is done on a machine. A leg press machine will have shoulder pads and a flat area for your feet. It is often horizontal or at a 45 degree angle. To perform a leg press simply place your feet shoulder width apart, and slightly in front of you. The further forward your feet are, the more focus it will put on your hamstrings vs your quads.
Lunges are another killer compound exercise you can perform at home or at the gym. They work all the upper leg muscles, but especially the glutes and hamstrings which are the most important for us. To perform a lunge, stand straight up with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a large step forward and lunge until your rear knee almost touches the ground. Your front knee should be at a 90 degree angle. Then, simply push off with your front leg to return to the standing position. Alternate between your left and right legs. This exercise is more effective when done with dumbbells, but you can also do it at home with just your body weigh and more reps.
Deadlifts are another one of the most powerful compound movements you can perform if you want to maximize results in the shortest amount of time. The deadlift effectively targets all major muscle groups in the lower body as well as the back, and can hit other muscle groups as well with just a few small tweaks.
To perform a basic deadlift, place a barbell on the ground so it is balancing on top of the weight plates. Walk up to the bar so that it is centered over your feet. Your feet should be about hip-width apart. Bend at the hip and grip the bar at shoulder-width with an alternating grip.
With your feet and your grip set, take a big breath and then lower your hips and flex the knees until your shins contact the bar. Keep your chest up and your back arched, and begin driving through the heels to move the weight upward (keeping the bar close to your body on the way up).
After the bar passes the knees aggressively pull the bar back, pulling your shoulder blades together as you drive your hips forward into the bar.
Lower the bar back to the ground by bending at the hips and guiding it to the floor.
If you prefer not to use a barbell, this exercise can also be performed using two dumbbells (see photos below).
Bridges are a great exercise for toning your glutes and can be performed anywhere, since all you need is a floor. If you want to add more resistance, you can grab a barbell at the gym and place it along your waist as you perform the bridge.
To perform a bridge, lie flat on your back on a mat with your knees bent pointing up to the ceiling and your arms at your sides. Simply raise your pelvis up toward the ceiling to a point where your body will be at a about a 45 degree angle relative to the floor. At the top of the movement, be sure to really flex your butt for a one-count. Return to the start position and repeat.
Box jumps are another good compound movement that work all of the muscles in your problem area without the need for any weights for fancy equipment. These not only work your glutes and hamstrings, but they get your heart rate up into that fat burning range, making them a great replacement for cardio.
To perform a box jump you’ll want to find a hard, flat object that is at least knee high. It can be much higher, but this can be dangerous if you’re not experienced and have good flexibility. If you’re at home you can use a small table or other similar object, just be absolutely sure it is sturdy and won’t flip over or you could seriously hurt yourself. If you’re at a gym, there should be no shortage of objects you can use for box jumping.
To perform this exercise place a box 1-2 feet in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Perform a short squat in preparation for jumping, swinging your arms behind you.
Rebound out of this position, extending through the hips, knees, and ankles to jump as high as possible. Swing your arms forward and up.
Land on the box with the knees bent, absorbing the impact through the legs. You can jump from the box back to the ground, or preferably step down one leg at a time.
With box jumps, form is everything. Focus on keeping perfect form and doing slower, lower repetitions.
Isolation exercises are resistance exercises that target a single muscle rather than multiple muscles like compound movements. They are good for building specific problem areas, but they do not burn as much fat and calories as the exercises we’ve discussed so far. That said, they are easier to perform than exercises like squats and deadlifts and are still useful for targeting the hamstrings and gluteals.
The leg curl is similar to a bicep curl, except for your legs. It works the hamstrings specifically, which is a problem area for most cellulite sufferers. To perform a leg curl, lay down horizontally on the leg curl machine. Place your ankles under the padded curl bar. Set the appropriate weight, and curl your legs towards your rear as far as you can. Then, slowly release back down to full extension. Do this slowly for 15-20 reps to tone the hamstrings.
Glute Ham Raise
The glute ham raise is a little known exercise that is gaining popularity. It primarily works the hamstrings, but also the gluteals. To perform the glute ham raise, you will need to anchor your feet. Find a lip on something, either a machine or a bed or one of those ab benches. Face down, anchor your heels underneath the lip, and if you are not on a pad you will want to place a towel under your knees.
Starting with your feet anchored and your knees bent at 90 degrees, slowly lower your upper body to the floor. You will probably need to catch yourself at the bottom, at least in the beginning, so you don’t smash your nose. Chances are you will also need to give yourself a slight push off the floor in order to get moving up again. Use your hamstrings to pull yourself back up.
To perform this at home, you can push your toes under a couch and use it to brace yourself, or you can have a partner hold your ankles down.
Hip abduction works the outer thighs and sides of the hamstrings. There are multiple exercises that can be performed in a gym or at home. A hip abduction machine consists of a seat and two padded areas for your feet. To perform machine hip abduction, sit down with your feet on the designated areas. Your knees should be pointed straight forward. Set the appropriate weight, and push your legs outward, away from each other. You should reach at least a 90 degree angle between your legs. Then, slowly release until your legs are straight forward.
Hip extensions are a great way to tone your glutes and hamstrings. To perform a kneeling hip extension, get on your hands and knees (with or without ankle weights). Kick one leg out behind you as high as you can and hold it for 2-3 seconds. Then, return to your knee. Do 15-25 repetitions and then switch to the other leg and repeat.
The standing hip extension is another type of hip extension. To perform a standing hip extension, stand up straight and simply extend one leg out behind you as far as you can. You should be able to reach approximately 45 degrees. Then, return to the original position and repeat for 15-25 reps. Do this for both legs, one at a time. This should be done with a cable or ankle weights if possible. It also may help to put one foot on a slightly raised surface, like a step.
Low-Intensity Cardio for Cellulite
Low-intensity cardio is a type of cardio training that focuses more on burning fat than exercising the heart and lungs and is much different than high-intensity cardio.
The breakdown of fats in your body is called lipolysis. The enzyme in the body that is responsible for lipolysis is called lipase. Lipase turns fats into three unbound fatty acids (FFA) and one glycerol molecule. Mobilization is the breakdown of triglycerides into glycerol and FFA’s for energy. So you can think of mobilization as breaking down fat in your body for future possible use. Oxidation is the point at which the fatty acids that were mobilized were actually burned.
Studies have shown that as the intensity of exercise increases, the lower the amount of FFA’s (fats that have been mobilized) there are in your bloodstream. This is because during low-intensity cardio, the rate at which oxidation occurs in FFA’s in much higher than in high-intensity cardio. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually not that simple. Doing high-intensity cardio can actually burn more fat than low-intensity cardio because you burn more total calories overall (assuming you’re exercising for the same amount of time).
Let’s say you burned 200 calories doing low-intensity cardio and 90% of those calories came from fat. That means you burned 180 calories of fat and 20 from other sources. If you had done high-intensity cardio during that same time period, you may have burned 300 calories and 75% of those calories were burned from fat. That means you burned 225 calories from fat and 75 calories from other sources. These are just estimates, but you get the idea.
The point I’m getting to here, is that you don’t need to strain yourself sprinting on a treadmill or biking to exhaustion to burn fat. Doing lower intensity cardio exercises that also build muscle are a more efficient way to drop excess fat while building and toning your thighs and butt. Below are two examples of low-intensity cardio exercises you can add to the END of your workouts if you want to time effectively drop some body fat.
When it comes to cardio training, there are few better exercises to tone the glutes than uphill walking (or jogging). This is best done on a treadmill while setting the incline to 10% or higher. Keep your pace between speed walking and slow jogging. If you don’t have access to a treadmill you can obviously find an uphill area in your neighborhood and simply walk up it.
Stairs are another great way to burn fat and work on your butt at the same time. Stair climbs can be performed anywhere, whether on a machine or on a staircase in your home or apartment. If you don’t have a full size staircase you can simply do step-ups, which involves repetitively stepping up and down on a single step (or bench).
During both of these exercises, focus on keeping your heart rate at 70% of your max. If you’re using a machine at the gym it should be equipped with monitor this for you. If not, use your best judgment. You should feel your heart rate beating faster than normal, but not as fast as during, say, a sprint. You should be slightly winded but not gasping for air.
How to Train for Cellulite Reduction
Let’s explore some basic principals of how women should resistance train:
- As a general rule, women should perform exercises at a weight that allows them to complete 15 to 25 repetitions; with the last few repetitions feeling a bit challenging. It is those last few reps that really matter, not the first 10.
- Perform 3-4 sets of each exercise, never more than that. Be sure to stretch beforehand and perform a warm-up set with lower weight if needed.
- Your routine should be performed at a fairly fast pace. This does not mean rushing through your sets. It means after completing a set, you should allow only a few minutes max before you begin your next set. This keeps your heart rate up, which keeps you in the fat burning range throughout your workout. It also prevents you from needlessly spending hours in the gym every day. If you find certain muscles getting too tired to keep pace, you can try alternating exercises.
- Focus on using perfect form, especially when performing body weight exercise (without additional weights). If you want to build and shape the perfect butt without getting bulky, form is what will get you there. Perform each rep very slowly and focus on keeping the target muscles tight.
- Don’t overdo it. You only need to train 3-4 times per week. Any more than that is overtraining, which will only hurt your progress. You should be feeling pretty sore the day after a workout. If you are, consider taking a day off and focusing on your diet. Remember, resistance training breaks down your muscles and the food you eat rebuilds it stronger than before.
Sample Training Schedule
Below is a sample schedule you can follow that will build your bottom and melt your cellulite in less than 3 hours PER WEEK. Plus, you get the weekends off!
Monday: 30 minutes resistance training / 20 minutes low-intensity cardio
Tuesday: 30 minutes resistance training
Thursday: 30 minutes resistance training / 20 minutes low-intensity cardio
Friday: 30 minutes resistance training