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April 6, 2011 9:57 AM   Subscribe

After being out of commission over the winter, I'm trying to get back into shape. I am 5'8", mid forties female. Last fall I weighed 118 lbs, and ran 5k five days a week on the treadmill, followed by 10-20 minutes stairmaster. I was extremely sedentary for about 4 months over the winter due to a knee issue. I currently weigh 129 after being back to working out for a few weeks, and only want to lose about five more pounds. However, I want these five pounds to come from my lower body, not my upper.

Last year I feel my upper body was too thin, and my boobs essentially disappeared. I don't want that to happen again. I like my boobs, and I want to keep them. My shoulders/arms/torso stay nicely toned and strengthened because I use them to help me on high incline speed walking. It's my upper thighs I'm concerned with. After working out again for a few weeks now, I can feel my muscles in my lower body toning up well, but they are covered by layer of fat. This, and pretty much only this, is what I want to disappear. I know it's not possible to spot reduce, but is it possible to reduce in a more general zone (lower body)?

I currently go to gym 5 days and do 20 minutes each of two of the following at resistance levels that work the muscles: stairmaster, bike, or elliptical, sometimes treadmill speedwalking at medium/high incline . I stay in high intensity heart rate zone for me, which is in the 170's. I follow this up with a 3 days a week of thigh adduction/abduction machine and the recline squat machine.

Complication: I have very little cartilage in my left knee, and need to aggravate whats left as little as possible. I have stage three degenerative osteo (bone on bone) and need a knee replacement. The reason that I can walk or workout is because I've had synthetic cartilage injected into my knee as a temporary measure. The less my knee gets inflamed, the longer it lasts.
The exercise I've listed above I do because they don't result in pain for me. I am also doing basic knee strengthening exercises/stretches given to me by my PT.

So is it possible to rid myself of the fat on my lower body but keep some up top?
posted by newpotato to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think it's very possible to reduce even a general zone when dieting and exercising, unfortunately. You sound pear-shaped, so it seems like your body passes over your boobs and arms in order to store fat in your butt and thighs. It sucks, I know, but losing weight will probably mean smaller boobs long, long before you get to smaller thighs.

Also, and I know you didn't ask this, but

stairmaster, bike, or elliptical, sometimes treadmill speedwalking at medium/high incline . I stay in high intensity heart rate zone for me, which is in the 170's. I follow this up with a 3 days a week of thigh adduction/abduction machine and the recline squat machine.

Would you be interested in doing something less cardio/machine-based? A toned thighs and ass, even if covered in a layer of fat, look SO MUCH better than flabby thighs and ass, and cardio/machines just aren't the path to this. Try squats and lunges and deadlifting, all in free weight mode. Machines, whether for cardio or anaerobic exercise, are generally far less effective in building muscles than simple free weights.
posted by Hwaet at 10:06 AM on April 6, 2011


Also, if you're worried that losing weight will lead to stick arms, definitely look into free weights to build muscle on top so you'll look more proportionate.

Again, sorry if I'm derailing the question; I'm a big fan of telling other women to lift weights and practice HIIT training instead of wasting hours on a treadmill. If you want to lose weight, skip the stairmaster and cut back on carbs.
posted by Hwaet at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Short of liposuction, there's not really any guaranteed way to spot reduce fat. The general knowledge has been that it's completely impossible, a study or two showed that it might be slightly possible ("Hey, 2% more fat loss, here") but that doesn't help you much.

The only advice I can give deals with the knee- swimming. Be kind to the cartilage in your knee, because it doesn't come back, and we don't have any real replacement technology yet.

If you lose the ability to walk, or get up stairs, the weight issues will get worse but actually be the least of your problems.
posted by yeloson at 10:16 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know it's not possible to spot reduce, but is it possible to reduce in a more general zone (lower body)?

No, that's what spot reduction means. Your pattern of fat accumulation or removal is genetic, you can't control where it goes on or comes off.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 10:19 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alas, you lose where you lose. (Generally, the last place you put on fat is the first place from which it leaves, so if as you gain fat your boobs get bigger, as you lose it, they'll get smaller.) This is why I've lost many inches from my thighs and bust and, alas, far fewer from my hips and stomach. Seconding Hwaet, if keeping your current cup size is a priority, maybe don't focus so much on slimming down as toning up--work with your physical therapist (and perhaps a trainer at your gym) to develop a weight lifting routine that will develop these muscles in a way that won't hurt your knees and bones. Free weights with squats and lunges or something like a TRX system (where you work on these rope things against your own body weight) are going to be a lot more effective than those thigh machines they have. Also, maybe don't focus so much on the scale number as measurements and fitness overall. (I believe done right, weight training also is good for those with osteoporosis.)
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 10:27 AM on April 6, 2011


The best you can do is build muscle where you want more you. The happy news is that upper body work is not going to aggravate your knees.
posted by anaelith at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2011


Nope. The boobs always go first, I'm afraid.
posted by yarly at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2011


I can feel my muscles in my lower body toning up well, but they are covered by layer of fat. This, and pretty much only this, is what I want to disappear.

There is no natural way to do this. If anything, your body will go for your boob fat way, way earlier than your thighs & glutes. This is just the way we're wired (for guys it's the lower abdominals, a.k.a. the tire that comes off last). For some reason—probably related to protecting the womb—a woman's body is hard-wired to hold on to those particular fat stores.

I think you would find that, even if you had the fat removed surgically, your body would simply start storing fat there all over again. This is because bodies are annoying.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2011


Hwaet: I don't have a problem with building muscle on the machines, as I mentioned, I put them up to a level where I am working the muscle so it's not just cardio. My legs were very muscular prior to my knee going, and thanks to muscle memory or genetics, they will be again, they are pretty hard already. It's the layer of fat that is on top of the muscle that I want to get rid of, while at the same time not losing my boobs. I have no problems losing weight -i don't eat carbs, but do occasionally drink them ;) -it's where I want to lose the weight from that's a problem.
My arms are good, too.
I used to do HIIT, I loved it. I had personal trainers for years in my younger days, and it was my favorite form of training.

Yeloson: You speak the truth. I have 2/3 of my cartilage gone in my left knee, and couldn't walk at all over the winter, forget about going up the stairs. I had injections to replace the lost cartilage with a thin layer of gel. These will work for about six months at a time, and I can keep getting them until they stop working, which they may at any point. Then I get the knee replacement. It's great because I can move and workout again, even though it hasn't eliminated all the pain, and now I can go up stairs easily, though not down.

HonoriaGlossop I agree about the weight thing, I weigh myself just to compare before and after...I more often use how I look, my measurements, or how my clothes fit to determine whats happening with my body.
My measurements prior to the knee going were 33-24-36 (I'm italian, the ass will always be there) with thighs at 19.5. I am currently 35-25-38, with thighs at 21. I'm happy with the first two numbers, and actually don't want to get any smaller there, so if just toning will get rid of the fat that is on top of the muscle on my ass and thighs, I am all for it, as long as I can do it without mucking up my knee any more. Maybe I wll try the TRX you mentioned, it seems gentler than free weights to me for some reason.

I cannot do lunges or squats (correction, I just tried to do a few lunges, I can't do the side with the left knee back, the other side is fine, squats still a no go), and won't go near a dead lift. I'm pretty afraid of any exercise that might put too much stress on my knees prematurely (for example, in day to day life, I can't lift or carry heavy things anymore because it KILLS my knee). I think that's why I stick to the recline squat machine and the thigh adductor, because they seem more controlled to me..

This is because bodies are annoying.

Thank you for making me laugh. This is so sadly true.
posted by newpotato at 11:50 AM on April 6, 2011


If you want to keep your boobs, add the bench press to your routine. It won't keep you from losing breast fat or change the size of the breasts themselves, but building muscle underneath will help make what you've got look bigger and better.
posted by vorfeed at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2011


FWIW: I have had great results losing body fat around my abdomen and thighs going on basically Phase 1 of the South Beach diet. I typically gain weight evenly distributed but as I grow older, my stomach and thighs began to fill out more. I used to be able to gain up to 20 lbs. and still wear my size 2-4 jeans! That's not to say they fit or looked as good/well.

And I always kept my boobs.
posted by loquat at 12:11 PM on April 6, 2011


I'm happy with the first two numbers, and actually don't want to get any smaller there, so if just toning will get rid of the fat that is on top of the muscle on my ass and thighs, I am all for it, as long as I can do it without mucking up my knee any more.

No, "toning" your legs will not get rid of the fat on them, because that would be spot reduction. The word "toning" tends to be used pretty spuriously in fitness circles. Muscle tone means the passive contraction of a muscle, or how hard it is when it's at rest. It is a neurological phenomenon, and it is most efficiently increased by training with maximal or near-maximal loads. There's some more detail on this page. So you can tone a muscle by working it with heavy weights (which is exactly the opposite of the routines typically associated with "toning"), and that may result in a better appearance, but it won't do anything in particular to reduce the fat on top of the muscle.

Maybe I wll try the TRX you mentioned, it seems gentler than free weights to me for some reason.

Consider that this may just be the result of bias; I'm not going to tell you how to work around your injury, but bodyweight resistance isn't inherently "gentler" than the resistance of a barbell or dumbbell, and it's usually more difficult to scale. The advantage of a barbell is that you can control exactly how much weight you're lifting, down to the pound. You can't really do that with your bodyweight.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2011


It may sound silly, but you could begin little daydreaming sessions imagining the fat leaving those regions. The mind is a powerful thing. It would send a message to your body to change what it is doing, and possibly lead you to real-world solutions, too. You might do it every night as you go to sleep.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 3:09 PM on April 6, 2011


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