Q: Hello Erika,
I would like to ask you a question: I have been doing bodyweight strength training, with a fair amount of squats and lower body exercises (I do not want to expand my waist because I am working toward an hourglass figure). But I read recently somewhere that doing squats can make your thighs bigger!! I think that my thighs are the biggest part of my body, so my goal is NOT to have them bigger at all. I don’t know what to do. Should I give up strenght training? I also don’t do much cardio, because I simply don’t like it. I am active though and I do yoga as well. Although I could stand 5 vanity pounds or so (I am working toward that by cleaning up my diet) I am ok with the way I look (I am 5’2 and 131 pounds). I just want to be more tone and just look a bit more fit, and I also would like my thighs to look thinner. Any advice for me? I thank you in advance, Erika.
There are a couple things I want to point out quickly:
First, there is no way to engage your lower body without using your thighs in some fashion. Your thighs will always be engaged whenever you bend at the waist, knee, or ankle. Our muscles are all connected in ways that help us move safely. Whenever one group of muscles is pulling itself in tighter, another group has to elongate. When one group is loosening so you can bend (like your back does when you bend at the waist), another group is bracing and tightening in order to support, like your booty and thighs. Just about all lower body movement is going to engage your thighs.
And, really, because the thighs are the largest muscle group in the human body, you want that engaged in as many ways as possible. Breaking down and rebuilding those muscle fibers is one of the most metabolically beneficial things you can do. You truly would be missing out in numerous ways if you decided to cut that entirely.
Secondly, there’s a general rule in training—up the cardio when you want loss, up the lifting if you want gain. Surely, in this case we want fat loss and muscle gain, since those will be the primary drivers that help you get the job done and maintain your loss.
Bodyweight exercises aren’t going to have to walking around looking like Ah-nold at this point, but they are capable of helping you build quality muscle to help with both your metabolism and your figure goals. Doing them slowly combined with eating more calories than you need will result in muscle growth and, yes, fuller thighs. Doing your body weight exercises quicker while maintaining a caloric deficit combined with a respectable amount of protein in your diet will help you burn fat while helping you keep the muscle you have, thus helping you look more lean and “toned.”
The muscle is important, and takes a long time to develop. It’s not an overnight thing, it’s more of a “six-months-later-oh-wait-are-my-thighs-poppin’-a-little-bit?” kind of thing. You want that, especially since it’ll help you develop and maintain the figure you’re after. But you also want to protect from getting larger, too, so we have to find a suitable trade-off.
Here’s my suggestion—clean up your diet and do your body weight exercises in the form of high intensity interval training, which will help you lose some of the body fat you want to get rid of while also helping you keep the muscle you’ve got. Then, once you’re close to or have achieved your goal, you can opt to build muscle where you want at your discretion.
From here, it’s an ounce-by-ounce battle, and a slow march towards where you want to go. But, if you keep at it and don’t worry about the “getting bigger” part—as long as your diet is up to snuff, you have very little to worry about—you’ll be fine. And keep lifting—your body will thank you for it!