Sunday, March 3, 2013

Getting That Hourglass Figure

Ah, the hourglass figure. Many women think that they are doomed by genetics to never look curvy and feminine. Although genetics can help determine the degree of curviness a woman can have, the bombshell classic can nevertheless be yours if you are willing to put in the work.

An hourglass figure basically means that you are small in the waist area and proportionately larger in the hips and bust. You can’t do a whole lot (short of surgery) about your bust size. Fortunately, you have a lot more control over the rest than you might think. The standard ideal waist to hip ratio is usually agreed upon to be around .70, just for reference. You can get this number by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement. Start by finding a flexible measuring tape and wrapping it around the smallest part of your waist. For most women this is well above the belly button (around the inferior angle of the rib cage). The measuring tape should be firmly touching your skin all the way around, level with the floor, and not so tight that it creates any bulging. The hip measurement should be taken in the same way at the fullest part.

Now that we know what an hourglass figure is, how do we get one? Okay, the goal here is to make your waist smaller, which will usually involve burning off some fat, and make your hips and butt larger or at least stay the same, which will usually involve building muscle.

Midsection:

So what makes your waist large? There are many factors:

1. The first and most obvious is excess fat. I’m not big on counting calories, but it is a good idea to do it just once, just to know what you’re really taking in. There are plenty of resources online to help you estimate your calorie intake and most big restaurants and a lot of grocery stores have information posted about the nutrition of their meals and products available for those who are curious. Keep a food journal for a few days just to see what your typical meal plan actually looks like. A lot of people simply eat way more than they need to of foods that provide little nutritional value and don’t realize it. Let’s say I have a recommended 2000 calorie diet. If I kept three meals a day at 500 calories a piece, and saved 500 calories for snacks and drinks, that’s it. See how many meals you eat are actually 500 calories and it may make you reconsider your meal plan. What this should tell you is that you’d better make those 500 calorie meals provide you with enough fuel to keep you going so that you don’t get hungry later.

2. I am not a nutritionist. However, I do know that certain foods seem to affect this belly area differently for different people. While you’re keeping a food journal, you may want to pay attention to what you eat for awhile and measure your waist circumference to find out what does it for you. For me, excess wheat and/or heavy fried foods not only make me feel heavy and unmotivated (so less likely to want to work out), but tend to put fat around the midsection for me. If I minimize my intake of these foods, my waist tends to be slimmer. Things high in sugar don’t seem to do this for me so that isn’t as big a deal. Pay attention to your own body and see what works and doesn’t work for you.

3. Skipping meals. This is something a lot of people do when they’re trying to slim down. All I can say is “don’t”. Three things are likely to happen. The first is that you will be tired and unlikely to want to do any physical activity. The second is that you are likely, when drained, to crave comfort foods. The third is that starving yourself can send your body into (surprise!) starvation mode, which will possibly have you storing up your fat reserves.

4. Sleep and stress. I will address these two together simply because they are related. Stress tends to increase belly fat. Google “cortisol” if you want to learn more about this topic. Lack of sleep tends to do make you tired, hungry and unmotivated. It also tends to increase your stress level. Try to get some sleep and a little down time. It’s good for you anyway.

5. Bloating. This usually related to your menstrual cycle. People tend to be more bloated as their period approaches. Don’t get discouraged if you see no results during this time. You will most likely see them as soon as your period is over. Added benefit of being leaner/more fit is that this often correlates with lighter periods and milder symptoms.

6. In relation to the previous topic, many people actually have backed up bowels they don’t know about. If you think this might be you, try doing a partial liquid diet for a few days and see if it doesn’t help you out. During this time, the blender is your best friend. Keep your solid meals light and easy to digest. If you are unsure about your ability to properly nourish yourself, consult with a specialist.

Bottom:

Now that we’ve discussed getting your waist smaller, it’s time to talk about toning up those hips and buttocks. Take a lesson from Brazilian girls. No really, the Brazilian butt for the most part isn’t any more natural than disproportionately large pectorals and biceps on the gym guy with the skinny legs. I’m sure you’ve seen this guy. If you watch Brazilian girls in the gym, they work almost exclusively the butt and hip area. The result of working these muscles not surprisingly makes them bigger. So there we go, big hips and buttocks. This won’t, however, happen from getting on the elliptical trainer for two hours with no resistance. If you want to make muscles grow in size, it will require some kind of weight bearing activity. There are countless online resources and available personal trainers to teach you how to exercise if it is not your forte. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and try it out and see what works for you.

Awesome Tip of the Day: Notice how I didn’t mention doing hours of abdominal work outs? Remember when we talked about how working muscles makes them bigger? Right. A lot of women make the mistake of overdoing the ab work outs and end up with a flat, square shape instead of a lovely feminine curve. Also, too much abs and not enough back makes for strange posture (see other tip below… )

Top:

All of this will help you get what is known as a “pear shape” body. Not everyone is destined for a true hourglass figure as it is limited by breast size. A sad fact of losing weight anyway is watching your breasts get smaller (unless you are already considering a reduction). So how do we make a “pear shape” look like a “peanut shape”? The secret is to work your back and shoulders. By putting some meat on your back and shoulders, it will create what is known as a “V shape” on men. This is because men have a lower waist than women do. For women, it will help balance out the larger bottom side and create the illusion of the hourglass (especially from the back, which is awesome!) and turn your body into the bombshell figure you’ve always wanted.

Second Awesome Tip of the Day: Stand in front of an honest mirror and take a look at your posture. If you see a female Mr. Burns, I’m talking to you. Standing up correctly is not only good for your alignment but it is physically attractive. Even a skinny girl can create a little belly pouch by slouching. Don’t do this to yourself. In addition to contributing to back and shoulder pain, slouching can make you look flimsy and insecure. Standing up straight can make you look firm and confident. That attitude alone is attractive to most people.

All this said, I am a strong believer that insecurity comes from a feeling of helplessness and lack of control in one’s own life. If you are unhappy with your body, or would just like to improve it, know that this is within your power as long as you are willing to put in some work and self-discipline. Start a food and work out log to keep yourself accountable and check in with yourself every week. You can weigh yourself if you want but I suggest taking measurements instead, since the goal is to change shape, not weight. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away. Many people won’t see a noticeable change within the first month of trying to change their body. You might like taking a picture of yourself in the mirror in your best lingerie every two weeks to track your progress and keep yourself motivated. Feel free to ask questions via email and I will be happy to respond.



UPDATE


One of my readers asked a bunch of good questions about this post so I thought I would just address them for all of you.

1. About the abs, I thought there were some ab muscles that supposedly "cinched" the waist in tighter when they were stronger. Is that not true? Also, where does the core sequence fit in with trying to not work abs to get a smaller midsection?

Yes. Transverse abdominals. They don't have to be super strong, just trained to do their job. The core sequence is done with no resistance and works you evenly. You don't need to do it more than a couple of times per week to stay strong. It becomes more of a low level cardio when you get used to it. It won't bulk you up.

2. About the bottom, what if you have small hips but a big butt? From the front you would look less bell curve, but based on the measurement you might have the .70 ratio. Or should I be measuring around the hips, not butt area?

The measurement factors both hips and butt and you should measure right around the fullest part, parallel to the floor.

3. So making the butt muscles bigger seems pretty easy to me. Lots of running and squats and stuff. But how do you make the hips themselves look wider?

You have muscles on the hips too. I get them from holding kicks out, but I saw the girls in brazil with ankle weights lying on their side doing leg extensions. Similar idea.  Basically, bring your knee up to your chest and then extend your leg so that it is alongside your other leg as it would be if you were standing.  This should look like doing knee raises from a standing position on you are lying on your side without letting your leg rest against your other one.  You can also get on your hands and knees and lift your leg out to the side (think dog watering a mailbox).  I saw some people doing this to develop hip strength for kicking during a cardio kickboxing class.

4. Can you identify a few exercises you think are easiest/best for increasing the shoulders? Push ups?

Push ups are going to help tone and strengthen your pectorals and triceps primarily.  It is good to do these and they help firm and tone your chest and arms.  However, I would suggest working your lats and upper back to create a V shape. Try lat pull-downs and rowing.

5. Back to the abs and core sequence again. Do these exercises strengthen the back as well? My back gets tight after doing them. Does that mean I'm doing them incorrectly?

Yes to the first part. The idea is that they work everything around fairly evenly. Most people will feel it in their backs because they're used to working the front disproportionately.  As your back becomes stronger, you will not notice this as much.  Stretch your back out afterward if you feel like it helps.  It is good to stretch anyway.

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