Without question some of the most frequently asked questions I get from my female clients and followers has to do with the topic of cellulite. No doubt cellulite can be a stubborn problem for a lot of women and traditional exercise doesnâ€™t seem to have much impact on reducing it.
While I donâ€™t have a magic bullet solution to the problem, I can share with you the strategies that Iâ€™ve seen work much better than others. In this post, weâ€™ll get into the physiology of whatâ€™s really behind cellulite and the techniques that provide the best results with reducing its appearance.
Letâ€™s start by discussing what cellulite really is in the first place. Cellulite is nothing more than fatty deposits immediately below the surface of your skin. This layer of fat is bonded to a firm layer of collagen and connective tissue.
As long as the fat cells and connective tissue in this layer remain flexible and strong the skin will have a smooth appearance. When the fat cells and tissue begin to weaken this causes sagging, resulting in the dimply, bumpy texture we refer to as cellulite. The weaker the cells and the more the skin elasticity is lost, the worse the sagging and more noticeable cellulite will be.
The appearance of cellulite can come at any age although most women will notice it when they get older. When youâ€™re younger the connective tissue is elastic and strong so the skin remains smooth.
Over time with aging combined with a host of factors including hormonal balances, lifestyle habits, diet, and exercise, the connective tissue begins to contract and stiffen. At the same time if fat cells weaken and increase in size they begin to push through. This doesnâ€™t have much to do with the outer layer of skin, but rather the connective tissue and fat deposits underneath.
The problem with the majority of cellulite treatments is they only focus on one piece of the puzzle. The reality is cellulite simply canâ€™t be traced back to one factor.
Creams, laser treatments, endermology, and the like focus on the skin and underlying connective tissue but NOT the underlying physiological factors associated with cellular function, lymphatic flow, and central nervous system function.
Do any of these treatments really work? In all fairness, Iâ€™ve seen examples where endermology has helped and others where it didnâ€™t. Iâ€™ve yet to see a cream based product do much of anything. I certainly wonâ€™t dismiss the possible benefit of endermology with some women, but itâ€™s not cheap so take that into consideration. Plus itâ€™s not a magic bullet solution either so youâ€™ll still want to look at additional measures with dietary and exercise changes.
Why traditional exercise fails miserably with reducing the appearance of celluliteâ€¦
Hereâ€™s something Iâ€™ve seen numerous times that provides real world evidence that cellulite isnâ€™t limited to women who are overweight.
A woman who exercises regularly, watches what she eats and is relatively lean, but still has cellulite. So what gives? Remember, cellulite isnâ€™t the deeper layer of fat but rather the fatty deposits and weakened connective tissue right underneath the top layer of skin. You could do a ton of cardio and starve yourself with restrictive diets to lose weight and STILL have cellulite.
Most women look towards aerobic exercise and dieting to lose weight. Hours upon hours spent on a treadmill, stair-climber, elliptical, etc, all while skimping on meals and significantly restricting calories. This is an extremely poor strategy for several reasons.
For starters, excessive aerobic exercise or cardio done while severely restricting calories results in a catabolic state where the adrenals crank out cortisol in response to physiological stressors. In short, you break down lean muscle and throw hormonal balances out of whack.
Remember the entire endocrine system works together as one unit. Nothing is isolated when it comes to hormones. Drive up cortisol levels and it will impact thyroid hormone production, estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and others.
Aerobic exercise doesnâ€™t produce much of a hormonal response as a result of the activity. Sure there are cardiovascular benefits, but you wonâ€™t see a significant response from adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, growth hormone, and other fat burning hormones. If anything, when done in excess (especially in a caloric restrictive state) we see a negative response due to the surge in cortisol like previously discussed.
To cut to the chase, aerobic exercise doesnâ€™t create a metabolic disturbance, provide much of a hormonal response, or impact lean muscle. The three factors I just mentioned are essential if youâ€™re going to get at the root of cellulite.
How burst training otherwise known as â€śmetabolic resistance trainingâ€ť can make a differenceâ€¦
If you want the most effective exercise strategy to reduce the appearance of cellulite look no further than burst training. What exactly is burst training? Itâ€™s resistance exercise done in short burst of high intensity effort.
Unlike other forms of traditional aerobic exercise or moderate intensity weight training like youâ€™d do with health club machines, burst training provides a metabolic disturbance and strong hormonal response.
For starters, thereâ€™s a concern for muscle that comes with doing burst training. The focus needs to be on developing metabolically active lean muscle and not just burning calories while doing cardio.
The high intensity nature of the exercises helps to strengthen not only the muscle and connective tissue, but more importantly it improves central nervous system and lymphatic function.
Thereâ€™s a lot to be said about high intensity exercise helping to strengthen your body at the cellular level. The nature of the exercise helps to improve circulatory and neural response by recruiting all muscle fiber types and energy systems.
Part of the key to reducing cellulite is getting a nor-adrenaline release from doing short burst of high intensity effort. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re familiar with adrenaline, the hormone produced by your adrenals as part of the fight or flight mechanism. What you may not know is adrenaline is ONLY circulated through the blood stream.
It can access tissue and fat cells with direct access to blood from the capillaries, but NOT fat cells without blood flow. This is where itâ€™s sister, nor-adrenaline comes in.
Nor-adrenaline is actually transmitted through the nerve endings and can access fat cells without direct connection to capillaries. Are you seeing the connection? Youâ€™re getting to areas that diet pills, creams, and other forms of exercise wonâ€™t touch.
I could get into a whole dissertation on lymphatic function and how it relates to cellulite but let me keep this brief. Your lymphatic system serves to in essence â€śde-junkâ€ť the cells and remove cellular waste. Think about it as a filtration system. If you want to have strong, flexible, and elastic connective tissue and skin, youâ€™ve got to have healthy cells. All of this goes down to the cellular level.
Burst training is a great way to move the lymphatic system and help to rid the cells of waste products. When combined with a healthy diet, adequate rest, and proper hydration, weâ€™ve got a much better solution to targeting cellulite at the root level.
Burst training is also superior to other forms of exercise for helping to stabilize hormonal balances with estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, and others. The same thing can be said for the cardio version of burst training called interval training.
Iâ€™ve seen far better results with women reducing the appearance of cellulite by using burst and interval training than traditional weight training routines and aerobic exercise. This much I can say for sure and can only conclude it has to do with how the various forms of exercise impacts hormonal, central nervous system, and lymphatic functions.
Diet and cellulite
This is a whole subject in itself but again Iâ€™ll keep it brief for the purpose of this discussion. Iâ€™ll look to go into greater detail in a future post. Obviously, diet will play in role in reducing the appearance of cellulite. The most important steps to take will be ones that support cellular function. A diet that his high in alkaline foods like greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats is essential. Youâ€™ve got to regenerate and detoxify the cells.
Of particular importance is adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are essential in cell strength and flexibility. They are in fact building blocks of the cell. The presence of cellulite in your body is directly linked to cellular and connective tissue weakness like weâ€™ve discussed. I would strongly encourage women who have cellulite to increase their consumption of omega-3 fats. Supplementing with fish oil, flax oil, and other omega-3â€™s can certainly make a difference.
So there it is, I hope this has given you a better understanding of cellulite and how youâ€™re most likely to see visible improvements in reduction. No, you wonâ€™t be able to jog it off, starve it off, rub it out with creams or anything like that. You can try but youâ€™ll likely end up frustrated in the end.
If you want to consider expensive treatments like endermology to reduce cellulite thatâ€™s your call. In some situations Iâ€™ve seen it be effective, but Iâ€™m sure there were a lot of individual factors that tied into it. Genetics and lifestyle factors certainly factor into the equation. If youâ€™re going to continue eating a poor diet and not exercise, I see little chances of long-term results with cosmetic type procedures.
My suggestion is to save your money at first and focus on the factors you can control like how you eat and how you exercise. Once you do that you can decide for yourself on additional treatments like endermology to assist in the process. Bottom line is there are no quick fixes.
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.