8 February 2019
THE SCIENCE OF CELLULITE & BOOTY METAMORPHOSIS
One of the most common questions I get from clients, prospective clients and people on the interwebz pertain to building a firm, Kardashian like booty and decreasing the amount of jiggle. Articles relating to the aforementioned goals are a dime a dozen and I hope to give you ladies a better understanding of what cellulite…
One of the most common questions I get from clients, prospective clients and people on the interwebz pertain to building a firm, Kardashian like booty and decreasing the amount of jiggle.
Articles relating to the aforementioned goals are a dime a dozen and I hope to give you ladies a better understanding of what cellulite is, what you can do about it and some more practical recommendations to help you build your glutes to achieve a peach that you are comfortable and happy with…
Cellulite is a multifactorial condition that is present in 80–90 % of post-pubertal women. Cellulite was first researched back in 1978 and was defined as sex related differences in the structure of the skin and subcutaneous tissue. (1) Studies have converged to highlight three main physiological reasons for the presence of cellulite in females:
- The orientation of the fibrous septa is perpendicular which causes fat to protrude the skin (mens fibrous septa is oblique) – lucky bastards; (2)
- Focally enlarged fibrosclerotic septa that tether the skin; and (3)
- Uneven dermal-hyperdermal interface. (4)
Basically, the tissue and the way it connects to the skin is different in females, causing dimples. Not the end of the world.
Cellulite is most commonly found on the outter thighs, buttocks, and abdomen and can be identiﬁed by a dimpled or orange-peel appearance of the skin’s surface.
Despite it being extremely common in all females, it is still a cosmetic issue with many feeling ‘embarrassed’ or ‘abnormal’ for having a few dimples here and there.
The first thing I will say on this is that, you are not ‘weird’, ‘unlucky’ or genetically unfortunate if you do have cellulite. As stated above, its normal and if you are comparing your own thighs, butt and abs to what you see on magazine covers or Instagram, then you are comparing to an extremely unrealistic standard, cough digital alteration aka photoshop cough.
You may be thinking that mechanical stimulation, gels (topicals), wave therapy, laser treatment and other simple butt dimple solutions are the answer, but they are not. A systematic review which included of 67 human studies (not rats), headed by Luebberding et al in 2015 found no clear evidence of effective treatments in the treatment of cellulite. (5)
So how do we then reduce the appearance of cellulite?
I’m a huge advocate of body appreciation. Being a father of two young girls, I get seriously concerned when I hear young women and older women for that matter, let their physical appearance define them and influence their well being. Whilst I always get my female clients to accept their body for what it is, focus on being grateful for what they CAN do, it is after all my job to help these ladies feel better about themselves, improve their fitness and be confident in the skin they are in. Therefore, I do my darnedest to balance out acceptance vs improvement/change, and over time most of the females I work with start to see positive changes in both their body image as well as physical appearance and I’ll show you all how…
Whilst there are no guaranteed methods for directly reducing the presence of cellulite, one way in which we can alter body composition to change the visual appearance of areas where cellulite is existent is to lose body fat and to increase muscle mass.
Although cellulite can still be visible even in those who are extremely lean, by reducing your body percentage, there is less fat that can protrude the skin via the mechanisms outline above, and subsequently, the amount of cellulite you have will diminish.
Firming the glutes – Fat loss
Females in general, typically store more body fat in their hips (butt and abs) and legs (quads/hamstring/adductors etc) largely due to their evolutionary and biological make up – that is to store energy for procreation and survival as well as protecting the reproductive organs. Our race thanks you ladies…
What causes fat loss to then occur is an imbalance of energy via reducing calorie intake or increasing energy expenditure to create a calorie deficit. Fat loss occurs systemically, that is throughout the entire body and is not localized to a specific region. For this reason, noticeable changes in fat tissue will likely occur last at areas that have the most amount of body fat.
Anecdotally, I have seen that females typically lose fat in their torso first (especially the back) before then losing tissue around lower limbs.
My sisterhood, please, for the love of god understand that there are no ‘fat burning’ diets.
All diets, strive to achieve a calorie deficit.
Whether its paleo, atkins, 5:2, intermittent fasting, flexible dieting clean eating etc you name it and they’re are trying to eliminate calories.
What matters most when it comes to fat loss is total calorie and protein intake.
Research has shown that there is no difference in fat loss between low carb and high carb isocaloric diets when protein intake is matched. (6) A 2017 systematic review of 32 studies with over 500 participants looked into the effects on daily energy expenditure and body fat of isocaloric diets differing in their fraction of carbohydrate to fat but with equal protein. They found when calories and protein are matched – weight loss is the same when comparing low, moderate carb and fat intakes.
Frustrating I know, it would be nice if there was a pill we could take each night before bed to… I’ll stop myself there.
What this means is that you can be flexible with your diet.
You can eat carbohydrates, fat, some sugar, a donut you name it.
Of course, filling your diet with processed foods may lead to low adherence, so I advise most of your diet consist of unrefined foods such as meat, fish, poultry, vegetables etc with a smaller portion fitting in the foods you enjoy eating.
Oh, that is of course provided you eat enough protein and control your calorie intake. These key variables to successful fat loss, the rest is just fluff.
Find what works for you, follow it and be patient if you are wanting a firmer butt and midsection…
Building the glutes – Muscle hypertrophy
What causes muscle to grow?
We know that fat loss can reduce the incidence of cellulite, but nobody wants a flat arse once all the fat melts away.
Fortunately, for us all, we can also improve the visual aesthetics of your diarrhea aire is building lean tissue in key muscle groups, such as the glutes, quads and hamstrings.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs in response to resistance training and there are three known mechanisms that underpin how muscle growth occurs:
- Mechanical tension;
- Metabolic stress; and
- Muscle damage. (7)
To build muscle, this means that resistance training should see sufficient mechanical loads placed through the target muscle group first and foremost. Secondary factors of muscle growth are metabolic stress (metabolite accrual and cell swelling) as well as muscle damage (micro trauma to the fibers themselves).
Whilst resistance training is the primary driver of muscle growth, nutrition status will augment our muscle building efforts. To build tissue, you need to have a positive protein balance, typically associated with hyper caloric conditions (calorie surplus) alongside sufficient protein intake (1.6-2g per kg of body weight).
A side note here is that protein quality matters in ensuring you get the specific amino acids that help regulate muscle protein synthesis (leucine) so opting for high quality protein sources is a must. Furthermore, distributing your intake appropriately to can help maximise your gains (spread your total intake over 3-5 meals per day).
The above is the mechanistic aka scientific jargon for how muscle grows. Below we will discuss how this applies in a practical setting, aka on the gym floor.
Training The Glutes – Program Design
Training volume, as measured in number of hard sets per week has also been shown to be highly correlated with muscle growth and there has been shown to be a dose response relationship with training volume and hypertrophy. That is, more sets = more gains, for the most part. (8)
Yes yes, I will tell you what exercises you should do for a god like arse, but hold your horses…
Volume is kind of a big deal. And before you all run to the squat rack and bang out 20 sets of squats, there is an upper limit to how much volume will have any further meaningful effect on muscle growth, but hypertrophy researcher James Krieger reviewed all of the research to date and concluded that between 12-18 sets per week, per muscle group has been shown to be on the money. (9)
Whilst volume is indeed the primary driver of hypertrophy, training intensity is also an important variable in program design and is inextricably related to volume. More intensity (relative to 1RM) = less volume and visa versa.
Research has consistently found that intensities >65% of 1RM are adequate to promote hypertrophy via sufficient mechanical loading and whether or not using intensities of <60% of 1RM is an effective means of producing hypertrophy is unclear. What has been shown is that a variety of rep ranges can produce hypertrophy, provided effort (proximity to failure) is high to ensure recruitment and fatigue of all muscle fibers.
In a practical sense, this means you can train through a broad spectrum of rep ranges, provided there is progression, sufficient effort and volume is prioritised.
Training frequency (aka how we organise and structure or macrocycles – weekly training) research has converged to show that higher frequencies are superior to low frequencies, with frequencies of 2x p/w being superior to 1x p/w whilst 3 sessions not demonstrating any conclusive benefits when compared to two.(9) In practice, this means spreading weekly volume across 2-3 sessions with varying intensities is a great way to structure a hypertrophy program. In saying that, how often a muscle group is trained will be largely dependent on the training intensity and the qualities trained, more on this soon…
Of significant importance once volume, frequency and intensity have been accounted for is progressive overload. That is, there must be some form of overload to cause adaptations to occur over time and prevent accommodation aka plateaus. Measuring training performance is a critical element of effective program design and by prioritizing progression in training performance metrics such as reps, sets and load, you can help ensure that all your eggs are in the gains basket to see hypertrophic adaptations and your butt to continually grow…
In looking to build the glutes, researcher Brett Contreras has dedicated his entire career to studying the underpinning of glute training and I highly recommend you check his work out HERE. He’s one bad ass scientist who knows whats what when it comes to the glutes. A lot of my own knowledge on glute training comes form his work and for that my clients are forever thankful…
As we know, volume is important for hypertrophy as too are intensity and frequency. And if we elicit sufficient mechanical tension, metabolic stress and create muscle damage through hard progressive training, we are good, right?
In training any muscle group, it is imperative to understand anatomy as it relates to movement and select exercises that train the three mechanisms of muscle growth appropriately. Different exercises lend themselves to different types of stimulus, i.e. you can’t provide sufficient mechanical tension brushing your teeth, but you certainly can pushing a car.
Before diving into the specifics of butt building exercises, we must understand the three main muscles that comprise your peach: glute maximus, medius and minimus and what they do. These muscles help perform four key functions:
- Hip Extension – Glute max
- Abduction– Glute med and Glute min
- Medial internal rotation in hip flexion– Glute med and Glute min
- Lateral external rotation in hip extension – Glute med and Glute min
Another, often forgotten function of the glutes is to posteriorly tilt the hip, i.e. tucking, your butt under your ribs.
Therefore, in selecting exercises we must ensure that we train the glutes through their entire anatomical functions (as outlined above) in order to maximize regional hypertrophy. There must also be variety in the exercises we choose to ensure we meet the three types of stimulus closely linked to muscle growth.
Here is a list of exercises that can be included into a glute hypertrophy program (see Brett’s page for plenty more).
- Squat variations
- Deadlift variations
- Lunge variations
- Hip thrusts
- Good Mornings
- Back extensions
- Seated Abductions
- Kick Backs
- Crab Walks and the likes…
Now, as I mentioned earlier, training frequency is largely dependent on the amount of volume and intensity performed in a given session, however not all volume or intensity (effort) is created equally. Some exercises elicit more central fatigue than others, meaning they cannot be trained as hard as often such as deadlifts.
Conversely, movements that require less neural output and often create greater acute pain (metabolic stress aka the burn) will typically cause less central fatigue and can be trained at higher frequencies such as band work and isolation movements.
Whilst the efficacy and role of low load banded glute work in muscle hypertrophy is yet to be established, I do see a benefit to performing higher frequency band work in promoting glute activation to reduce injury risk as well as improving glute activation (the mind muscle connection) which can carry over to improved performance in compound exercises.
In the context of booty building, squats, deadlifts and other compound movements provide significant mechanical tension and require high amounts of neural output. Therefore, the frequency, intensity and volume that these movements are trained with needs to be monitored more diligently and they will often require lower frequencies when compared to other less taxing exercises.
Therefore in practice, and my speculation on the efficacy of low load banded glute work, is not to directly stimulate hypertrophy (taking a set of bands to failure is damn hard), but moreso in potentiating muscle activation, leading to better movement quality and mechanical loading in other compound movements. If the muscle can be activated, the chances of it being loaded properly and the stimulus of the external load being directed to the target muscle groups will improve, as opposed to causing compensatory movement.
Food for thought here, but I do see value in included metabolite training for glute endurance and activation with frequencies of 3-6x per week combined with heavy compound movements being trained 2-3x per week.
An important point to consider when discussing anything training related is individual difference. When discussing exercise selection for hypertrophy, we must consider how this impacts the management of fatigue, training level of advancement, leverages, fibre types, exercise preferences, gender etc.
Nutrition for a flat tummy and tight arse…
To wrap things up, it should now be abundantly clear that to shape your butt cheeks, you need to:
- Lose fat
- Build muscle.
I will state that achieving both of these goals simultaneously is extremely difficult. Body re-composition can typically only occur in a few situations (beginners, genetically blessed, coming back from a lay off and hormonal enhancement). Therefore, in order to maximize adaptations in muscle gains and fat loss, strategically planning out your training and diet to prioritize one of these goals at any given time is a must.
Fat loss is easy when compared to muscle growth ladies. Noticeable fat loss can occur in acute (short) time spans, whereas noticeable changes in skeletal muscle tissue take much longer.
Start with a fat loss phase to trim down, get to a healthy, comfortable weight and see what you look. This will mean your booty building efforts may need to take a back seat temporarily. It doesn’t mean that you don’t train them as you would if you were trying to build them, but your priority is fat loss.
Fat Loss Guidelines:
- Create a calorie deficit of 10-20% below maintenance calories;
- Eat 1.8-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight.
- Focus on performance improvements/maintenance.
- Set a timeline on your fat loss phase – 8-20 weeks.
- Prioritize adherence to the diet.
- Only introduce cardio if fat loss has stalled as not to hinder training performance.
When gaining muscle, it will require you to be at a surplus of energy. That is, you are eating more calories than your body burns per day. Yes, this will mean some potential fat and weight gain, but if you want a bigger booty, you must embrace these changes and accept that they are a necessary by product of long term physique development.
Muscle Gain Guidelines:
- Create a calorie surplus of 5-10% above maintenance calories;
- Eat 1.6-2g of protein per kg of body weight;
- Focus on progressive overload in the form of volume;
- Set a timeline on your gaining phase – 16-24 weeks.
- Reduce/eliminate cardio as to minimize interference with hypertrophy.
So ladies, cellulite isn’t weird or something you need to be overly concerned about. If it is something that causes you distress, then it’s time to change. Not just your approach to diet and training, but also your perception and perspective to improve your body image.
There is no magic, there are no secrets. The best physiques take time and consistent effort.
Here is cheers to your new and improved peach!
- So-called cellulite: an invented disease, Nurnberger et al (1978)
- Cellulite: from standing fat herniation to hypodermal stretch marks. Pie ́rard GE, et al (2000)
- Cellulite: advances in treatment: facts and controversies, Emanuele E et al (2013)
- Side-by-side comparison of areas with and without cellulite depressions using magnetic resonance imaging. Hexsel et al (2009)
- Cellulite: An Evidence-Based Review, Luebberding et al (2017).
- International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition, Aragon et al (2017)
- The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Schoenfeld et al (2010)
- Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Schoenfeld et al (2017)
- Set Volume For Muscle Size: The Ultimate Evidence Based Bible, Krieger (www.weightology.net)
- Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Schoenfeld et al (2016)