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5 Exercises to Help Combat Cellulite

Get Rid of Cellulite

Story at-a-glance -

  • You can tackle cellulite in the early stages, as well as help prevent it by maintaining healthy circulation and reducing fat in the area
  • Exercise is helpful toward this end, particularly squats, mountain climbers, the bridge and more
  • Staying active, eating right and reducing excess body fat may help reduce and prevent the appearance of cellulite

By Dr. Mercola

Cellulite refers to normal fat beneath your skin that takes on a lumpy or dimpled appearance. The puckering occurs when the fat pushes against connective tissue, causing the skin to take on a characteristic cottage cheese or orange-peel appearance.

It's estimated that up to 90 percent of women and 10 percent of men may have cellulite at some point during their lives. For women, this occurs most often in the years leading to menopause.

Hormonal changes during this time — specifically declines in estrogen levels — may coincide with changes in circulation and a decrease in collagen production.1,2

Increasing numbers of fat cells (and fat cells becoming larger) combined with a thinner collagen layer can add up to a bumpy appearance on your thighs, hips, buttocks, abdomen and even your knees.

Cellulite does not discriminate in its targets, however. It may appear as early as your teenage years and it influences both people who are thin and those who are overweight.

It's not dangerous or even a nuisance, technically — but it can be cosmetically unappealing to some people.

The beauty industry has made a fortune marketing creams, lotions and potions, laser treatments and other "cures" for this aesthetic problem, but targeting cellulite requires a more foundational approach, including exercise.

5 Exercises to Combat Cellulite

Cellulite can be difficult to treat once it gets to the later stages (i.e., when it's visible when you lie down or look in the mirror). However, you can tackle cellulite in the early stages, as well as help prevent it by maintaining healthy circulation and reducing fat in the area.

Exercise is helpful toward this end and the five exercises that follow, compiled by Skinny Mom and reported by The Huffington Post, are particularly good at tightening up your thighs and glutes and helping to get rid of cellulite-prone saddlebags.3

1. Pile Squat

"Rather than standing with your feet hip-width apart and your toes forward, scoot your legs out a little wider and point each toe to the adjacent wall: left toes toward the left wall, right toes toward the right wall. Keep the same posture and technique as a regular squat.

But when you push back up to standing position, squeeze your inner thighs. Try to tuck your butt inwards and give a little pelvic thrust at the top to make sure you are targeting your inner thighs and outer thighs."

2. Squats With an Exercise Ball

"Stand with feet about shoulder-width and hold the ball overhead. Hinge the hips backward and down as the upper body drops with them. Bring the ball down and in front of you at shoulder level.

Even though you're focusing on the ball in front of you, make sure the knees stay behind the toes and the chest is lifted. Exhale and push out of the squat to standing and lift the ball overhead again."

3. Bridge

"Lie down on your back with your arms comfortably at your sides and your feet tucked under your knees. Push through your heels and thrust your hips upward towards the ceiling.

The upper part of your back and shoulder blades should be pressed into the mat or floor. Lower yourself back down and repeat the motion. For an extra degree of difficulty, do the lift on one leg!"

4. Mountain Climber

"Start in a standing position. Bend down while placing your hands on the ground and kick your legs out. You should be in a plank position now. Kick your right leg up as close to your right hand as you can; this should feel like a very deep lunge. Pull that leg back and repeat on the left side.

Then swing your right knee out to the side and tuck it on the outside of your shoulder … After each move has been done once on each side, jump or tuck your knees back in and stand up, returning to the start position."

5. Side Leg Lift With a Resistance Band

"Grab a resistance band and lay down on your right side with your legs straight. Wrap the band around your ankles. Lie on your right side with your legs straight, your left leg on top of your right. Use your right forearm as a kickstand, holding your upper body above the floor.

Keeping your legs straight, raise your right leg as high as you can. Focus on keeping your knee straight. Lower your leg back to the starting position. Lift as many times as you can on this side for 30 seconds.

Switch to your left side and complete as many side leg raises with band as possible for 30 seconds."

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Staying Active and Eating Right May Help Prevent Cellulite

Targeted exercises like those above are useful for strengthening and toning certain body areas, but keep in mind that these should be done in combination with an overall active and healthy lifestyle.

Osteopathic physician Dr. Lionel Bissoon, author of "The Cellulite Cure," believes cellulite is a relatively modern-day problem that began in the late '70s, in part because women adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle. He told Scientific American:4

"I've spent a lot of time traveling in developing countries and photographing local women. When I photograph these women [who don't have much, or any, cellulite], you see the kind of work they're doing and the kind of food they're eating.

They're eating all organic foods, they're constantly moving from the time they get up. These women are washing clothes in the river.

Getting water [in an industrialized country] means getting up and going to the fridge or faucet. For women in developing countries, they're walking to the river and coming back carrying a heavy container."

Taking 10,000 steps a day is one strategy to stay active, especially if you work in a sedentary office job. It's a basic requirement for optimal health, like drinking adequate amounts of water each day. Taking 10,000 steps is in addition to, not a replacement for, regular exercise, and will help to get you up out of your chair and counteract some of the negative effects of too much sitting.

The Third Cellulite Variable: Underwear?

Bissoon believes that changing styles of underwear have also been involved in rising rates of cellulite in developed countries. Tight elastic across your backside is bad for circulation, and cellulite often appears in the area where that elastic sits. Wearing looser underwear, or a thong, may be one of the most important preventive strategies there is. He explained in Scientific American:5

"Cellulite didn't become a problem until the 1970s and 1980s when the diet, activity and underwear started changing. Back in the '20s, women wore longer skirts and the underwear was loose, almost like pajamas.

Cellulite is always underneath where the elastics go, and if you draw an invisible line where the cellulite is, you will see where the panty lines are. I tell people the most important preventive thing you can do, if you can't afford treatment, is change your [style of] underwear: wear a thong."

Other Natural Strategies for Warding Off Cellulite

If you're wondering what else might help to keep your skin smooth and cellulite-free, you can also try:

The Power Plate (Whole Body Vibration Training)

The Power Plate uses multi-directional vibration, also known as Whole Body Vibration Training (WBVT), that causes your muscles to contract between 25 and 50 times a second as you make gentle body movements.

It's this constant muscle tensioning that increases muscle strength and leads to other benefits, like reduced cellulite. In one study, six months of WBVT led to a nearly 26 percent reduction of cellulite on the thighs and buttocks. Combining WBVT with a cardio workout led to a more than 32 percent reduction.6

Dry Skin Brushing

Dry skin brushing may help to soften hard fat deposits below the skin while distributing fat deposits more evenly. When you dry brush your skin, it also increases circulation, which may help to prevent and diminish the appearance of cellulite.

Dry brushing is also said to help reduce cellulite by removing toxins that may break down connective tissue, although some believe the effect is temporary (and mostly a result of skin becoming more plump and swollen after brushing).7 There's little harm in trying this method out, however, especially since dry skin brushing has many other benefits as well.

Grapefruit Essential Oil

One of the most recognized benefits of grapefruit essential oil and other citrus oils is their positive effect on the lymphatic system, which plays a role in your body's detoxification mechanism. Using grapefruit oil may help boost the activity of lymph glands, thereby preventing problems like poor circulation and cellulite.8

To try it for yourself, mix one to two drops of grapefruit essential oil with carrier oil and massage into cellulite in a kneading pattern.

Taking steps to encourage collagen production is another strategy you can try. Eating vitamin C-rich foods is important here, as vitamin C has numerous functions in your body, including acting as an essential cofactor in enzymatic reactions. In this way, it plays an important role in your body's production of collagen.

You'll also want to target excess body fat, which you can do by staying active and following my nutrition plan. Peak fasting can also help you to shed body fat, with the desirable side effect of potentially reducing cellulite.

Other healthy lifestyle habits such as high-quality sleep and stress reduction are also helpful, as they help keep your cortisol levels low. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when elevated, depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat — and the resulting stubborn cellulite.