Legs are, quite literally, your lynchpins yet seldom get the shout out they deserve. Here I’ve rounded up a few nifty tricks, products and techniques to help get the most from your gams. Forget trying to transform them into something unattainable (check out everyone’s favourite dermatologist, Dr Sam Bunting, for a refreshing approach to cellulite), this is all about celebrating what you’ve got. More and more brands – here’s looking at you Asos and Missguided – are embracing body positivity by scrapping digital retouching. Stretch marks, scars, freckles, moles and rolls are finally out and proud. When it comes to stepping out yourself, confidence is key, so why not do a little legwork – think strengthening, hydrating and, if the mood takes you, a little buffing.
Strength training is one of the best ways to build muscle tone. While it’s important to include cardio on a regular basis for aerobic fitness, muscle building adds power and has the added benefit of revving up metabolism. It doesn’t have to be huge amounts either. After my first pregnancy I swore by wearing 1kg ankle weights whenever I was out with the pram as a way of building strength. They are, it has to be said, a tad bulky but they get the job done. Strap them on for your next trot somewhere or, for the more advanced, to dial a workout up a notch.
Weight lifting for women is big news and any fears about ‘bulking up’ are unfounded. Because we have low levels of testosterone, a woman’s hormonal makeup is not designed to add large amounts of muscle mass. Unless you’re living and breathing weights 24/7, it’s simply not going to happen. What lifting weights does do is create more lean muscle mass ….and make you feel supremely badass. It’s also proven to help prevent osteoporosis, increase endorphins (your feel-good hormones) and maintain better technique during other exercises, such as running or Pilates. Talk to a qualified PT about incorporating weight bearing exercise such as deadlifts or kettlebells into your routine. Feeling strong is empowering – both mentally and physically – and that confidence can play out across all aspects of life.
A body cream that contains AHAs (ie. lactic or glycolic acid) will leave your skin smooth, supple and hydrated. Refining lotions such as Ameliorate Transforming Body Lotion sort out ingrown hairs, reduce pigmentation, slay flaky patches and even help with keratosis pilaris (that rough ‘chicken skin’ that often builds up on legs and arms). Just a couple of times a day for one week will start seeing results.
For paler skin tones, sunless tanners are a great way to faux-glow and give the illusion of sleeker, glossier legs. For an easy, five star finish opt for a gradual tan as it allows you to build colour over time. I like BOD Bake because it glides on easily, doesn’t smell and is pretty much foolproof. I always moisturise first, allow to sink in, then apply. Wipe over backs of ankles with a damp flannel or towel to avoid darker patches. If you’re pressed for time Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs is basically make-up for legs. Apply with damp hands, and don’t go cray…a little goes a long way.
For parched pins there are a wealth of salves, oils and moisturisers on the market but, let’s be honest, there’s no need to splurge on bespoke leg lotion. Just layer whatever you have to hand liberally on damp skin to seal in moisture. I use my kids’ Weleda Calendula Baby Oil, it smells divine and absorbs fast, leaving a nice, non-sticky sheen.
Dry skin body brushing is lauded for improving circulation, increasing blood flow and encouraging the lymphatic system to clear away toxins. While many of these claims are unstudied, it doesn’t mean they’re unfounded. Just a couple of minutes each day before a bath or shower will help buff skin, nuke dry patches and, many swear, reduce the appearance of cellulite. Start at the soles of your feet, then – using long, steady, swift strokes – brush up from your ankles to your knees, then from knees to thighs and up over your bum. Always brush towards your heart. Include the rest of your body: stomach, palms, arms, armpits, neck and back (check out videos on YouTube for technique). I use a fairly stiff, natural bristle brush that I bought from The Body Shop. Be vigorous but careful not to damage the skin; if in doubt start gently and build up pressure over time.
Restless legs? Transdermal magnesium (two big cupfuls of epsom salts in a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes) works by displacing the calcium ions that cause muscle cramping and restlessness. It’s also wonderfully conducive to a great night’s sleep. Circulation issues? Alternating hot and cold blasts of water at the end of your shower – from feet to hips – can get blood pumping. Temporarily tightens and tones skin too. Tense? Roll a tennis ball under your feet to ease tension or try a foam roller a few times a week to release taut connective tissue. Fluid retention? A good, hands-on massage treatment from a specialist deep tissue therapist might not be the most relaxing experience, but it can reduce puffiness, drain excess fluid and encourage lymph to move freely. And who doesn’t want that?