“Top heavy” women who carry excess weight mostly in their upper body often avoid strength training exercises for this area for fear of making it even bigger.
Best exercises if you have the so-called top heavy body (and I don’t mean breast size, but broad back, an “apple” shaped body, heavy arms):
#3. Lat pull-down
#4. Bench press
#5. Leg press
#6. Kettlebell swing
There are several other exercises, but these are an excellent start.
Myth: Training the upper body with weights, in women who are top heavy all over, will make them bigger.
This skewered logic assumes that resistance workouts will convert the excess fat in a woman’s upper body to unsightly muscle.
This is physiologically impossible, as muscle and fat are two different types of tissue.
For instance, lat pull-downs will not increase the size of the fat cells in a woman’s back.
The bench press will not enlarge the fat cells in her heavy arms or elongate the long bones in her shoulders.
Myth: If top heavy women woke up one day with a lower body to match (excess fat in the lower body too!), it would then be okay to strength train the upper body.
Isn’t it odd that women who are large only in their upper body, with “skinny” legs, shy away from upper-body strength training, but if they ALSO had heavy legs and “fat” hips, they’d probably be strength training their upper body with less fear of getting larger?
In other words, the belief that lifting weights will bulk up a top heavy woman only seems to apply to those who have skinny legs, but not to those who are heavy both in their upper and lower body.
The fat loss and size reduction virtues of strength training apply equally to women who are big on top but thin on the bottom and women who are big on top AND the bottom!
Myth: Women who collect excess fat only in their upper body are more prone to developing masculine muscles via weight training.
This is similar to the previous myth, in that somehow, the idea persists that disproportionately thin legs predispose a woman to excess muscle development from resistance workouts.
Myth: A woman who hasn’t been strength training, but whose upper body is disproportionately bigger than her lower body, has a lot of natural muscle in her upper body.
Why is it that when a woman is pear shaped (all the fat collects in her lower half), she sees this as excess fat, but when her legs are trim but her upper half is disproportionately large, she thinks this is excess muscle?
Wrong. In some women, excess fat just happens to accumulate in the back, stomach, torso and upper arms. It’s fat, not muscle.
And let’s say these women began eating way more than they usually do. Eventually, excess fat would begin appearing in their legs.
There’s no such thing as a 300 pound woman who has a size 8 lower body.
I’ve seen 170 pound women with size 8 legs, but not 300 pounds. Not even 220 pounds (assuming they’re not 6’4”).
Best Exercises for Women with Large Upper Bodies
Deadlift. This king calorie burner works virtually every muscle group in one movement. No gimmicks.
Just pick a barbell off the floor, pushing upward with your legs as you straighten your back, keeping your arms straight.
The fat burning will occur where your body has excess fat: the upper part.
It crushes stored body fat only when moderate to heavy weight is used. Deadlifting 70 pounds for 20 reps won’t cut it.
Squat. With a barbell across your back, a squatting program will raise your body’s energy needs (as will the deadlift and the other exercises here).
Your body will dip into stored fat for this energy.
If it’s in your legs, your legs will get trimmer. If it’s in your back, stomach and upper arms, those areas will get trimmer.
There are other varieties of squats, but the barbell version allows for the most weight to be moved.
Lat pull-down. Though this works the very area that some women think they’re already too big, this doesn’t mean it will make it bigger.
Remember what I said: It’s physiologically impossible for strength training to convert fat cells to muscle cells.
The lat pull-down, like the other exercises here, is a compound move, and will raise your body’s energy needs…
And so will the bench press, which targets three muscle groups. This will melt fat where you need to have it melted.
The leg press will help shrink fat cells in your back, torso, stomach and upper arms because, again, this is a compound move which will drive up your body’s energy needs.
Legs and glutes are the largest muscle groups. They drive up the body’s energy needs the most, which is why slamming the legs will shrink fat cells in the upper body.
Kettlebell swing. My formula is to perform 15 to 25 reps with a kettlebell that’s heavy enough to bring you to breathlessness in this rep range.
If you can talk right after the set, the bell isn’t heavy enough. After 15-25 reps, you should be friggin’ panting for 45 seconds.
These are among the best exercises for women who have thin legs but a big or “top heavy” upper body, but only when the right rules are followed: 1) Other than the KB swings, use a weight heavy enough for an eight to 12 rep max, and 2) Use textbook form.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.