Sure, many women have spent the last 365 days working on their legs, but others have left it to the last minute. For them, the moment of truth comes with the first blast of beautiful weather. As they stand in a store encircled by a sorry pile of rejected short skirts, short-shorts and swimsuits, they seem doomed to the summer from hell.
Maybe not. If they still want a great pair of legs, they can start with lunch.
And, no, there isn't a magic menu involved. It's simply a matter of devoting some of their midday break to exercise, which is just one of many useful tips provided by Southern California experts who believe lower limbs can be toned and spruced in record time.
Hello, Exercise: Practical moves from fitness expert Martin Henry, owner of the eponymous West Hollywood studio, include taking a pair of athletic shoes to work and walking to lunch rather than riding.
And if you work in a high-rise building, think of the stairs as a window of opportunity. For maximum effect on legs, hips, buttocks and heart, climb them two at a time, or three if you have very long legs. A beginner might start with a 10-minute session, working toward a 30 to 35 minute routine. Consistency, not speed, is the goal. "It's better to go longer at a moderate speed than to go fast and start and stop, which doesn't have the same fat-burning capabilities," Henry says.
Regard the walk down as a cooling-off period, good for the heart and the rear, which you need to squeeze. When you get to the last step, turn around, drop one heel toward the floor to stretch calf and hamstring muscles, hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other foot.
At home, try the ballet dancer's plie. Stand with feet a little wider than your shoulders, angle them at 11 and 1 o'clock. Place hands on the abdominal muscles to help you stand straight. Inhale as you lower your body weight into your thighs without allowing the hips to go below the knees. Exhale as you lift up, pressing down with your heels and squeezing the inner and outer thigh muscles. Henry recommends three or four sets of eight to 12 repetitions every day.
For the inner thighs ("an area women are particularly unhappy with"), he advises using a soft, pliable, four-square kick ball (available in sporting goods stores). Lie on your back, on a mat or carpet. Place feet approximately hip-distance apart, with toes facing forward. With the ball between your knees, inhale and squeeze the inner-thigh muscles. Exhale through the mouth, compressing the abdominal muscles toward the base of the spine. Slowly release the squeeze, open the legs slightly--but don't let the ball fall out--and start again. Do three or four sets of eight to 12 repetitions a day.
Henry says the exercises, included in his two-hour "Abs, Thighs and Bun Formula" video ($39.95 at the studio), will bring visible results in three to six weeks.
Exercise, Diet and TLC: Ole Henriksen, the owner of the eponymous Los Angeles skin care salon, starts his skin-enhancing tips with a word about exercise: bicycling. A daily half-hour ride can improve legs in just two weeks, he says.
Then there is diet, especially one low in sodium, to reduce fluid retention, which might be most noticeable around the ankles.
Henriksen's salon offers a body "facial" ($90 for 1 1/2 hours) to increase circulation and polish the skin. He says women can do a home version using a scrub made by adding one heaping tablespoon of sea or table salt (sea salt is ideal) to an ounce of cold-pressed almond oil.
Take the mixture into the shower. Wash and towel dry your legs, massage the oil in firm, upward-outward motions (include the feet if possible) and rinse well. No moisturizer is needed after the treatment, which can be repeated every three days.
For additional toning, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl, cover with cold water, wait a minute or two, drop your feet and a face cloth into the water and slide the cloth up and down the entire leg until you feel a constricting, firming action.
Eucalyptus oil also increases circulation and brightens the skin, Henriksen says. Blend a small amount ("a little goes a long way") in the palms of your hands and apply in upward strokes once a week.
After legs are exfoliated and smooth--thanks to the almond scrub--they're ready for an instant tan (which also helps even out mottled skin). Henriksen's recommendation is Sothys, a creamy self-tanner from France ($25 for 4.2 ounces) that "slips on easily." He says one way to avoid streaking with any self-tanner is to apply it in long, firm, rapid strokes.
Many companies, including Neutrogena, claim their newer self-tanning products provide a more natural, even color. Yohini Appa, manager of Neutrogena's product efficacy, says the company has discovered that proper formulation prevents any "off colors." And streaking, "which just shows you have uneven coverage," can be prevented by using a spray.