Cellulite is a natural part of the human body and affects up to 80–90% of people, especially women (
However, it’s been labeled a “problem” that we’re conditioned to think we need to get rid of, mostly thanks to endless photo editing that showcases smooth, flawless skin.
Unfortunately this has led to many people wishing to get rid of their cellulite. To be perfectly candid, it’s not possible to get rid of cellulite with exercise alone. Even the most lean people can have visible cellulite.
That said, there are things you can do to reduce the appearance of cellulite, which may help you feel more confident in your skin.
This article dives deep into cellulite, provides useful tips to reduce its appearance, and offers lower body exercises that will help you grow your strength and confidence, regardless.
While exercise can be a useful tool in reducing the appearance of cellulite, it can’t completely get rid of it.
What exercise will do is make the muscles under your cellulite stronger. The stronger your muscles are, the better you’ll feel. And the better you feel, the more confidence you’ll have — which will hopefully help you look beyond cellulite and focus on your power, instead.
Cellulite is visible subcutaneous fat that creates a “dimpled” or “orange-peel” appearance. It’s mostly found on the buttocks and thighs.
- Hypodermis or subcutaneous layer
The third layer, known as the hypodermis, consists of a fatty tissue (known as subcutaneous fat) which stores energy (i.e., fat), provides protection and insulation, and attaches the upper layers of skin to muscle and fascia (
Just above the hypodermis sits a layer of connective tissue, mostly made of collagen. In some cases, fat may protrude through these collagen fibers and cause a dimpled appearance.
You cannot get rid of cellulite from exercise alone. Though, losing body fat and gaining muscle mass may help to reduce its appearance.
The root cause of cellulite is thought to be multifactorial, meaning there are many factors at play.
Anatomical and hormonal differences
Cellulite affects women significantly more than men due to higher levels of estrogen and anatomical differences.
The collagen fibers in men typically run at a 45-degree angle, resulting in a criss-crossed appearance. This can make it more difficult for underlying fat to protrude. In contrast, collagen fibers in women run perpendicular to the skin, increasing the visibility of fat (
Furthermore, women with cellulite are most likely to have higher amounts of fibrous septae, which are thick bands of connective tissue that pull the skin down. As a result, this can increase the appearance of cellulite (
Finally, higher levels of estrogen may also play a role in cellulite severity. In particular, higher levels of estrogen are linked with storage of fat in the thighs and hips. Androgen deficiency and estrogen therapy are also linked with greater incidence of cellulite (
Though age is not considered a primary cause of cellulite, it may play a role.
That said, cellulite usually occurs any time post-puberty, meaning it can appear in people of all ages.
Most research suggests there is a large genetic component to cellulite, meaning you’re more susceptible to cellulite if a parent or other close relative has or had it.
Some research suggests that higher body fat percentage may increase the appearance of cellulite. This may be the result of excess body fat being pushed through fibrous septate (connective tissue) to make the appearance even more pronounced (
Further, building more lean muscle through strength training may decrease the appearance of cellulite. While this is promising, there is surprisingly little research on this topic.
That said, having cellulite does not automatically mean you have excess body fat. Since cellulite is mostly related to the distribution of connective tissue and people of all sizes have body fat, this means anyone can have cellulite.
Certain lifestyle habits may improve or worsen the appearance of cellulite.
For instance, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excess alcohol consumption may worsen cellulite (
However, the research behind lifestyle behaviors and cellulite is scarce. Therefore, it cannot be proven that specific lifestyle behaviors will affect the appearance of cellulite (
Nonetheless, adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors is always a good idea.
Cellulite is believed to be caused from a variety of factors, such as anatomy, sex differences, genetics, age, and body composition.
Despite what many fitness influencers may tell you, you can’t get rid of cellulite from exercise alone. Furthermore, spot-toning — or trying to slim a specific part of the body with extra exercises targeting that area — is also impossible.
Technically, there is no such thing as “toning” muscle. To help make muscles more visible, the process requires losing body fat (which impacts the entire body, not just one area) and increasing muscle mass.
If you’re looking to reduce the appearance of cellulite, you may see small changes by increasing muscle and decreasing body fat. This requires a lifestyle commitment rather than just doing a few extra leg exercises every day.
Though you may see some results from exercise, remember that cellulite isn’t something you need to get rid of. Instead, it’s best to use exercise as a tool for good health, rather than a way to meet ever-changing beauty standards.
There are no exercises that can help you “spot reduce” your cellulite.
Though exercise won’t get rid of cellulite, it may help reduce its appearance.
When designing an exercise program, you want to make sure that you’re doing a combination of cardio and strength training exercises 4–7 days a week, as this helps to achieve weight loss and prevent muscle loss (
Cardio (e.g., walking, running, biking, swimming, etc.) is important for strengthening the heart and lungs while also helping to burn calories during the workout.
You’ll want to have a mixture of moderate and high intensity cardio. For example, one day you could go for an hour walk and another day you could do a 20 minute high-intensity workout.
Though your exercise plan may vary depending on your needs, goals, and intensity, it’s a good idea to get in at least 2–3 days of strength training per week (
If your goal is to build muscle in a specific area, such as your glutes, you may want to dedicate two training days a week to this area (
Since weight loss is dependent on a calorie deficit and muscle building is dependent on a high protein intake, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re eating a nutritious diet with plenty of protein (e.g., fish, poultry, beef, eggs, dairy, lentils, beans, tofu).
Ideally, try to incorporate both cardio and strength training into your fitness routine at least four or more days per week.
As a reminder, exercises alone will not get rid of cellulite. That said, lower body exercises can help improve strength and build muscle mass, which may help to reduce its appearance.
Here are 9 exercises that will strengthen your lower body.
Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, core muscles
This move will fire up your glutes and help you improve your balance. What’s more, this unilateral move targets one side of the body at a time, allowing you to build greater strength.
- Stand two feet in front of a secured box or bench. Be sure the surface will not move.
- Lift your right foot on top of the box/bench. Your hips, knees, and ankles should all be at 90-degree angles. This is the starting position.
- Next, push your right foot into the box/bench and squeeze your glutes to lift your body up. Instead of putting your left foot on top of the box/bench, keep it in the air.
- Then, lower your body back down. This is one rep.
- Continue this for 15–20 reps, then switch feet.
Take your time with this movement. If needed, secure your balance by placing both feet on the box and then slowly lowering back down.
2. Curtsy lunge
Muscles worked: Glutes (especially gluteus medius), quadriceps, calves, core
The key to a round booty is to work all sides of the glute muscle. The curtsy lunge hits the gluteus medius — which is important for hip and knee stabilization — in addition to engaging your quads and hamstrings.
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms bent comfortably in front of you for balance.
- Bracing your core and keeping your chest up, step backwards with your right leg, crossing over the midline so your right foot lands at a diagonal behind you — as you would if you were curtsying. Bend both legs so your back knee comes down toward the floor
- After a brief pause, push through your left heel and squeeze your glutes to return to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps, then switch sides. Take a rest and then complete two more sets.
3. Lateral lunge
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, adductors, glutes, hamstrings, calves
The lateral lunge targets many lower body muscles and is a great functional movement.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Starting with your left leg, take a big step to the side — bending your left knee and pretending like you’re sitting back into a chair — and raise your arms out in front of you simultaneously for balance. Your right leg should remain straight.
- Do a form-check here: Your chest should be up and your butt should be back and down, really targeting those glutes and hamstrings. This exercise takes quite a bit of flexibility and mobility in your hips, so don’t force anything that doesn’t feel right.
- Return to the starting position by pushing up from your right foot. Complete 8–12 reps on this side, then switch legs and repeat 8–12 reps on the other.
4. Bulgarian split squat
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes
This single-leg exercise helps to build a strong butt and improve your balance.
- Stand two feet away from a step or bench facing away from it.
- Bend your left leg and place the top of your foot on the bench/step. This will be your starting position.
- Next, bend your right knee and lower your body as low as you can go. Be sure to keep your chest, hips, and shoulders facing forward.
- Press down into your right heel to return to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps or 2–3 sets.
For an added challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
5. Reverse lunge
Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, core
If you don’t like performing Bulgarian split squats, reverse lunges are another excellent option.
- Stand hip-width apart with your hands on your hips.
- Shift your weight to your left foot and take a large step back with your right foot.
- With the ball of your right foot touching the ground and heel up, lower your right leg until your thigh is perpendicular to the ground and your right knee is at a 90-degree angle. Your left knee should also be bent 90-degrees.
- Push into your heel and squeeze your glutes to lift your body back to starting position. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps for 2–3 sets.
For an added challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
6. Glute bridge
Muscles worked: Glutes (especially gluteus maximus), hamstrings, core
Glute bridges are a great way to target the glutes.
If the traditional glute bridge becomes too easy, switch to a one-legged variation. For an even bigger challenge, try a weighted hip thrust.
- Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and your arms at your sides with palms facing down.
- Inhale and push through your heels, raising your hips off the ground by engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings. Your body should form a straight line from upper back to knees.
- At the top, pause and squeeze, then return to the starting position.
- Complete 3 sets of 15–20 reps. If you’re using a weight, aim for 8–12 reps for 3 sets.
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, spinal muscles, calves
Squats are a classic go-to exercise that target your butt, quads, and hamstrings. If you’re new to exercise, try performing squats without added resistance (e.g., weights, resistance bands) and perfect your form.
As you get better, then add more volume/resistance for a greater challenge.
- Stand slightly wider than hip-width apart. Toes should be slightly pointed out and hands on your hips or in clasped front of you.
- Slowly push your hips back into a sitting position while bending your knees.
- Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor (knees should be at a 90-degree angle). Then, slowly lift back up into the starting position.
- Perform 8–12 reps for 2–3 sets.
8. Squat jump
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abdominals, calves, arms, upper body
This explosive move is a great way to build strength and agility. However, it’s considered high-impact and may not be suitable for those with knee issues. In that case, stick with traditional squats where your feet are always planted on the ground.
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Begin to squat down — pretend you’re sitting back in a chair with your arms coming out in front of you.
- On the rise back up, propel yourself into a jump, bringing your arms down to assist the movement.
- Land as softly as possible, letting the balls of your feet hit first, then immediately squat down and repeat.
- Complete 3 sets of 10–15 reps.
9. Romanian deadlift (using dumbbell)
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abdominals, upper back
If you’re looking to strengthen and build your hamstrings, Romanian deadlifts are an excellent exercise to try.
- Stand hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your thighs. Be sure to engage your core and keep a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
- With a very slight bend in the knees, slowly push your hips back and lower the dumbbells toward the ground, stopping when they reach around the middle of your shins.
- Then, slowly rise back to starting position by squeezing your glutes. This is one rep.
- Complete 8–12 reps for 2–3 sets.
Though exercise cannot get rid of cellulite, building muscle mass may reduce its appearance.
Cellulite is a normal part of the body and not something we need to fix or get rid of.
Though society has an unhealthy obsession with clear, flawless skin, the reality is upwards of 90% of people have visible cellulite. Usually, it’s most prevalent in women and those with a genetic predisposition to it.
If you are looking to reduce the appearance of cellulite, losing body fat and building muscle mass may have a modest effect. But, remember it’s not something you can completely get rid of with exercise alone.
Instead of focusing on getting rid of a natural part of your body, you’re much better off focusing on sustainable lifestyle habits that will improve your health and wellbeing.