Image: SpongeBob SquarePants
Prnewsfoto Via Nickelodeon File
Share a waistline with SpongeBob? Step up your cardio and crunches.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 4/17/2007 7:58:30 PM ET 2007-04-17T23:58:30

What are the best exercises if you're shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants? Or have scrawny chicken legs? Or are a woman with "man shoulders"? Smart Fitness answers your workout queries.

Have an exercise question? To e-mail us, click here. We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Q: I am shaped like SpongeBob, meaning I don't have a waist. My stomach area is very flabby, and my back has fat rolls that look awful in clothing. I wear a sweater or jacket all year long to hide them. What is the best exercise for this?

A: Well, there's not just one best exercise that can help you whittle that spongy middle. Any activity that burns calories can aid weight loss, notes Karyn Gallivan, a personal trainer in Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesperson for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

"The best thing to do is to begin and maintain a consistent training program, including a lot of cardio," she says. "The secret is to create and maintain a caloric deficit, either by more time exercising or by eating fewer calories, or better yet both."

It sounds like you're not a regular exerciser, so start gently. Kathy Kaehler, a Los Angeles personal trainer and author of the new book "Fit and Sexy for Life," suggests embracing your inner SpongeBob — and taking to the water.

"Get into swimming for your workout," she says. "This is a great cardio workout for burning fat." Aim to hit the pool for 20 minutes a couple of times a week.

Kaehler also recommends adding a walking program to your routine. Start with one mile three times a week and try to work up to three miles per session by summer.

In addition to fat-burning exercises to lose weight, you'll want to be sure to do abdominal exercises such as crunches at least a few times a week to tighten and tone.

"Abdominal fat responds really well to exercise," says Gallivan. "So if you train hard enough, and consistently enough, you'll see results."

Keep in mind that genetics plays a role in how we're shaped and where fat likes to take up residence. So even if you never achieve the perfect proportions of Wonder Woman or Superman (and few of us ever do), you can slim down and firm up if you stay committed to a good exercise and eating plan.

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Q:  I have really skinny legs — better known as chicken legs. Therefore, I'm usually embarrassed to wear shorts. I have tried many exercises to change the appearance of my legs but so far nothing has worked. Any exercise you can recommend to help me bulk up my legs and look less like Chicken Little?

A: Again, genetics are a factor in how we're shaped. Not everyone has the capacity to build leg muscles the size of tree trunks.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger talked for years about how he had difficulty in making his calves look developed, even with a very rigorous training program," says Dr. Jeffrey Tanji, associate medical director of the sports medicine program at the University of California, Davis.

This just goes to show you that even Mr. Universe can find something about his body to fret over!

Still, there are some exercises you can try to add some bulk — or at least more definition and strength — to your legs, says Tanji.

Focus on a weight-training program that emphasizes heavier weights with fewer repetitions. So, for example, you might do a couple of sets of just five to seven repetitions on the leg press at a weight that fully fatigues your muscles by the last rep. Same goes for the calf press and other lower-body strength exercises.

Q: I'm a woman but my shoulders are built like a man's. How can I have a more feminine upper body?

A: Women with broad shoulders can try a few tricks to minimize their upper-body appearance, says Kaehler.

If you're overweight, losing pounds will shrink your upper body. Aside from that, don't do too many upright rows or other exercises that extensively work the trapezius muscles — the triangular ones on each side of the upper back and shoulders that make bodybuilders look like they have no neck.

Sartorially speaking, the clothes you wear also can help your shoulders seem less square, notes Kaehler. "Try necklines that draw the eye to the chest and cleavage area, like V-neck cuts," she says.

Then again, you could learn to love your muscular look.

"Strong shoulders on a woman are sexy," Kaehler says.

Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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