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Getting sleek, shapely legs requires more than weight loss. Pumping iron also helps smooth out cellulite.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 5/15/2007 10:20:16 AM ET 2007-05-15T14:20:16

What's the best way to conquer cellulite? Or firm up flab after weight loss? How can a guy get a chest he's proud to show off poolside? 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: What exercises can help me to quickly and easily get rid of cellulite? I have a lot of it on my legs and want to lose it before I hit the beach this summer.

A: Few things about fitness are quick or easy but a committed exercise routine can help you improve the appearance of cellulite in as little as a couple of months, says Wayne Westcott, the fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass.

His research has shown that sedentary women who followed a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and hit the gym three times a week lost an average of 9 pounds of fat and gained about 2 pounds of muscle in just eight weeks. Most women also reported they thought the appearance of cellulite on their thighs and hips — where women tend to get the dreaded dimpling — had improved.

Their fitness routine consisted of 20 minutes of cardiovascular activity such as stationary cycling, plus circuit training on weight machines to hit all major muscle groups. Participants did one set (10 to 15 repetitions) each of machine exercises, including the leg curl, leg extension, hip adduction and abduction, leg press and seated row.

Weight training is important because the appearance of cellulite isn't just about having too much fat, it's also a result of having too little underlying muscle.

"It's the combination of the two that makes [the legs and hips] look lumpy, bumpy and oatmealy," says Westcott.

If you don't go to a gym, there are good exercises you can do at home to really firm up the lower body, says Jeanette Jenkins, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and author of the new book "The Hollywood Trainer Weight-Loss Plan."

She recommends doing these exercises a few times a week:

  • Reverse lunges: Stand with your legs hip-width apart and your feet facing forward. Then step back with your right leg about 3 to 4 feet, landing on the ball of your foot. Slowly lower your body into a lunge, keeping your knee off of the floor. Your front knee should be directly over your front heel. Return to a standing position and repeat with the left leg. Do two sets of 15 to 25 repetitions on each leg.
  • Plie squats: Stand with both feet spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width and turned out to the sides. Inhale and pull your abdominals in tight, and keep your back straight as you bend your knees and slowly lower your hips toward the floor. Stop before your buttocks are at knee level and then exhale and squeeze your butt and thighs as you return to the starting position. For added resistance, hold 3- to 25-pound dumbbells with your arms hanging straight down in front. Do two sets of 15 to 25 repetitions.
  • Back kicks: Start on your hands and knees. Lift your right knee off the floor and raise the leg up until it is fully extended behind you at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep your butt and abs tight. Return to the starting position. Do two sets of 15 to 25 repetitions on each leg.

Q: I've lost weight but now I have a lot of flab. I've been doing toning tapes for months now and am still not getting results. Any suggestions?

A: You're smart to realize that looking fit isn't just about weight loss. To really be in shape, you need to have strong, toned muscles, too.

But your toning tapes don't seem to be getting the job done. That's probably because you're not using enough resistance to really challenge the muscles and stimulate them to grow. Women tend to rely on light weights and resistance because they fear they'll bulk up with heavier weights, but that's rarely the case.

To get the best results, you need to use a weight that fully fatigues your muscles by the last repetition, notes Jenkins. So if you finish your reps and feel you still could easily do another few, it's time to increase the weight by a few pounds or so.

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Q: I'm a guy who's very thin, and I'm embarrassed to remove my shirt in front of others at the pool. How can I get a more manly physique that I won't be afraid to show off?

A: Start hitting the weights. You may not be sporting supersized pecs like Matthew McConaughey by pool season, but you'll start noticing some improvement pretty quickly, particularly since it sounds like you're not doing much strength training now.

Most dramatic muscle gains happen when a person first starts a training program and has the most improvement to make, says Westcott.

Commit to strength training a few days a week, making sure to work all major muscle groups either with machines, free weights or both, and you'll see results within a month or two, he says. Men starting out may gain half a pound to a pound of muscle a week.

Keep in mind that the ability to gain muscle is partly determined by genetics. Not all guys can look like Malibu Matthew, even if they train hard for years.

Then again, looking sexy poolside — even in Hollywood — isn't always a matter of bulging muscles. Think Adrian Grenier of "Entourage." He's not exactly a macho man, yet his character still landed the role of "Aquaman."

Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.

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