Image: Barbell
Ken Redding  /  Corbis stock
While pumping iron will undoubtedly boost your muscle mass, it may not help you lose much fat if you’re overweight.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 10/23/2007 9:16:11 AM ET 2007-10-23T13:16:11

Are all-weight workouts a good idea? Is it OK to be a weekend slouch if you're a fitness fanatic the rest of the week? How can you tone up a pouch below your belly button? 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: Do all-weight workouts count? I’m wondering whether lifting weights four or more times per week but not doing much cardio — if any — is enough to keep you healthy and give you a fit appearance.

A: Fitness experts are quick to point out that any kind of physical activity — be it pumping iron, doing yoga, surfing or scrubbing the kitchen floor — is good for you.

“All exercise counts," says Dr. Jeffrey Tanji, associate medical director of sports medicine at the University of California, Davis.

Apparently even shopping can be a sport, and not just in terms of getting the best bargains. "When I accompany my wife shopping, she can move very quickly from store to store," Tanji says. "I tell her that she 'shops aerobically.'"

To help prevent heart disease and other ailments, health officials recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week. So the exercise routine you outlined would fit this bill.

But as for looking like a lean, mean machine, that may be another story. While all that weight training will undoubtedly boost your muscle mass, it may not help you lose much fat if you’re overweight. And of course, if you've got a lot of fat on top of those defined muscles, you're still not going to look buff.

To lose weight, you'll want to watch your diet. And you'll likely need to regularly engage in fairly intense cardio workouts to really burn calories.

Doing a weight-training circuit at a relatively fast clip without long breaks between sets can keep your heart rate up and provide a decent cardio workout, particularly for beginning exercisers, notes Wayne Westcott, the fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. But it still may not be enough to lose all the weight you'd like.

And if you really want to get cardio training benefits that would enable you to, say, bike up a mountain or even keep up with the kids at the playground, you'll need more intense, sustained cardio.

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All in all, most fitness pros would prefer a more well-rounded workout regimen to one that's almost entirely focused on weight training — or on cardio.

Tanji says that to really get in shape, many sports medicine experts recommend sustained cardio exercise about four times a week and weights a couple times. But, he says, the main thing is to just keep moving — even if that means mostly moving a barbell up and down.

"I would rather see a person pursue a consistent, regular pattern of exercise rather than none at all," he says.

And muscle-bound men and women who despise cardio funk classes or the elliptical trainer might want to try looking at cardio in a different light. Taking the stairs at the office, walking off dinner and even speedy shopping all count as cardio, too.

Q: I’m a health nut during the week but not at all on weekends. During the week I work out every day — cardio and weight lifting. I eat veggies, fruit and soup at night. But the weekends are a different story: lots of beer, junk food and late nights. The list goes on. Is this hard on my body?

A: Well, every health nut needs to let loose once in awhile, but you seem to be taking things to the extreme.

A short hiatus from the gym is OK, especially since you exercise daily during the week. As the fitness experts above note, it's not necessary to exercise every single day to keep fit.

What's worrisome, though, is everything else — the "lots of beer, junk food and late nights" that you mention, and especially the part about how "the list goes on." Oy, what else is on that list?!

There are a host of potential problems with your weekend binges, ranging from drunken driving to weight gain to clogged arteries — plus any risks associated with those other mysterious things you're up to.

Take weight gain, for instance. We can consume calories a whole lot faster than we can burn them through exercise. So the calories from all that beer and junk food may pack on the pounds over time.

Sounds like a trip to your doctor is in order. Is your cholesterol in check? How is your liver holding up with all that booze? Are all the late nights of partying taking a toll in other ways?

Q: What are some really good exercises for getting rid of flabby abs, particularly that little pouch right under the belly button? I've tried a lot of things and nothing seems to work. Help!

A: First off, you'll need to work on reducing any excess body fat by watching your diet and exercising to burn calories, says Jeanette Jenkins, a personal trainer in Los Angeles. Shapely abs can be hidden by a 2-inch pinch.

As for toning the muscles below the belly button, here are a couple of exercises that Jenkins recommends doing a few times a week:

  • Bicycle crunches: Start by lying on your back with your hands behind your head. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, positioning your knees over your hips. Then lift your left elbow up toward your right knee as you extend the left leg away from your body at a diagonal to the floor. Keep your abs tight and your lower back pressed into the floor. Repeat on the other side. Do 15 to 25 repetitions on each side.
  • Alternating leg lifts: From the same starting position as the bicycle crunch, with your knees over your hips, slowly lower your right foot toward the floor (but don't actually touch the floor). Keep your abs tight and your lower back pressed into the floor. Then raise your leg back up to the starting position. Advanced exercisers can try this with the legs extended instead of bent. Repeat on the other side. Do 15 reps on each side.

Throughout the day, Jenkins adds, it's also a good idea to regularly pull in your abs — think navel to spine, like a dancer standing tall.

"Ten minutes of abdominal exercises cannot reverse the damage of 10 to 15 hours of letting your gut hang out," she says.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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