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Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
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updated 7/1/2009 9:31:44 AM ET 2009-07-01T13:31:44

Still obsessing about how your dimpled thighs, jelly belly or flappy arms look in a swimsuit? That’s so last summer.

This year, there’s a new body part to fret over: the cankle.

Hmmm, you may be wondering, what’s a cankle? Gold’s Gym, which has designated July as “Cankle Awareness Month,” defines it this way: “The word comes from the combination of ‘calf’ and ‘ankle.’ It occurs when the calf merges with an obese or swollen ankle.”

Jason Alexander's jerk character in the movie “Shallow Hal” explains it best: "She's got no ankles. It's like the calf merged with the foot, cut out the middleman."

You know the look.

And as Gold's points out, summer, with its flirty skirts, strappy sandals and cropped jeans can be a tough time for the thick jointed.

“Cankles are the fastest growing ‘aesthetic affliction’ in the United States … even ahead of other bathing suit killers like Muffin Tops, Saddle Bags and Moobs,” says Gold’s new cankle Web site www.saynotocankles.com. “Millions of people across the country are currently affected by Cankles and millions more are ‘at risk.’ In fact, it is estimated that if current trends continue, by the year 2012 Cankles will surpass Love Handles as the number one aesthetic affliction in the world.”

Well, of course, there really aren’t any solid statistics on cankles, acknowledges Dave Reiseman, director of communications at Gold’s headquarters in Dallas. So the experts at Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute came up with their own estimates based on “what they’re seeing in the field combined with obesity statistics,” he says.

While the Gold’s site claims that “Together, we can put an end to Cankles,” some people aren’t so sure.

Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, sees the cankle awareness campaign as more of a “marketing ploy” than a surefire fix for chubby ankles.

“All they are essentially advocating is weight loss and cardiovascular exercise, which is what we recommend for anyone who needs to lose weight,” he says.

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Skinny jeans aren't your friend
Keep in mind, Comana says, that spot reduction is a myth. In other words, no workout will allow you to lose weight just in your ankles — or your thighs or your abs, for that matter.

The Gold’s plan to “prevent, treat and minimize the appearance of cankles” focuses on three areas: exercise, diet and style (avoiding skinny jeans, for instance, and wearing bright sneakers at the gym to “draw attention away from the ankle”).

As for how to reduce cankles, Gold’s advocates cutting calories and engaging in “consistent high-intensity, fat-burning cardiovascular activities that focus on slimming down your calves.” Suggested activities: long, brisk walks for at least 30 minutes each day and step class. (Certainly, people with ankle swelling, which could be the sign of a serious medical problem, should bypass the gym and head to the doctor for an exam.)

Climb out of your fitness rut

Gold’s also designed a calf-strengthening routine, which involves a few types of calf raises to be done three times a week, to give “the appearance of slimmer, sculpted ankles.”

Building up the calf helps “so that there’s a separation between your calf and your ankle,” says Los Angeles personal trainer Ramona Braganza, a member of the Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute.

Gold’s didn’t actually conduct structured tests of their cankle-busting workout, but experience shows that these techniques work, says Braganza, who has helped to tone the legs of Hollywood stars such as Anne Hathaway and Jessica Biel.

Comana agrees that calf-strengthening exercises, while they alone won’t shrink the lower leg in the absence of weight loss, can help improve leg definition. How much, though, may depend on your relatives, he says. “If a nice, shapely calf is not in your genetic code, then you may never grow that muscle.”

‘Tree trunks'
TL McClendon doesn’t think there is much she can do about her cankles, which she has long been well aware of. “Mine have been called ‘tree trunks’ since I was a kid, and I have always been self-conscious about them,” she says.

“I've always been an athlete and I've never been overweight,” says McClendon, 43, of Atlanta, whose ankles never changed size even during the two years she was bodybuilding. “I don't see any reason I should have cankles.” Great legs actually run in her family.

“I'm not sure what my other options are except liposuction in that area,” says McClendon. “Frankly, I'd rather just wear pants. If it was good enough for Katharine Hepburn, it's good enough for me.”

© 2013 msnbc.com

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