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Can a few workout tweaks help fix their gender-bender woes?
By MSNBC contributor
msnbc.com
updated 10/15/2009 8:22:29 AM ET 2009-10-15T12:22:29

Could working out give a man “moobs”? Can exercise help a masculine-looking woman get some feminine curves? Smart Fitness answers your queries.

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

Q: I have been working out consistently since I was a freshman in high school. I was in the military for six years. I recently did my normal bench routine and it made my pecs grow a huge amount and now they look like boobs. What can I do?

A: Jay Dawes, education director at the National Strength and Conditioning Association, is a little perplexed by your situation.

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“I’ve never heard a guy say, ‘God, my chest is just too big!’” says Dawes, who also works as a personal trainer in Colorado Springs, Colo. Strengthening exercises that target the pectoral muscles can build up the chest, yet most guys are proud to show off those protruding pecs.

So Dawes is wondering whether you have a pair of truly pumped-up pecs that you deem excessively large or rather a set of what’s been termed “moobs” (man boobs), which have some sag to them.

Moobs are more likely in men who are overweight and deconditioned. But weight training alone isn’t necessarily enough to counteract the dreaded droop. All the bench presses in the world won’t guarantee a rock-hard chest if there’s a lot of fat covering those muscles.

Dawes is wondering if you’ve gained weight recently. Strength training “should just make [the chest] more well defined,” he says, “but on the flip side of that, if body fat levels were to go up at the same time — or if he were an already overweight person — then essentially the muscle is getting bigger but the fat is remaining the same, which could give it that look.”

If you’ve gained weight — and fat — then to lose it you’ll need to take a close look at your diet and cardio program, says Dawes, so that you’re taking in fewer calories and burning more.

But if you haven’t gained weight and you just don’t want your pecs to be quite so buff, he says, then taper off a bit on your strength training or mix up your resistance routine (including the exercises, weights, sets and reps) so that you maintain the look you like without adding more bulk.

Q: I am shaped like a man, literally. I am big on top and small at the bottom. I have no hips and no butt whatsoever. My sisters have similar shapes, but I am more muscular. I bought a shaped upper bodysuit to sleep in. Would that help? Is there anything I can do to reshape my body?

A: “Let’s begin with things that we have to embrace and recognize that we can't change,” says Kathy Kaehler, a Los Angeles personal trainer and msnbc.com fitness contributor. “Our bodies have a genetic makeup that determines much of how tall we will be, the size of our frame, and the balance of upper, middle and lower body … That said, there are some things that we can work on to enhance what we have.”

But sleeping in a bodysuit isn’t one of the recommendations, emphasizes Kaehler. The body-shaping undergarments that hold in belly bulges, for instance, can help you look better when worn under an evening dress, but they aren’t a permanent fix. Plus, wearing a restrictive bodysuit to bed sounds like a rather nightmarish experience to us.

Aside from plastic surgery, which could alter some but certainly not all aspects of your shape, a healthy diet and exercise can help you look your best.

Kaehler, author of the book “Fit and Sexy for Life,” recommends regular cardio exercise to help keep your body fat in check. She also suggests exercises such as side bends and twists to tone your waist.

To help build up your lower body, Kaehler recommends plenty of squats and lunges, working up to using hand-held weights or weight vests for extra challenge. “This will add resistance that will build muscle and add more shape and definition,” she says.

Hopefully all that mood-boosting exercise will help you feel better about your body, too. Maybe you could even reward your hard work with a few new fashion items for fall.

“Your wardrobe is very important to help emphasize the smallness of your hips and de-emphasize your upper body,” says Kaehler. “Dark colors on top, V-necks, wide belts and long skinny jeans with heels. This will draw the eye down to the length of the leg.”

Jacqueline Stenson is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. A former senior health producer for msnbc.com, her work also has appeared in publications including the Los Angeles Times, Health, Shape, Women’s Health, Fit Pregnancy and Reuters Health.

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