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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I am 19 years old and I'm interested in finding a way to work out, slim down and tone my muscles, and keep a womanly figure. I used to be on a dance team and I have the type of body that can build a lot of muscle. Since dance has been over I have lost about 15 pounds of muscle. What are the best exercises for me to keep my weight down and not start to look like a weight lifter?

(Article continued below.)

You should already know the answer to this one - build a workout regimen around Pilates. Most dancers already know about Pilates as a therapeutic tool, and it has helped keep a lot of former dancers in shape. The moves in Pilates are geared to lengthen muscles so that you can tone up without bulking up. If you are a body type that builds muscle easily, doing Pilates several times a week will help you create a leaner look.

Of course, Pilates isn't the only form of exercise you should be doing. Cardio burns calories and fat, so you should add that in three to five times a week. There are many different forms of cardio - at the gym there's the elliptical, Stairmaster, treadmill and stationary bike. Or maybe you can try a group exercise like spinning (with your dance experience, a traditional aerobics class may seem too easy for you). Running burns the most calories and keeps you leaner overall. And even though you say you build muscle easily, you still should practice some form of strength training - you do want to stay strong and retain a certain amount of muscle mass. Just don't go heavy on the weights. Maybe you can try resistance training that does not require weights - lunges and push-ups, for example. If you experiment, you can probably find a balance that will keep you toned without making you bulky. If too much muscle mass really is an issue for you (this is true for a very small percentage of women, most of them athletic like you are), you can always try a vigorous Yoga style, such as Power Yoga or Ashtanga. These forms of Yoga build up strength without adding much mass. The important thing is to stay strong - you are young now, but you will want those muscles later in life! It's better to retain what you have than have to build it all over again when you're 45.

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