Exercise Made for You

The cycle of gyms packed with newcomers in January that dwindle precipitously by April is a well-known, statistical reality.  There are numerous reasons for this annual phenomenon.  But, common sense tells us, if novices enjoyed their workouts in January and could see and feel positive results from them, they wouldn’t be so quick to quit.  Put another way, people who aren’t already exercising regularly usually don’t like exercise when they try it.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I stay away from proclaiming that any one thing is the best for all people when it comes to exercise.  Yet, the latest research on the differences in response to diet and exercise among the three somatotypes (body types) does tell us our individual physical characteristics can give us clues to the types of exercise that may feel like a more natural fit for each of us.  You don’t have to be an exercise expert to understand if one finds an activity that seems made for her, she’s more likely to master it and enjoy doing so.

So, if you’re among the many who have tried and failed to adopt a regular exercise routine, maybe the answer is you’ve been sampling the wrong modes of exercise.  This post is aimed to give you clues to different types of exercise you can try that may be a better fit for you based on your body type.  As all people benefit from having a three-pronged approach to training – cardiovascular, strength and flexibility/balance – I offer suggestions for all three types of training for each somatotype.

Marathon Champ Shalane Flanagan: Ectomorph

Ectomorphs/Inverted Triangles/Carrots: Long, lean ectomorphs’ musculature is best suited for endurance over strength and flexibility over power.

  • Cardiovascular: You pick your favorite mode – walking, running, cycling, rowing, swimming, cross-country skiing.  Endurance training puts a premium on distance over speed.  Half and full marathons, triathlons and other mid to long distance races, and the training involved leading up to them, are in the wheel house for carrots.  Not into that?  Try cardio-centric classes (minimum of one hour) such as Zumba, step aerobics or spinning.
  • Strength: Pilates and Barre help to build core and full-body strength needed to support endurance workouts and prevent injury.
  • Flexibility/Balance: The same long, lean muscles built for endurance can make yoga-inspired flexibility training an enjoyable practice for ectomorphs.  Note: with a higher center of gravity, ectomorphs may find balance poses (asanas) difficult at first but rewarding when mastered.
Cross-Fit Champ Tia-Clair Toomey: Endomorph

Endomorphs/Rectangles/Apples: Solid and strong, endomorphs are built for strength over endurance and power over flexibility.

  • Strength: Power-focused strength training, such as Cross-fit, rope and tire workouts and power lifting, has boomed as endomorphs have finally discovered something they can master and enjoy after becoming disillusioned with traditional classes and machines offered at most gyms.  High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT) is also a great fit for apples.
  • Cardiovascular: Power-focused strength training and HIIT are taxing on muscles and shouldn’t be performed on consecutive days and not more than three times a week to avoid over-training.  Because they’re so intense, they also count as cardiovascular training.  So, on days in between (recovery days), rectangles should focus on traditional modes of cardio exercise, like walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, at a moderate intensity for an hour or less.
  • Flexibility/Balance: The strength and true center of gravity of endomorphs make martial arts, such as tai chi, judo and karate, and gymnastics natural fits.
Tennis Champ Serena Williams: Mesomorph Hourglass

Mesomorphs/Hourglasses/Pears: As hybrids of the other two somatotypes, mesomorphs are best tailored to exercise that falls somewhere between strength and endurance, power and flexibility.

  • Cardiovascular: Mesomorphs have a high percentage of muscle surface area around the hips and thighs.  That translates to legs built for speed, power and endurance.  Interval training, sprinting and short to mid-range racing – in any mode – take advantage of the strengths of the pear.  These same advantages make hourglasses well-suited for track, field and court sports.  If traditional cardio workouts or sports aren’t appealing, HIIT workouts, boot camp, kick boxing and dance-based classes are good substitutes.
  • Strength: Strength workouts should be selected with supporting the mesomorph’s preferred cardio program in mind.  If she likes doing intervals on a track, a traditional full-body strength training routine or Pilates is a nice compliment.  If she plays tennis, some power and agility training, such as a Cross-fit style workout, would help her at matches.
  • Flexibility/Balance: From traditional post-workout static stretching, to yoga, to martial arts – any of these modes could be well-suited to an hourglass or pear with a low center of gravity.  My advice is to sample and see what you like most.
Olympic Ski Champ Lindsey Vonn: Mesomorph Pear

A few caveats:

  1. If you aren’t exercising regularly, don’t try to add cardio, strength and flexibility workouts all at once.  Select one type of exercise at the beginner level as a starting point.
  2. The idea isn’t to be rigid about what you will or won’t try.  Rather, consider the suggestions might be appealing based on your body type and tweak them accordingly.  Even among people of the exact same body shape and size, there are an infinite number of intangibles that factor into what one person enjoys over another.
  3. If, for example, you’re an endomorph who dreams of being a triathlete, don’t give up your dream.  Use the body type suggestions to set up a base for your triathlon training.  You may get there by a different route from your ectomorph peers, but you will get there.
  4. If you’re a mesomorph who power lifts, an ectomorph who loves HIIT or an endomorph yogi, don’t change a thing about what it is you love to do.  But, maybe there’s an element here you can add relatively quickly that could make your fitness routine more balanced.

More than half the battle of becoming fit is learning which movements give you joy.  Thanks to the latest studies, the answers may lie in what makes you uniquely you.



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