Tailor your workout to body type, trainers advise

A person's shape can determine how easily muscle and weight are gained

Health & Fitness

October 24, 2004|By Bridgette Williams | By Bridgette Williams,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Let's face it. To some degree, the motivation for exercise is how you want to look. Chances are, you can name a few areas on your body that could stand to be strengthened, tightened, toned or just eliminated. Maybe it's wide hips. Or skinny arms. Or a thick middle.

But you can use your shape to your advantage when working out.

Back in the 1940s, psychologist William Sheldon developed the theory of somatotypes from a study of 4,000 photographs of college-age men.

Sheldon suggested that all bodies could be classified into one of three categories: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph.

Sheldon's theory says that the body types differ in where they gain fat and how they gain muscles. And each has distinguishing characteristics. If you're an endomorph, for example, it's wide hips. For an ectomorph, it's skinny limbs. And a mesomorph will have a stocky appearance.

In other words, you can't change your body type. It's genetic.

But knowing your body type can help you set realistic fitness goals.

Instead of thinking "lose" -- as in "I need to lose my heavy thighs" -- think "tone." You can decrease your body fat and increase your muscle mass to create a slimmer, trimmer version of yourself, but your basic shape won't change, says Dr. Carla Sottovia, assistant fitness director and senior personal trainer at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas.

Instead of fighting the build you're born with, find a workout that works it.

Stephen Schulze, Wendy Morgan and Robert Miller are an ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph, respectively. They are also personal trainers at Bally Total Fitness health clubs. Here's a look at the basics of each body type, along with tips from these pros for planning a workout that works with your shape.


Hips wider than shoulders

Gains weight easily

Gains muscle mass quickly

Type: most football linemen

The bad news is you're the most likely of the three to have a hard time losing weight, and the weight you gain, which happens easily, settles around your midsection, hips and thighs.

The good news is that instead of pear-shaped, you can think of yourself as a curvy hourglass.

Morgan, 24, says that cardio is a big part of her workout.

Her weight-training allows for two days for her upper body and two days for her lower body.

Morgan's tips for endomorphs:

Cardio, cardio, cardio.

Focus on your lower body, incorporating both cardio and weights into your workout to emphasize your curves with muscle.

Your weight training should include a lot of reps. And choose a weight that enables you to wear out your muscles.

Do a lot of compound exercises, such as squats and lunges, which involve more than one muscle.


Stocky or thick frame in men; rectangular

shape in women

Broad shoulders and narrow waist and hips

Puts on muscle easily

Type: Sylvester Stallone, Madonna

When you think mesomorph, think muscle.

Mesomorphs appear stocky because of their compact limbs, says Sottovia, who has a doctorate in exercise physiology from Texas Woman's University. They have less difficulty gaining muscle mass than endomorphs or ectomorphs, and their fitness levels can be easily maintained.

Miller, 34, is a fit mesomorph. He's also a competitive bodybuilder and power lifter. When not competing, he follows a routine that includes just three power exercises -- squats, bench presses and dead lifts -- three days a week.

Miller works out using the pyramid system, which consists of increasing weight while decreasing reps. For example, Miller's bench presses begin with eight reps at 135 pounds and end with one rep at 430 pounds.

Miller's tips for mesomorphs:

Eat more and eat well.

"Learn to contract every muscle in your body when you do anything. If you think of your body as one muscle, you will always work your total body."

Don't do too many reps and sets, especially if you're not eating many meals. You'll eventually start burning muscle.

If you want to gain size, increase your reps and food intake.


Hips and shoulders same width

Lanky, thin build

Doesn't gain weight easily

Type: Many professional models or distance


Wiry, lanky, willowy and just plain skinny are terms you're accustomed to hearing if you're an ectomorph. Long-distance runners and the majority of high-fashion models are classic ectomorphs. Their hips and shoulders tend to be the same width.

If you know someone who can eat anything and not gain a pound, that person is probably an ectomorph. People with this body type usually have trouble gaining weight, but they have trouble gaining muscle as well, which requires that their workout be almost opposite from that of the other body types.

An ectomorph's focus should be on gaining muscle, not on cardio, says Sottovia.

In the hour he spends working out four days a week, Schulze says he focuses only 20 minutes twice a week on cardio.

"The more cardio I do, the less weight I carry," he says. "I do enough to get my heart rate at the right level to work my heart but not high enough to burn body fat."

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