Have you ever noticed how people respond differently to exercise? Even if you were hitting the gym regularly before COVID and have continued to exercise at home, your results (or lack thereof) could vary greatly from others engaged in the exact same exercise program. Why?
There’s no one-size-fits-all diet and exercise program, which is part of the reason so many diets and exercise programs fail, says celebrity trainer, Phil Catudal, author of Just Your Type.
Just as our unique physiology makes us more or less responsive to various diets, our compatibility with various types of exercise also differs. Your workout could be the ideal protocol—but for someone else’s body rather than your own, Catudal says.
Despite getting the recommended amount of exercise, only a few people actually achieve their results efficiently, he says, which can make all the difference when it comes to implementing and committing to a routine. In other words, if you’re not seeing results where others are, you’re less likely to see it as a sustainable fitness solution and more likely to throw in the towel.
The best workout is the one that’s easiest to commit to. Think working out smarter, not harder. The key is to work with your body, rather than against it. To do that, you need to know where you’re starting from.
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The Three Body Types
Though the idea that people are genetically predisposed to a particular body type dates back to Plato, it wasn’t until the 1940s that American psychologist William Sheldon developed the somatotype taxonomy, a three-part classification of the human physique: ectomorphic, mesomorphic, and endomorphic.
Though these body types are distinct and often inherited, they’re not always set in stone and most of us are a blend, or hybrid, of two different types.
- Ectomorph: Lean and long, less muscle mass
- Endomorph: Large frame, often pear-shaped with higher body fat
- Mesomorph: Muscular and well-built
Each body type reacts differently to different types of exercise. A person with the ectomorph body type won’t respond to a workout the same way as someone with the sturdy and more muscular frame of a mesomorph, and the more robust, compact endomorph body type will struggle to achieve the long, lithe look of an ectomorph. An ectomorph may lose weight very easily with cardio, but have a more difficult time putting on muscle mass with strength training.
Don’t despair! It’s possible to affect your somatotype, but different body types may need more time and more consistent effort for long-term changes to happen, says Jacque Crockford, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal trainer, and setting appropriate expectations is the first step to finding success in your fitness program.
Understanding your body type and how various exercise protocols affect it will allow you to work with it, utilizing your strengths and predispositions to achieve your fitness goals faster.
What Body Type Am I?
“Once you identify and understand what your body type is, you’ll discover how to work with it to achieve your weight and fitness goals,” says Catudal.
To identify your body type, take this quick somatotype quiz:
1. My body is mostly:
2. I tend to:
A. Stay thin
B. Carry some extra fat
C. Stay fit and muscular
3. My shoulders are:
A. Narrower than my hips
B. Wider than my hips
C. In line with my hips
4. My forearms are:
5. A pair of fitted pants with the right waist size is:
A. Tight around my glutes
B. Loose around my glutes C. Perfect around my glutes
6. When I encircle my wrist with the middle finger and thumb of my other hand:
A. My fingers overlap
B. My fingers don’t touch
C. My fingers just touch
7. When it comes to weight, I:
A. Find it difficult to gain and maintain weight
B. Gain weight easily but have a hard time losing it
C. Have an easy time gaining or losing weight
If you answered:
Mostly A’s: Ectomorph
Mostly B’s: Endomorph
Mostly C’s: Mesomorph
The Ectomorph Body Type
The ectomorph is thin and lean, with a narrow frame, slender waist, narrow hips and long limbs. Typically, ectomorphs have high endurance levels and fast metabolisms.
Think: Gisele Bündchen, Kate Middleton, and Michael Phelps
Due to their highly efficient metabolisms, ectomorphs require less cardio to stay slim. “This body type may have a difficult time putting on muscle mass and/or keeping on weight,” says Corckford.
To build muscle, ectomorphs should focus on lifting heavier weights with longer rest periods in between.
The Best Workouts for Ectomorphs:
- Endurance sports like distance running or cycling
- Cross-country skiing
- Marathons or triathlons
- Racquet sports
- Indoor cycling
- Circuit training
- Body sculpting
- Maximum strength-resistance training using compound movements that train several muscle groups at once (versus isolation exercises, like bicep curls)
Weight training goal: Work with heavier weights in strength training range of 8-12 reps (1-3 sets per exercise) to build lean body mass, improve muscle strength and size; and boost bone density. Use compound movements to build more muscle throughout the body – like lat row, chest press, and leg press.
For bodyweight exercises, focus on push ups for upper body, squats and lunges for glutes. Concentrate on core work to define the waist and create a more feminine shape.
Cardio goal: Ectomorphs typically enjoy long, steady-state cardio activities like marathon running. However, sustained, low intensity cardio exercise will only create more long, lean muscles. Instead, do high intensity interval training (HIIT) to maintain cardio fitness and create fast-twitch muscle fibers for bursts of speed. Do shorter workouts of 30-45 minutes, 3-5 times per week.
The Endomorph Body Type
The larger-boned endomorph is pear or hour-glass shaped, with a small waist, narrow shoulders and shorter limbs. Endomorphs tend to carry their weight around their lower abdomen, hips and thighs, with a high percentage of body fat and muscle. Endomorphs typically gain weight more easily because of a slower metabolism.
Think: Oprah, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Lopez
Diet alone is usually not enough to lose weight. To boost metabolism, exercise should include both cardio and weight training.
The Best Workouts for Endomorphs:
- Cross country skiing
- High-intensity Circuit Training (HITT) with a lot of reps in a short time frame
Weight training goal: Create muscle definition by working in high repetition range (15 reps per exercise) and multiple sets (2-3 sets per exercise). Use a combination of lighter weights with stretch bands, medicine balls, and bodyweight exercises to target all major muscle groups in lower body, upper body and core. Focus on core exercises to flatten the belly like planks and dead bugs.
Cardio goal: Shed extra fat and boost the metabolism by doing HIIT, Tabata exercises, jump rope and sprinting. To lose fat, endomorphs need to create a caloric deficit of 250-300 calories/day which requires 30-40 minutes of physical activity every day.
The Mesomorph Body Type
Athletic, solid and strong with a medium bone structure and high muscle mass, mesomorphs are fairly lean all over. They have broad shoulders and a relatively narrow waist, with an efficient metabolism that allows them to lose or gain weight with little effort.
Think: Serena Williams, Madonna, Mark Wahlberg
Due to their athleticism, mesomorphs excel at short, intense workouts. “Because mesomorphs may have an easier time losing/gaining weight compared to the other types, they usually don’t need stead-state cardio workouts to lose body fat,” says Crockford.
Intense strength-training with weights and high-intensity workout training efficiently stimulates muscle growth and burns fat.
The Best Workouts for Mesomorphs:
- Indoor Cycling
- Low-intensity, steady-state cardio
- Power-based sports
- Weight lifting
- Interval Training
Weight training goal: Perform a combination of strength training and endurance training workouts to encourage strength and stamina without building muscle mass. Strength train in the 8-12 rep range for 1-3 sets of each exercise; endurance training using higher reps with lighter weights, adding body weight exercises along with exercises to challenge balance, stabilization and coordination.
Cardio goal: 30-45 minutes of cardio, 3-5 times per week, alternating steady-state workouts with HIIT.