Apples, hourglasses, endomorphs—the terminology around body types never ends, nor fails to be semi-confusing. But, in the fitness world, it’s all about understanding how your body might respond to certain workouts, routines, or diet changes, based on physical structure or genetic makeup. Of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules to what your body can achieve, and you should always feel empowered to exercise in whatever way suits you. Here’s what a few experts think about body types in general, and whether working out for body type is worth your while.
What are all the different body types?
Tracee Badway, a yoga instructor at Studio Three in Chicago, generally sees a few common body types: naturally thin and long, athletic and stocky, and soft and curvy. Some people classify themselves using fruit—saying you’re an “apple” or “pear” shape—or familiar shapes—like having a “square,” “inverted triangle,” or “hourglass” figure. And, based on a theory by Psychologist William Sheldon, there are three main categories of body types: endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph. For the most part, though, these are all variations on the same refrain.
“Ectomorph individuals have always been skinny, and have a difficult time gaining weight,” explains Dr. Alex Robles of New York Presbyterian Hospital. “Their joints are really small and they can often be considered frail. Endomorphs are the opposite; they’re generally bigger, with larger joints, and can gain weight very easily. Mesomorphs are right in the middle. They are the type of people who naturally look athletic, and can gain or lose weight relatively easily.”
As generalizations, though, none of these body types may describe your specific body shape perfectly. “Genetically speaking, we are completely different than the person working out next to us, and when it comes to how a body reacts to exercise, we are just as diverse,” Badway says. “Some people naturally have more muscle, while others carry weight in certain areas, or are naturally thin. If an individual tends to build muscle quickly and is looking for a leaner look, that individual should incorporate cardio and yoga with their strength training routine, versus lifting weights on a daily basis. A leaner body type looking to gain muscle should focus more on strength training and less on cardio.”
Can you tailor your workout and diet for a particular body type?
Dr. Robles says yes. Here’s what he recommends for each type:
- Smaller joints will not adapt to stressful work as quickly as other body types.
- Use large compound movements that train multiple muscle groups at once, versus isolation exercises, like bicep curls.
- Keep sets and reps at a moderate range, like three sets of five to ten reps.
- Plan for adequate recovery in between workouts.
- Work out three to four times a week, at max.
- Larger frame can tolerate high work volume.
- Perform higher rep sets, as muscles and joints won’t fatigue as easily.
- Focus on compound exercises, and focus less on the amount of weight.
- Explore high-intensity interval training to hit a lot of reps in a short timeframe.
- Keep sets and reps in ranges of three to four sets of 12+ reps.
- Work out four times a week.
- Body burns fat and gains muscle rather quickly, so all kinds of training methods are appropriate.
- Try a wide range of sets and reps to see results.
- Work out four times a week.
Consider your proportions.
On the other hand, NYC-based Personal Trainer James Shapiro says that he doesn’t rely on body types to help people craft workouts. Rather, he likes to help each person figure out how their body proportions might require adjustments, in order to perform movements properly.
“I might work with one person who has a shorter torso and long legs, while the next person might be shorter in total height with a normal torso and shorter legs,” he states. “From that perspective, you have to adjust the exercise selections. For example, someone with long femurs and legs might be better off taking a sumo position than [a] traditional stance for the deadlift, because the range of motion is longer and the lower back becomes less stressed during the motion.”
Badway falls somewhere in between. In her opinion, there are naturally thin people who might lift weights, but not put on muscle quickly, versus naturally athletic people who immediately bulk up as soon as they focus on weight lifting. And, it’s the same regarding eating for your body type, as Badway says two people with different body types can eat the same foods, like carbs, yet respond completely differently.
Workout for your goals—not your body type.
All in all, working out for body type isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, and certainly shouldn’t dictate how you choose to exercise, advises Aaptiv Trainer Benjamin Green. He also wants people to focus on appreciating the body they have, first and foremost.
“I believe anyone should work out for the goal they want to achieve,” he says. “If you want to run a 5k, then make that your goal. I don’t like the idea of working out for a particular body type because if you don’t receive the [results] you want, you’ll always be unhappy with your body. If you want to look different, then put in the hard work to get the results. Remember, Rome wasn’t built overnight.”
“Exercise should be a hobby that makes you feel good,” Badway concludes, “as well as be a stepping stone toward individual health goals. If your workouts are bringing joy to your life and allowing you to find harmony and balance, then you’re doing something right.”