Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS, ACE
What about gaining weight?
Or gaining muscle?
At some point, we have to come to the realization that our bodies, for better or for worse, are meant to be a certain shape, or weight.
It’s another case of nature versus nurture.
When we are born, we are predisposed to a particular eye color, skin tone and hair texture. We also inherit our body type from our biological parents.
But how much of our shape are we destined to grow old with and how much do we have the ability to transform?
There are three basic body types. Most people are a mixture of the three, while only five percent of the population are purely one type. Since weight is so strongly related to your body type, body composition (the ratio of fat to fat-free mass) is a much better indication of ideal body weight than is the total weight obtained from stepping on a scale.
Genetic factors strongly dominate adult height, limb and trunk lengths, skeletal and sexual maturation and body type. On the other hand, other physical characteristics related to physical performance, such as body weight, skinfold thickness and body circumference can be modified considerably by environmental influences, though these influences interact with and are limited by genetic factors.
The 3 Body Types
Mesomorphs Mesomorphs have muscular bodies, with broad shoulders, thick chests and narrow waists (think Jessica Biel and Sarah Jessica Parker). They tend to be more proportioned. Mesomorphs can have normal or low body fat, even though they may be overweight according to standard height and weight charts.
They have an advantage over taller, less muscular people in weightlifting movements.
Mesomorphs have greater strength potential. To minimize injuries, the total volume of repetitions, the number of training sessions and the frequency of high intensity workouts should be less than for other body types. They may also need more recovery time.
The Workout Plan The mesomorphic program should focus on a combination of strengthening, cardio, and stretching. Total body strengthening exercises should be performed 2–3 times weekly on alternating days, using a resistance that causes them to fatigue in 8–12 repetitions.
Cardio can be done 3+ days of the week for 30-60 minutes in their target heart rate zone. Any activities the person enjoys can be engaged in.
Stretching should be done after each exercise session. The focus of the program is to manage body composition and enhance their predisposed strength advantage.
Ectomorphs Ectomorphic people are thin, lean and tall, with low amounts of fat-free mass, and they can be underweight according to the weight charts (examples include Kate Moss and Gisele Bunchen). Typically they are extremely low in body fat and make the best endurance athletes. These body types do best in sprints, the long jump and the vertical jump. They have later skeletal and sexual maturation than the other two body types.
It’s more difficult for ectomorphs to lift weights, because they have such long limbs and have to push and pull resistance farther than the other body types — therefore, they work harder. An ectomorph wouldn’t be very competitive as a powerlifter. They have to use lighter weights, because they are moving throughout a greater range of motion.
Ectomorphs make great basketball and volleyball players. They typically have longer feet, which help with cutting and changing direction on the court. Ectomorphs typically have weak wrists and ankles, so they should also work on strengthening them with resistance training. Many people will wrap their wrists and ankles for added support.
Ectomorphs should perform strength training on alternating days weekly, choosing a resistance that causes them to fatigue in 6–10 repetitions. Cardio can be done 3+ times weekly for 20-60 minutes per session. Flexibility training should be engaged in after each exercise session. The focus of the program is to increase strength, gain muscle and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Individuals should strive to do impact cardio activities like running and perform strength training using free weights in a standing position.
The Workout Plan Endomorphs should keep impact activities like jumping and running to a minimum, as the extra body weight causes additional stress on the joints and can potentially cause injuries to the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. They should start out slowly, working up to 20 minutes of activity in their target heart rate range. Then, over several sessions, they should gradually increase the time, followed by increasing intensity.
Endomorphs should focus on strength training 2–3 times weekly, choosing a resistance that causes them to fatigue in 10–15 repetitions. They can do cardio most days of the week for 30–60 minutes in their target heart rate zone. Activities should be low and non-impact to start.
Stretching should be performed after each exercise session. The focus of the exercise program is reducing body fat, improving health and decreasing risk of disease.
The bottom line is to choose exercises you love and do them often, but if you can tweak your program to work with your body type, there is a better chance of decreasing your risk of injury and seeing the results you desire and deserve.
You may not be just one body type, you’re probably a combination of a couple. At the same time, you don’t need to necessary be muscular to be a mesomorph, or overweight to be considered an endomorph. There may be three categories of body types but there certainly aren’t three body types in the world. Find out which body type you may classify yourself under and use these tips to help you find workouts that are great for your body and will cause it the least amount of stress.
Take your body type and accept it, nourish it and make it the best version it can be!
**Edited for repurpose by Taylor Brown, the Associate Editor of Goddess Connections’ publicationWomen Who Run It.