Workouts

Determine Your Body Type

Work with what you've got to get the body you want.

by
three women lifting weights

Are you tall and slender? Short and curvy? Or somewhere in between? No matter what type of build you were born with, we have a training program that's right for you.

Did you ever wonder if with the same time, commitment and coaching, you could achieve success similar to that of basketball sensation Lisa Leslie or fitness superstars Susie Curry and Kelly Ryan? Take away all those factors that give them a competitive edge and they're just like you and me, right? Well, of course not! Lisa is gifted with towering height, and Susie and Kelly have inherited genes that make them capable of tumbling a backflip or two, or three.

Genetics. You can be blessed with damn good ones, or be damned by them. In the gym, you see some lucky souls who do little more than lift a few weights every couple of days and build a tight, toned physique. On the other hand, some less-fortunate folks have made working out almost a religion . . . and are looking as though they're considering a change in faith. Even though all successful athletes have to work very hard to achieve their greatness, most - if not all - start off ahead of the pack thanks to a very generous gene pool. Well, you can continue to lament your bad luck (after, of course, you tell mom that you'd have preferred she marry someone like, say, Michael Jordan or even Arnold) or you can buckle down and make the best of what you've got.

Every woman has a genetic blueprint that dictates what type of body she has. But don't be fooled into believing that what you see in the mirror can't be manipulated and molded into something more. By carefully dialing in certain training variables based on your bodytype, you can enhance your workout program and speed your progress in the gym. The bottom line is that an overweight woman who wants to drop significant bodyfat and still build muscle shouldn't be doing the same type of resistance-training program as one who's stick-thin and looking to fill out her frame.

Bodytypes can roughly be divided into three basic categories: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. An ectomorph is naturally lean with a fast metabolism. While this bodytype tends not to gain fat easily, muscle is also hard to come by. An endomorph, on the other hand, tends to gain weight rapidly and has a tough time losing bodyfat. Other characteristics typically include a large bone structure and a slower metabolism. Lastly, a mesomorph has a relatively easy time building muscle and keeping bodyfat to a desirable level. A person with this bodytype sometimes makes looking good look almost effortless.

The skinny chick: The Ectomorph
While a lot of women might say they wouldn't mind being in this situation, the truth is that those who have difficulty gaining - and maintaining - weight don't like to constantly hear about how skinny they are. "I get sick of it," complains my sister, Sherri, who drops weight quickly, particularly if she skips a few workouts. She struggles to put on muscle, training diligently and eating several times a day. After years of subscribing to the philosophy that if a little is good, more must be better, she finally listened to me when I told her she was overtraining. Ectomorphs simply can't be in the gym six days a week, training each bodypart twice

The best way for an ectomorph to build and shape her muscles is to lift heavy and train each bodypart once a week, getting plenty of rest between workouts, and refrain from doing too many exercises and sets per bodypart. "If really pressed, I'd have to say that I fall in the ecto-mesomorph category," admits fitness icon Minna Lessig, who believes that every woman is actually a combination of all three bodytypes to some degree. "I say this because my musculature is prominent yet lean. When I was a fitness competitor, what worked for me was lifting heavy weights for low reps. I chose compound exercises that helped put overall size on my body."

IFBB pro Lovena Stamatiou-Tuley agrees that staying in the low-rep range is a good idea, and suggests cutting the intensity and frequency of your cardio to speed progress. "You don't want to burn that muscle you're building," she notes. "Lift heavy weight and rest longer between sets."

Ectomorph Bodytype Workout
The ectomorph is typically thin with low levels of muscle as well as bodyfat. If your metabolism is fast, and you have trouble putting on weight, use this program to muscle up.

  • Start with a 5-10-minute warm-up and light stretching of muscle groups to be worked that day.
  • Beginners should do two sets of each exercise; others can do three sets. 
  • Complete 6-10 reps, increasing the weight and decreasing reps (called pyramiding) with each set. 
  • Lift weights heavy enough to reach near-failure within the prescribed rep range.
  • Rest 1-3 minutes between sets, depending on the bodypart being trained. Take more time for larger muscle groups like legs and back.
  • Train each bodypart only once a week, and never train a muscle group if it's still sore from a previous workout.
  • Change some part of your workout every week to add variety, be it the exercise or exercise order, or some other advanced training technique (such as forced reps or negatives). Just don't overdo it.
  • Get plenty of rest between workouts.
  • Do three days of cardio per week for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity (60%-75% of your maximal heart rate). 
  • Limit vigorous activities outside of training sessions that burn lots of calories, or reduce your cardio sessions.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a health condition.

The muscular maiden: The Mesomorph
So far, I've suggested that mesomorphs have an advantage, but that doesn't mean they have it easy. A woman with this bodytype still has to work for that great physique, albeit not to the degree that the other two bodytypes would for a similar look. A training split of 3-5 days, moderate reps and a variety of compound and single-joint exercises should do the trick.

"I'm a true meso, although I'd say that isn't typical of all fitness competitors," explains Lovena. "I work out four days a week with a 3-4-day split, but I change it up all the time." For best results, mesomorphs should do high reps for legs (15-20) and 8-12 for the other bodyparts, and do up to four days of cardio, varying the intensity each time, she states.

One problem that some naturally muscular women face is a lack of direction in their workouts. Seemingly, whatever they do brings about some sort of change; however, the need for a well-thought-out program is vital. "You have to look at your body and see where you want to put the curves," says Lovena. "You have to stress your body properly to create positive change." Know how you want your body to look and work out with that in mind. 

"What works for me today coincides with my goal to have a body that's healthy, full of energy and strong, yet flexible," notes Minna. "I don't keep track of numbers but rather go by how my body feels. This isn't to say that I don't have consistency. Yet my body awareness is so sharp that I work with mind-muscle unison rather than look at how many sets and reps I did of an exercise last week."


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