How to Train for Your Body Type

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.

Women Working Out
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Ectomorph: The skinny chick

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 body part twice

The best way for an ectomorph to build and shape her muscles is to lift heavy and train each body part once a week, getting plenty of rest between workouts, and refrain from doing too many exercises and sets per body part. "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 body types 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 Workout

The ectomorph is typically thin with low levels of muscle as well as body fat. 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 body part being trained. Take more time for larger muscle groups like legs and back.
  • Train each body part 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.

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