I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on finding the right workout for our bodies...
So often we are sold a one size fits all workout or a workout we “should” be doing, however let’s start with the physical and what science tells us would suit our body type.
In the 1940s, Dr. William Sheldon, an American psychologist and physician, devised his famous theory of three somatotypes, or body types. Fitness professionals and nutritionists have been using his theory for many years to plan their training and diet regimes.
According to Dr. Sheldon, humans can be grouped into three different body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.
Each type is said to have distinct physical and metabolic characteristics.
Ectomorphs are naturally lean, with narrow hips and shoulders, low body fat and thin limbs. They often have trouble putting on weight and building additional muscle mass.
As an ectomorph you do not need much cardiovascular exercise as you are already lean. Too much cardio can increase cortisol levels, making the body believe it is under stress and causing it to store fat. This can then lead to being ‘skinny-fat’, skinny in the limbs with excess belly fat.
You should focus on strengthening and toning your muscles to add muscle mass and prevent overuse injuries and osteoporosis.
Ectomorphs are genetically pre-disposed for sports such as long-distance running and those involving speed. Extra strength training would be required for competitive and / or contact sports.
Mesomorphs are able to gain muscle easily, have strong legs and shoulders with a narrow waist and usually low body fat. Their metabolisms are usually efficient and their muscles mass is functional. It’s important to point out these body types are the exception and most people who look lean and fit will have developed their body composition through a combination of genetics and lifestyle.
For maintenance, you should focus on low to moderate intensity cardiovascular and strength training exercise.
Mesomorphs have the best natural body type for bodybuilding and strength-based sports. You will respond quickly to training, though can gain fat with muscle mass.
Endomorphs are more round and pear-shaped. They tend to have larger legs and arms and find it easier to gain weight, rather than muscle. While genetics are the base of this body type, it just takes a bit more time and effort to be more fit and healthy.
You should focus on cardiovascular training, adding in strength and resistance training to stabilize and support your joints.
Endomorphs are often predisposed to excellent natural lower body strength. You will need to supplement your training with cardio in order to reduce fat and allow muscle visibility. Endomorphs have the potential to be strong, muscular athletes.
While these set body types are still used today, they are just a basis for you and/ or your fitness professional to work from.
Few of us fit neatly into one body type. Most are a combination with characteristics from two body types, or even all of them, and many of us misclassify our bodies due to insecurities and body ‘ideals’ in the media.
You are not completely fixed by your genetics, diet and exercise can make a huge difference. Diet will determine your size or mass, while exercise will determine your shape, sculpting and toning your muscles.
With all of this information about how you should exercise for your body type, keep in mind the following questions:
Does your workout address your needs and goals?
Is it age and fitness level appropriate?
Does it take into account your physical limitations and / or past injuries?
If you’re unsure of any of the above, a fitness professional should be able to help you guide you to the right exercise for you.
Finally, don’t underestimate the mental aspect of exercise. Does a particular type of workout make you feel good? Is it fun to go to your regular Pilates class, a run in the park, working out in the gym? Do what makes you feel good and it will be so much easier to exercise. Just bear in mind your body type and needs and perhaps reduce or add to your regime accordingly. Allowing you to reap the most benefit for both your body and your mind.