Genetics play a huge factor in how the body responds to exercise. The average gym contains people of all shapes and sizes, and even those deemed “very fit” will have varying body shapes and response patterns to exercise in the way they develop muscle, burn fat, and improve their cardiorespiratory fitness. “Simply doing the same training as somebody whose body you admire and want for yourself may not work for you,” says fitness expert Dean Hodgkin. “Attaining your goal may require you to train specifically for your body type.”
In their book, Better Body Workouts for Women, Hodgkin and former international athlete and fitness presenter Caroline Pearce explain the three body types and the training recommendations associated with each one to create an effective exercise program. “Body shapes have typically fallen into one of three categories: mesomorph, ectomorph, or endomorph,” Pearce explains. “In reality, most people will share characteristics from all three categories, but it is likely that you will identify with one category more than another. Each category has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of health and fitness, but your understanding of these is the key to your success.”
The athletic physique for a mesomorph includes broad shoulders, narrow waist and hips, good muscular definition, low body fat, and a reasonably fast metabolism. Mesomorph body types respond well to most types of training—especially resistance and body shaping exercises—and sustain low levels of body fat. “The disadvantages for mesomorphs are they can often become overtrained, so they should be mindful of incorporating rest days and lighter training sessions into a training program,” Hodgkin says. “Also, stagnation can easily occur if they are not challenged with varying exercise routines, and they can put on weight quickly when training stops.”
Here are recommendations for mesomorphs:
- Combine both major and minor muscle group exercises into an exercise routine.
- Use superset training to maximize effort during workout time.
- Progress training regularly and keep it varied with regard to exercise modality, type, and intensity.
- If trying to minimize muscle mass, favor steady-state and interval training over maximal sprints and lifts. Also practice yoga, Pilates, and light-weight, high-repetition circuit training to develop longer, leaner muscles.
- If trying to maximize muscle, allow adequate recovery between exercises and sets and between weight training sessions. This allows regeneration of energy systems in the first instance and muscle adaptation in the latter.
The athletic physique for an ectomorph includes narrow shoulders and hips, long and lean legs and arms, small bone structure, and very little body fat. “Ectomorph body types find it easy to lose weight and keep it off,” Pearce says. “They respond well to cardiorespiratory training and are ideally suited to this type of training because of their light frames and low body weight.” But ectomorphs find it difficult to put on muscle and create shapely physiques, are prone to injury because of fragile frames, and risk unhealthily low body fat levels.
Here are recommendations for ectomorphs:
- Use split training, which involves only one or two body parts with resistance exercises per session, and aim to work each body part once per week.
- Take adequate rest between strength workouts to allow for muscle recovery and for optimal repair and adaptation (48 to 72 hours).
- Use heavy, basic power movements that target the deep muscle tissues.
- Use repetitions of 5 to 10 and perform 3 or 4 sets of each exercise.
- Keep cardiorespiratory activity to a minimum (max three times per week) if the goal is to shape up and develop more muscle.
- Ensure good intake of protein and carbohydrate; greater caloric intake than usual will be essential in maintaining body weight and developing lean muscle.
The athletic physique for an endomorph includes wide hips and narrow shoulders that create a pear shape. They have less muscle definition, uneven fat distribution (mostly accumulating in upper arms, buttocks, and thighs), wide bone structure, and a slower metabolism than the other body types. “Weight gain is easy and fat loss difficult if you are in this category, and muscle definition tends to be hidden by fat,” Pearce explains. “Endomorph body types respond well to power and strength training due to natural strength. If muscle is trained and developed, then metabolic rate and fat burning can increase effectively.” The disadvantages for endomorphs are that they can look bulky with too much weight training in relation to aerobic activity and can suffer joint problems if carrying too much body weight. They also can find it more difficult to burn fat.
Here are recommendations for endomorphs:
- Include moderate-intensity, nonimpact cardiorespiratory exercise such as cycling and power walking on most, if not all, days of the week to achieve a leaner, lighter body shape.
- Cross training should be the basis for a training plan.
- Keep weights light, rep range 10 to 25, and recovery time short.
- Eat regularly and reduce starchy and sugar-based carbohydrate.
“Of course, genetics determine that some people are naturally leaner and more responsive to exercise than others,” Pearce says. “With this in mind, you need to be realistic with your goal of ideal body and training targets. But the good news is that with the correct training for your body type, you can really push the boundaries of your genetic predisposition and be the best you can be.”
Better Body Workouts for Women provides the best methods for assessing current fitness levels, identifying physical strengths and deficiencies, setting and refining training goals, and selecting and customizing programs to make an immediate and lasting impact.
Read more from Better Body Workouts for Women by Dean Hodgkin and Caroline Pearce.