Have you ever looked at someone and thought, "I wish I looked like him/her?". I remember doing it at Glasgow bus station one day. This tall, slim, stylish young woman walked past me and I looked at her and thought, "I want to look like that when I grow up" (I was probably about 20 at the time). But at the same time, I realised right there and then that I will never look like that. I'm done growing, I made it to a whole 5 feet! I'll never have that long, elegant shape that this woman had because I'm just not built that way.
This was quite a fundamental revelation for me. After accepting that some things are just unattainable, I moved on and made realistic body and fitness goals based on my own body type, rather than ones that were doomed to fail and leave me feeling negative about the whole situation and my efforts.
The same goes for you. Before you start working out or making targets for your body, you need to understand your body type. Two people can do exactly the same exercise and eat exactly the same things and see very different results from it. A lot of it comes down to genetics and metabolism. Madonna, for example, lives on yoga and pilates and looks ripped. If I just did yoga and pilates, within a couple of months I'd be more flexible and chilled out, but I'd also probably be fat! My body is not responsive in that way. So how do you know what to do? Well, it all comes down to knowing how your body type and how it works.
The Three Main Body Types
Generally speaking, there are 3 main body types. I don't mean pear shaped and hour glass, etc. These body types are ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph and they all work differently. It's also possible, and actually most likely, that you can be a combination of 2 of the 3 types. Think of it as a spectrum rather than three distinct categories.
Ectomorph —————————— Mesomorph —————————— Endomorph
Ectomorphs are what you would call fine featured or fine boned. They tend to have small frames and long limbs, like Cameron Diaz, Kate Moss, Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt. Ectomorphs are envied for being naturally slim and for eating loads without putting on weight, but they struggle to put on muscle. An ectomorph who doesn't work out will probably look great in all sorts of clothing, but may feel a bit squidgy when they're undressed as they lack muscle tone if they don't actively work for it.
To get the best from your workout, an ectomorph should do more weights and less cardio. Do compound lifts that use more than one muscle, but only focuses on one muscle group. So don't so bicep curls with lunges, do something like deadlifts that focus on the lower body. The weights should be heavy, with sets of 5-10 reps and you can take longer rests between your sets. For cardio, you want to be doing something that builds strength, like Piyo or sprints or ideally HIIT workouts and you only need to do this once or twice a week.
When it comes to food, ectomorphs can pretty much eat whatever they want. The best way to eat as an ectomorph is little and often, with 50%-60% carbs. Eat high density foods such as almonds and avocado and enjoy your meals. If you're trying to make significant muscle gain, try eating before bed to avoid muscle breakdown in the night.
Mesomorphs have a more square shape. They're naturally stronger and put on muscle quickly and easily. They make exceptional athletes, such as Venus and Serena Williams. Gymnasts are also usually mesomorphic. Non-athlete example are Halle Berry and Hilary Swank from Million Dollar Baby. Before the movie, Hilary Swank was slim but she put on muscle and toned up well for the part. This would have been much harder for an ectomorph like Cameron Diaz to do. For the guys, we have Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silvester Stalone, Bruce Willis and George Cloonie. While this sounds like the perfect body type, bare in mind that mesomorphs gain fat almost as easily as they gain muscle.
For your workout, mesomorphs should do both strength and cardio training in moderation. You should be doing weight training in the range of 8-12 reps with short rests, 30 seconds - 1 minute and enough cardio to stay lean, but no more.
For a mesomorph, your food is very important. You need to make sure that you consume enough of the right calories to maintain your body. A calorie deficit will result in muscle breakdown and higher body fat. You should split your meals into 5-6 smaller portions through the day and keep your carbs around 40%-60%.
Endomorphs are usually shorter and thicker boned,with broader shoulders, wide feet and thicker wrists. They gain both fat and muscle easily. Even at their leanest, they still have thicker legs, and they tend to hold onto body fat and cellulite. They have soft, rounded shapes, like Rosie O'Donnel, Oprah, Beyonce and J-Lo as well as Jack Black, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Goodman. Endomorphs have usually tried and failed at many exercise programmes and diets and find it very difficult to drop weight. If you're an endomorph, you're probably often hungry and get tired easily. You'll gain muscle easily, especially in the lower body, but tend to keep fat over the muscle rather than develop that lean, ripped look, despite the strength.
To get the most from working out as an endomorph, you need to increase your cardio, more is always better, and focus strength training on the big muscles of the lower body. Do more reps and more sets, e.g. 15-20 reps and 4 sets of this with short breaks in between, only 30-45 seconds. Do compound exercises that use more than one muscle in a muscle group rather than isolated muscle exercises as this burns more calories.
Endomorphic body types tend to hang on tight to carbs and water, so you have to make sure you drink lots of water (that sounds counterintuitive, but trust me in this) and try low carb or carb cycling diets. Intermittent fasting is not going to be very effective for you as your body will store extra fat when you eat for the fasting phase by default. People from cold climates are often endomorphic, like Eskimos, as this body type is very adept at storing energy and warmth for that harsh climate. Try and limit the size of your meals and eat often rather than eating large meals all at once. This body type quickly stores away the extra calories from a meal that are not immediately used. Eat loads of vegetables and keep your carbs at 30%-40%.
Body Type Combinations
As I mentioned before, it's possible to be a combination of these body types. In fact, it's actually more likely that you're somewhere on the scale than you're an pure mesomorph or ectomorph. For me, I would be a combination of mesomorph and endomorph. I build muscle quickly, I'm athletic and strong, but I also store fat in certain places that nothing has been able so shift. My lower body is significantly stronger than my upper body and I've always excelled at squats and deadlifts, very quickly passing my bodyweight in these exercises.
Now that I know this, I can adjust my workouts accordingly as well as that of my clients. There would be no point in my making a generic Bulk Up workout programme and giving the same one to an ectomorph and a mesomorph as it would only work for one of them. So which one are you? Once you know, meeting your workout goals becomes a whole lot easier, not to mention more likely!
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