For a long time, my idea of a good workout included some time logged on a treadmill and maybe surfing through a light weight routine based on some old machines in my college's fitness center.
Basically, I had no idea what I was doing. I never played a sport growing up and wasn't considered even remotely 'athletic.' I didn't actually spend time around any athletes until college, when I became a tutor for the athletics department at a major Texas university. Even then, the athletes had their own workout facilities, coaches and trainers - all of this housed in a separate building. They even had their own dining facilities, where (depending on their position on the football team) they ate steak several times each week.
But me? I was at the regular fitness center, my Walkman securely in place as I walked for forty minutes before doing leg presses and bicep curls in what can only be described as a lackadaisical manner. My diet consisted of 'low-fat' foods like canned soup and frozen Lean Cuisine entrees, but that made little difference since I didn't seem to think beer counted toward those calories and often drank while dancing the night away at the Midnight Rodeo.
Basically, I was a product of 1990s wellness culture, and my body (puffy, weak and fleshy) showed. I wasn't fat, per se. But at 140 pounds, I rocked a solid size 10 and oozed a bit over the top of my high-waisted, pleated khaki shorts.
Fast-forward 20 years and my workouts are very different now. I focus much less on cardio and more on body-weight exercise and stretching. Though I still walk, if I do cardio at all, it's dance aerobics, which I do to get my heart pumping but mostly because it's good for my brain. I don't go near weight machines, which never did me any favors, and I use bands if I'm trying to grow muscle, which is mission impossible for my body type.
Wait: body type?
Yes, body type.
Several years ago I came across the idea that there are different types of bodies, which carry weight differently, have different metabolisms and, thus, require different workouts, diets and strategies for fitness.
Maybe everyone else knew about this? Maybe it was clear to the average person that some of us lose weight easily while others struggle while eating exactly the same foods. Or some of us can't build muscle to save our lives, even after logging hours with trainers and using all those machines. Or some of us (okay, not me) just naturally keep slim and build muscle, all balanced and lean in the right places and curvy in others.
Turns out there are three body types most of us fall into, and working out for our body type yields great results while stemming a lot of the frustration faced when we do what our best friend is doing and get decidedly different results.
If you're skeptical, so was I. I like to generally keep things simple, so the idea that we have different body types and that we might need varied workouts or diets seemed like something only Americans could come up with, a bi-product of overemphasis on the issue of health and wellness and a selling point for protein powder manufacturers and vitamin supplement dealers.
When I looked around, and when I looked at myself, I identified with a certain body type and saw that others might too.
So, if you're at all interested, it's worth at least a perusal of the concept to see if you identify with one type and, if you do, how your fitness program might shift based on how your body works.
To that end, the three body types:
1. Ectomorph (thin)
Ectomorphs are thin. This body type doesn't typically store much fat or build muscle easily. These body types can be the people we see who can 'eat what they want' and not gain weight. They're also the body types who struggle to put on muscle.
I knew a guy in college who was an ectomorph body type, and he was desperate to put on muscle. Being thin for an American woman may be the ideal, but for the American man it can be a world of body-image hurt.
In terms of exercise, ectomorphs will see best results by focusing less on cardio and more on strength training. Ectomorphs can go hard without 'bulking,' so to speak.
In terms of diet, ectomorphs need to pay attention to adequate amounts of protein to help build muscle.
Celebrity ectomorphs look like:
2. Mesomorph (muscular)
This body type is what we think of when we think of athletes; they have a high muscle to body fat ratio. These are the people who hit the gym and within a few weeks, they've grown up some legit muscle. They gain muscle easily and lose weight easily. Females typically have an hourglass shape, and males have broad shoulders and thick, strong legs.
Of course, so many of the athletes I saw in college fit this description. I have a friend who fits this body type. She easily builds muscle at the gym and has a tiny waist and curvy bum. She can eat a variety of food and doesn't stick to a strict diet. She works out hard, but her workouts show, if that makes sense.
In terms of exercise, mesomorphs are all about balance - interval training, strength training and stretching. These body types are quite athletic and work best with a balanced routine.
In terms of diet, same thing: balance. According to this article in Harper's Bazaar, "For optimum health and performance, mesomorphs should aim to consume 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% fats at meals. That being said, mesomorphs should not take their body type for granted, and should ensure they eat and train well to stay in the best physical condition."
Celebrity mesomorphs look like:
3. Endomorph (curvy)
Endomorphs have a higher fat to muscle ratio; though they, too, can easily build muscle. That said, it's harder for endomorph body types to lose weight and to shift weight around.
I have several friends who fall into the endomorph body type category, and there is a lot of frustration in terms of compare/contrast. They feel frustrated when they eat the same foods their friends eat and gain weight or remain the same weight even while those friends lose weight. That said, these women have the curvy shape so en vogue at the moment, so the compare/contrast goes both ways.
For exercise, endomorphs HIIT is your best friend. High-Intensity Interval Training burns calories and builds up endurance.
In terms of diet, go light on the carbs and stick with lean meats and veggies. Sugar, bread and other refined carbs hit endomorphs hard.
Celebrity endomorph looks like:
So, what does this all mean?
For me, I think healthy living comes down to eating well, sleeping well and moving well, so I don't think any of us should be living/dying based on any scale. Just because I probably fall into the ectomorph category doesn't mean I can't build muscle or that I should never go to a dance cardio class and focus on only lifting weights. And just because someone leans towards the endomorph side of the scale doesn't mean she can't be slim or should bag diet and exercise at all as a pointless endeavor.
If anything, I think body types are just a jumping-off point in understanding not just how we should workout but how pointless it is to compare ourselves to others.
Also, people will always have an opinion about how to be healthy, what to eat, how to workout....on and on. We form these opinions usually based on our own experiences, which is probably the worst thing to base advice for someone else on.
I think being healthy is too personal for a one-size-fits-all approach - no matter the country of origin, the culture one lives in or the current fitness trend of the moment. But I also think there's something to body types, personality types and all the other non-traditional approaches to health and wellness.
Do you identify with one body type?
And if you do, would you adjust your workouts/diet based on the prescriptions for that type?
Or is the whole thing just another notch on the ladder of crazy we're climbing toward ideal body images that don't really matter at all?
I myself am off to do a Barre 3 workout, meet up with an Italian friend for coffee and spend the afternoon writing till my heart's content.
I hope everyone's week has been smashing so far. The sun is out today, no storm clouds hovering at the moment, and I'm feeling like a million bucks after getting some serious chores done yesterday.