The best workout for your body type

Whether you're tall and lean, athletically built or more petite, fitness expert James Fell shows you what workouts suit your body the best.

Three women holding hands and running on the beach

Whether you’re tall and lean or more athletic, find out how to get the perfect workout for you (Photo by Getty Images).

Heredity is not destiny.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, some of which are genetic. But you have to work with the hand you’re dealt.

There are three basic body types, and each comes with it’s positive and negatives in terms of exercise performance. Don’t let this deter you from engaging in exercises that you’re not genetically programmed to be good at however. A good reason to focus on your weaknesses, not just your strengths, is because the weak areas are the ones where you have the most room for improvement.

Here are some tips to identify your body type, along with ways you can workout for the best body-specific results:

The ectomorph: Long and lean
Ectomorphs have little body fat and muscle and it’s hard for them to gain weight of any type. These are the “skinny” women who sometimes come under fire from “thin shaming” for their very lean shapes.

Ectomorphs are naturally good at aerobic activity and anything involving maintaining speed for a long time – they make excellent distance runners. There is much enjoyment to be had in excelling in an activity that you’re good at, so ectomorphs can get a lot of positive reinforcement from aerobic activities.

Areas to work on
The weakness for the ectomorph is a lack of strength. They can have lighter bones that aren’t as strong, as well as less muscle that makes them less able to complete tasks that require strength or heavy lifting. For this reason, ectomorphs should engage in a regular resistance exercise program, preferably weightlifting, to build stronger bones and muscles.

They shouldn’t have any fear of bulking up, but from an aesthetic perspective may find that weightlifting will add some curves. Weights also create a tougher body that can handle the trials of everyday life.

Ectomorphs need to start slowly at lower weights to get used to them. A program of lifting three days a week that focuses on the larger muscle groups in the chest, back and legs, and gradually builds towards increasing the amount of weight used, is advisable. They need to work their way up to weights that are heavy enough to be lifted no more than 12 repetitions at a time.

Nutritional considerations
Ectomorphs generally are not concerned with weight loss, but more so with sustaining weight or even gaining muscle, so they need to take in enough calories. If they want to build muscle they’ll need to take in extra calories, and not junk food ones. A little extra lean protein is great for gaining muscle.

Endomorphs: Built for strength
Endomorphs (think Jennifer Lopez) have curves, generally shorter arms and a larger chest cavity. Sometimes they shy away from weightlifting for fear of bulking up, but the fact is that no woman ever got too muscular by accident. Endomorphs have great strength, and they should use it.

Endomorphs can handle heavy weights and going hard with the resistance training. Like ectomorphs and running, being good at such an activity builds positive reinforcement and allows them to develop a love for physical activity that can keep them healthy for a lifetime. What’s more, building up their muscles and bones creates a tougher body that can handle aerobic training.

A good idea for an endomorph’s lifting program is to make it fast-paced to help them adapt more in areas where they’re weak, like cardiovascular endurance. Things like circuit training, short rest breaks between sets and supersets.

Areas to work on
Aerobic activity can be the bane of the endomorph, because they’re not inherently good at it, which is all the more reason to do it. If weight loss is the goal, then aerobic activity is the way to go, not just from a calorie-burning perspective, but from an appetite control one too.

If running, endomorphs need to watch their speed. Walking can be a good way to start, with a slow transition to running. They may also find cycling or swimming to be more enjoyable because it’s less pounding on their joints.

Nutritional considerations
Endomorphs need to be careful with their caloric intake, as they’re prone to gain fat. Focusing on a higher vegetable intake and staying away from processed foods can help keep calories down and allow for weight loss.

The mesomorph: The all-around athlete
There’s not much point in looking at strengths and weaknesses of mesomorphs (think Jessica Biel), as they’re both (generally speaking) strong and weak at everything. These women generally look quite athletic, but only if they work at it. They can run long distances, but will have a tough time competing with ectomorphs. They can lift heavy weights, but won’t be as strong as an endomorph. They can gain muscle if they work at it, but also gain too much fat if they’re not careful.

One area in which mesomorphs seem to excel is sprinting, because they have relatively long limbs like an ectomorph, but also the muscular power of the endomorph to run fast over short distances.

The one challenge of being a mesomorph can be deciding what to do, as it seems everything they try will allow for positive changes. Like I said, they’re good at everything, but not necessarily great. They won’t win marathons or strength competitions, but can create great physiques by following a well-rounded fitness program that mixes in a combination of resistance and aerobic training, coupled with healthy eating that doesn’t overdo it on the calories. Our 28-day shape-up plan as a great guide.

Final considerations
I will repeat that heredity is not destiny. You are more than your genetics. It’s important to note that it’s tough to stick to an exercise regimen that you hate, so you need to work with what you have to feel good. Positive reinforcement also comes from exercising in your weak areas, because you have nowhere to go but up. While you won’t have the genes to be competitive in your weak areas, you can see that you get a lot better when competing with your former self.

Work on both strengths and weaknesses, and see the new you as someone better than the old one, genetics be damned.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune runs in dozens of major newspapers across the U.S., and he also interviews well-known celebrities about their fitness regimens for the Los Angeles Times. Fell is also the senior fitness columnist for and TIME magazine. Based in Calgary, he is an avid runner, cyclist and weightlifter, and wishes he had more opportunities to go downhill skiing with his wife and two children. His new book, Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, is available now. Visit his site for a free metabolism report.

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