Change Your Body Shape

Most people have a pretty clear idea of the results they’re after with their exercise and how they’d like to look, but is achieving an ideal body an option for everyone? ‘Ideal’, of course, means different things to different people, but is everything up for grabs for us all, or are there limits to what you can achieve with your training, based on the shape you’re born with? Since the 1940s, body types have been broadly classified into three types. There’s the ectomorphs: lean and long, with difficultly building muscle. Then you have the endomorphs: big, often pear shaped, with a high tendency to store body fat. And, finally, the mesomorphs: muscular and well-built with a high metabolism and responsive muscle cells. These are hugely broad descriptions and, in reality, every individual is unique – not only in relation to their body type, but also with regard to their genetics and family history. The classifications can be limited when it comes to determining the results you’ll get with your training, so what can you do to reach your ideal body, whatever your shape? 

what to do if…

You’re naturally skinny and struggle to bulk up – how to change your routine to

ADD MORE MUSCLE

If you’re naturally skinny, it can feel demoralising trying to put on muscle and get bigger. The key to success is to follow the model of bodybuilders and focus your weight training on short sets using heavy weights. There’s no need to go quite as extreme as the pros, who might do one or two reps of an exercise with a huge weight, then spend plenty of time recovering in preparation for the next rep, but you can gradually work your way towards 6 or 8 rep maximum sets with minimum rest in-between. 

If you currently train using sets of 12, 15 or 20 reps, start by ensuring that for each exercise in your workout, repetition 12, 15 or 20 is definitely the last one you can do. Then, over the course of a few weeks, increase the resistance so that the maximum number of reps you can perform is 20, 15, 12, 10 and then 8-6. Just be careful to ensure that you’re always maintaining good form as you increase the resistance. 

It’s also important to vary your training as much as possible, and to target different muscle groups from different angles. Schedule your training so that over the course of each week or two you have a balanced combination of free weights and resistance machines, as well as exercises that work single muscles and some that work groups of muscles at the same time. 

Finally, make sure you build in plenty of recovery time so you can max the gains from each workout. Ideally, each muscle group will need a couple of days of recovery. You can still pack plenty of workouts into each week by focusing on different areas each session. For example, if you max out training your back and biceps on a Tuesday, you can still train on Wednesday or Thursday if you focus on your chest and triceps. 

what to do if…

You struggle to lose belly fat – how to change things up to 

DITCH THE GUT

Some men only ever put on weight around the middle. A beer belly can creep in while everything around it stays exactly the same. 

One way to deal with stubborn belly fat is to focus on a steady intake of slow-release fuel, eaten little, often and regularly throughout the day to avoid excess calories from any meal or snack being stored around the middle. Combine this with plenty of activity as part of your daily routine and a more challenging workout every couple of days. 

There’s no way to ‘spot-reduce’ fat, so each workout should focus on working upper and lower body with strength training, and should include plenty of cardio, ideally as varied in type and intensity as possible. 

If you want to ditch the gut it’s cardio+weights

Regular cardio training will give your metabolism a calorie-blitzing shake-up a few times per week, while strength training will help to boost your resting metabolic rate, meaning that you will burn more calories all day, every day. 

what to do if…

You struggle to lose belly fat – how to change things up to 

GET YOUR BODY IN SHAPE

Those who are stocky or have a tendency to gain weight should focus on a regular combination of cardio and strength training. Cardio workouts should include a combination of short-duration high-intensity interval training – anything between 15 and 30 minutes – and some longer, slightly lower-intensity workouts lasting 45 to 60 minutes. 

Strength training can be a combination of body-weight exercises and resistance training with bands, free weights or machines. It’s also a good idea to put together a selection of circuits combining strength and cardio training, so you can sculpt your body and maximise the fat burn with some effective time-saving sessions. 

Aim to train three to four times each week and fuel your exercise by adopting a little-and-often approach to food. Plan to eat five or six small meals and snacks per day, each consisting of a combination of complex carbs, lean protein and fresh veg. On the days when you’re working out,
eat a snack 90-120 minutes before your workout and then eat a meal within 90 minutes of finishing.  

what to do if…

You’ve got skinny legs and struggle to gain muscle – how to change things up to get 

GET QUADS OF STEEL

Muscle mass in the lower body can be maximised with heavy resistance training. The main thing to be mindful of is the timing of your training sessions – you might not want to completely fatigue your legs too early in the day if you’ve got a busy schedule and will be on your feet for hours on end. 

Once you’re happy with the timing of your training, research and write out a list of as many lower-body exercises as you can find, or as many as you’re happy to work on, and then make sure you include three or four of them in every workout. 

The secret to ensuring maximum results with lower-body muscle is to include plenty of unilateral exercises. Squats, lunges and leg press are all
great, but if you really want to fire every muscle fibre into action, you’ll need to spend time on single-leg exercises including static, closed chain and dynamic variations. 

Do Genetics Play a Part?

Genetics play a huge part in what’s possible, but it’s not the entire picture. This is evidenced by family members, and even twins, who experience quite different results with their training. Individuals with similar body types can achieve widely varying results depending on their exercise history and how their body responds to training. Genetics is also no determinant of how focused you’ll be, how hard you’ll work, or how well you plan your recovery.  

The only way to find out what body type you’re truly able to achieve is to think about the specific results you’d like to experience and when you want to see them – then experiment with a few different approaches to test what works best. Make sure you have a selection
of different methods to monitor your progress. This can include some measurements such as weight and body composition, but you should also track how well various items of clothing fit you; looking sharp can be more motivating than seeing numbers shift slightly on the scales. It’s also worth taking regular photos to monitor the visual impact of your training routine. Without evidence, there’s a tendency to keep moving the goalposts, so it’s good to use these regular updates to acknowledge how well you’re doing.  

With an investment of a little time and effort, you’ll be able to discover the best body you’re capable of, and you’ll know how to achieve it.