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Shape Shifting: The Best Workouts for Every Body Type

Martha Stewart
Love Your Body
January 2, 2014

If you're stuck in a workout rut or find yourself flat-out uninspired to get in shape, perhaps a fitness mismatch is to blame. "One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to exercise," says our mind-body fitness expert Ellen Barrett. A friend's "amazing workout" may be your recipe for boredom, just as what motivates you may fail to inspire her. The key to staying fit for life, our experts say, lies in pairing your program to your body type. You'll see the best results -- and have the most fun along the way.

Schools of thought in both the West and East (specifically, India's Ayurveda) put people into three camps: muscular/athletic, slender/quick, or curvy/steady. You probably lean toward one grouping, but "most people are hybrids," explains Barrett. "You'll often have both a primary and secondary type." Each category has its strengths, and the optimal fitness plan capitalizes on these while also helping you to balance out your weaknesses.

To find the one that best caters to your body type, identify yourself in the descriptions that follow. "You'll be much more likely to stick with a program that suits your individual needs," says Jennifer Kries, a Philadelphia-based Pilates instructor and creator of the Hot Body Cool Mind: The Life Force Power Workout DVDs. "You'll also build greater self-respect as you do." And that might be the best benefit of all.

Related: 5-Minute Stress-Relieving Workouts You Can Do Wherever, Whenever

Decide your body type and get your new customized workout:

Ecotomorphs: Slender (Energetic and Quick)

"Ectomorphs are live wires," says Kries. "Everything about them moves fast. They think quickly, act quickly, digest quickly, and can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time."

Physical Traits
Naturally slender and long-limbed, you boil over with excess energy. Because you're fast on your feet and always flitting to the next activity, you lose weight easily but have difficulty building and maintaining muscle tone. As a result, you've got more initiative than endurance and tend toward inflexibility.

Personality< br> Quick-witted and stimulating to be around, you exude a natural effervescence. Your analytical mind keeps your intellect sharp, but you lose focus easily and tend toward nervousness and anxiety. Your racing thoughts also leave you overstimulated at times. "When a nearby car honks its horn, this type will practically jump out of her shoes," says Barrett.

You Love
Your speedy nature gravitates toward high-energy fitness like power walking, biking, tennis, and jumping rope.

You Avoid
Intense activities with blaring music (spinning), difficult or complex movements (hip-hop dance), or extreme conditions (hot yoga) can overstimulate and overwhelm you.

Your Dosha: Vata
Quite often, the Ayurvedic type called vata falls outside the average in terms of height, being either of short stature or tall and willowy, with translucent skin and a thin frame. Associated with air, vata tends toward dryness, mental agitation, and insomnia when out of balance. "Vatas are inclined to choose a fitness routine that tires them out," says Hemalayaa, a yoga teacher and developer of the Ayurvedic yoga DVD "Dosha Yoga."

Your Plan
Keep doing the cardio you love, but limit the sessions to 30 minutes to honor your naturally shorter endurance. To get toned and build muscle, incorporate activities that focus on form (slow-flowing yoga, a sculpting class, ballet) three times a week. "Ectomorphs are naturally skinny," says Kries. "Pilates and yoga can help create muscular definition while grounding them." Dispel anxiety with meditation, seated stretches, or deep breathing for five minutes a day or 10 minutes three times a week. Incorporating these low-to-the-ground activities will keep your energy from flying off in all directions.

Sample Week

Day 1: Half-hour morning walk (outside or on a treadmill)

Day 2: Flow yoga or Pilates class

Day 3: 20-minute biking session (outdoors or on the stationary bike) and five sets of jump rope (50 to 75 jumps per set)

Day 4: Ballet or modern dance class

Day 5: Sculpting class, or working out for 15 minutes with a set of 3- to 5-pound weights

Day 6: Hour of tennis

Day 7: 10 minutes of gentle stretching on a mat, followed by five minutes in "corpse pose" (lying flat on your back)

Ellen Barrett, Body+Soul's mind-body fitness expert; Jennifer Kries, a Philadelphia-based Pilates instructor and creator of the "Hot Body Cool Mind: The Life Force Power Workout" DVDs.

Related: Curb Your Food Cravings with Yoga

Endomorph: Curvy (Strong and Steady)

"Endomorphs are very grounded beings capable of incredible strength and stamina," says Kries. "They're also the most relaxed of the three types and great reminders to the rest of us to slow down and savor life."

Physical Traits
Although your more rounded frame collects weight around the abdomen and hips, you're known for your endurance and, if conditioned, you have the potential to perform incredible feats of strength. "Shot-putters and weight lifters are most often endomorphs," says Kries. You're also very flexible, which may lead to joint instability.

Warm, down-to-earth, and relaxed best describes you. But you're no slouch: Once you set your mind to something, you use your natural strength to make it a reality. The only problem is getting you to take those first few steps. A sensual creature, you'd rather spend time on the couch with a book and a bar of dark chocolate. "It can be tough for this type to get up and out of the house," says Barrett.

You Love
You gravitate toward exercise that appeals to your tranquil nature: restorative or Yin yoga, tai chi, or qigong.

You Avoid
Since you're practical and simple in your approach to fitness, you find skiing, mountain climbing, or any extreme sport that's too daunting a turnoff.

Your Dosha: Kapha
With soft, shiny skin; thick, lustrous hair; and large, clear eyes, the balanced Ayurvedic type called kapha is the picture of serenity. You can hold your concentration longer than other people and, as a result, you don't bore as easily -- a great trait for taking up an activity and sticking with it. But when caught in a rut, kapha is prone to excess weight, lethargy, and depression.

Your Plan
It's better for you to make morning your fitness time; that way, you're less likely to skip it. You'll also counteract your normal morning sluggishness, build energy to get through your day, and earn every bite of your dinner. (For extra incentive, team up with a buddy or book time with a trainer.) Enjoy those grounding moves you love (slow yoga, tai chi), but also aim for about an hour of moderate intensity four times a week. Hikes, strength training, hot or Power yoga, and vigorous Pilates classes help you build muscle and boost metabolism.

Sample Week

Day 1: Brisk 30-minute walk

Day 2: Gentle Yin yoga or qigong

Day 3: One-hour session with a personal trainer

Day 4: Power or Vinyasa yoga class

Day 5: 30-minute swim, followed by 10 minutes of stretching

Day 6: 60- to 90-minute trail hike with a friend

Day 7: 30-minute session of dancing, or a dance class

Ellen Barrett, Body+Soul's mind-body fitness expert; Jennifer Kries, a Philadelphia-based Pilates instructor and creator of the "Hot Body Cool Mind: The Life Force Power Workout" DVDs.

Mesomorph: Muscular (Driven and Athletic)

"Mesomorphs bring an intensity to everything they do," says Barrett. "Exercise is like therapy for them. It calms them down and helps their moods stay on an even keel."

Physical Traits
Naturally well-proportioned, you're blessed with good coordination, endurance, strength, and agility. You develop muscle easily and master sports quickly. Another thing you're blessed with? A pleasing physique. (Think Birth of Venus or Michelangelo's David.) Note, though, that because you push your physical limits, you're prone to injury.

Confident, intelligent, and creative, you radiate a magnetism that puts you at the center of attention; you also possess great stores of motivation. The downside? Sometimes your intensity can turn to grumpiness and anger.

You Love
You're interested in anything new, so you love the latest fitness craze. You also thrive on competition, intensity, and "feeling the burn."

You Avoid
Anything you see as too slow or wimpy (such as water aerobics).

Your Dosha: Pitta
Of medium height and build, folks that fall under what Ayurveda calls pitta tend to have thin reddish or brown hair and easily irritated or inflamed skin. Because pitta rules digestive fire, you're prone to overheating, resulting in excessive sweating, acid indigestion, or strong emotions such as hate or jealousy.

Your Plan
Go ahead: Indulge your natural athleticism and love of high-intensity activity with cardio at least three times a week, whether it's cycling, running, boot camp, Vinyasa yoga, or dancing. But be careful not to overdo it. To balance out your competitive nature, incorporate contemplative practices such as tai chi, qigong, or Yin yoga into your weekly routine. "The most nurturing forms of exercise teach patience and introspection to balance your ambition," says Kries. Also make time for informal exercise (long walks with the dog, playing Frisbee with the kids) to give yourself periodic breaks from your propensity for intensity.

Sample Week

Day 1: 30-minute run

Day 2: Restorative yoga

Day 3: Spinning class or laps at the pool

Day 4: 45-minute walk with the dog

Day 5: Strength-training: 30 minutes of weights at the gym

Day 6: 15 minutes of qigong or tai chi

Day 7: Frisbee with the kids

Ellen Barrett, Body+Soul's mind-body fitness expert; Jennifer Kries, a Philadelphia-based Pilates instructor and creator of the "Hot Body Cool Mind: The Life Force Power Workout" DVDs.

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Getting in shape is all about finding what works for you. Take it from someone who knows!