Working out isn’t always a simple thing. First, you have to consider your goals— do you want to get stronger? Run further? Become more flexible? Then, you might try to figure out if your body is responding to your workout-of-choice—in other words, are you currently doing the best workout for your body type? And while that’s not a perfect science (especially since some of it depends on your genes), we’ve taken some of the guess work out of that for you. Of course, every workout can be for everyone and your physical activities don’t have to be selected based on your body composition at all. But if you’re curious how to overcome a hurdle or play up what you’ve got, read on!
If you have a hard time adding muscle tone:
If you notice it’s difficult to make your muscles pop no matter how much you squat, you may want to scale back the weights. Body weight exercises, like push-ups, lunges, and squats are going to be the best kinds of workouts for you. Yoga and suspension training—that also involve lots of muscles working together at the same time—are good bets for you, too. “These types of strength exercises are more challenging than lifting weights. They add more load to your muscles, which will create that definition you’re looking for,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer based in San Diego. For cardio, he recommends high intensity interval training—whether it’s running, Spinning, or whatever activity you like: “This technique triggers the mechanism that increases muscle shape and size.”
If you put on muscle pretty easily:
To be clear, women really don’t bulk up the way men do—it’s a testosterone thing. But some gals do have a natural ability to get more ripped than others. (Think: That strong, powderkeg gymnast-type body.) If you love looking super strong, go for the same style of workouts recommended for those who don’t put on muscle easily (see above). Your body will respond to the extra challenge. But if you want a longer, leaner look, steer clear of moves that only target a single muscle, such as biceps curls and shoulder presses. “Placing all that force on one specific muscle is a recipe for adding some size, not just strength,” explains McCall. Instead, try doing compound exercises where several muscles are working at once, like squats with an overhead press. Also good: Pilates. The moves may look a lot different, but they have the same effect. “For cardio, I’d go for moderate, steady state aerobic exercise—where you don’t allow yourself to get too out of breath. You should still be able to talk fairly easily,” says McCall. A brisk walk, bike ride, or elliptical session, for example, are best for you.
If you have broad shoulders:
“Your structure is your structure—you can’t shrink your shoulders. But you can focus on lower body strength moves that will create a balanced look,” says McCall. Such as weighted single leg squats, lunges and step-ups, as well as plyometric exercises like jumps. “Use a weight that’s heavy enough that you can’t do more than 10 reps of each exercise,” says McCall, because this kind of training style will help develop the shape of your muscles. Keep cardio lower body focused, too—things like hiking and biking are great.
If you feel like you see results everywhere but your stomach:
“The strategy for you is to do strength and cardio exercise,” says McCall. He suggests a circuit-style toning routine where you alternate between moves that work your upper body, lower body, then abs—with as little rest as possible between sets. It’s a technique that’s designed to keep your heart rate up and burn more calories than traditional strength training. And keep it moderate with the cardio—nothing killer. Aim to work at a level of 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most killer, about-to-collapse workout you can imagine). And mix up the kind of cardio you do, too. “To keep getting results, you need to keep challenging your body in new and different ways,” says McCall.