In the world of workouts, one size definitely doesn't fit all. Different body shapes benefit from different fitness regimes. So work with your shape to get in shape.
When it comes to finding your ideal fitness regime, it's not just your starting weight and fitness levels that you need to consider but also your body shape. For some time now, fruit and vegetable metaphors have served to classify women into different body shapes – there's the bottom-heavy Pear, the rounded Apple, and straight up-and-down Celery (also variously referred to as a Chilli, String Bean or Ruler) and, as the fruit and vegetable analogies ran out, the curvy Hourglass. Each of these body shapes has a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to tailor your fitness regime to focus on the former and address the latter. Read on to decide which shape you are and what that means for your fitness.
Pears tend to store fat on the hips, bottom and thighs, and the good news is that this is a relatively healthy way of storing fat (compared to the abdominal fat of the Apple). They usually have a slim waist and a flat stomach, and their best features are often a well-defined back and slender arms. Their shoulders are relatively narrow and can be rounded. A common complaint for the Pear shape is looking unbalanced or out of proportion, and this can be made worse by weight loss since Pears tend to lose weight from the face and the upper body first.
An effective fitness regime for Pears needs to address the upper/lower body imbalance, by focusing on slimming the lower half and building strength and tone in the upper half. A medium to high intensity workout is recommended. It is tempting to focus on lower body cardiovascular work in order to address the hip/thigh/bottom problem areas, but multi-joint cardiovascular workouts (e.g. using a rowing machine or cross-trainer) will be more efficient at burning calories and toning the whole body. Lifting weights with the upper body is an essential component of the Pear fitness plan, aiming for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with medium weights twice a week.
The Apple shape tends to hold weight around the abdomen and often comes with a large chest, leading to a “barrel” shape without much of a waist. By contrast, legs and hips tend to be slim, the bottom small and flat, and ankles and wrists are often delicate. This pattern of fat storage has been associated with increased risk of all sorts of lifestyle-related diseases, from high blood pressure to type 2 diabetes, so addressing weight problems is particularly important for this body shape.
Cardiovascular work is recommended to address any issues of excess weight, in particular reducing fat storage around the internal organs and improving heart health. However, care needs to be taken to protect the often relatively delicate joints. Walking, rowing, swimming and cycling are all good choices for an aerobic workout, and it's worth investing in well-cushioned trainers and spending plenty of time stretching before and after workouts. In terms of strength training, choose exercises that move more than one joint at a time in order to build as much lean muscle as possible and maximise calorie burning.
The Celery shape is straight up and down and is often described as slim or boyish. Shoulders, waist and hips are all narrow and of similar proportions. The advantage of this body shape is an overall lean, slender look, but the people who fall into this category sometimes bemoan their lack of curves and flat chests. Weight loss tends to be even and it's a shape that is generally associated with good health and fitness levels.
The Celery shape often comes in a slight, light frame, which makes it suitable for a wide range of cardiovascular workouts including running, but also necessitates extra care to prevent injuries. And don't overdo the aerobic exercise if you're already slim, or you'll risk becoming underweight. Strain injuries can be a particular risk and can be guarded against by focusing on strength and conditioning training. Building muscle tissue can also give more shape and definition to a “straight up-and-down” body, so don't be afraid to gradually move to heavier weights to increase definition in the shoulders and bottom. Pilates is a great form of exercise for developing a more defined waist.
The Hourglass shape is curvy but in proportion, with a full chest, and hips and a slender waist. Shoulders and hips are the same width, and weight tends to be gained and lost evenly. When the Hourglass shape becomes overweight, this is noticed in terms of a wide bottom and a fleshy chest and upper arms.
The balanced shape of the Hourglass makes it suitable to most forms of cardiovascular training, from cycling and rowing to running, although anyone who is significantly overweight needs to pay particular attention to protecting the ankles, knees and lower back from high-impact exercise. Yoga and Pilates are recommended to enhance existing curves. The overall approach to resistance training should be to focus on building tone rather than working too hard on definition, so use light weights and pay attention to the upper and lower body in order to keep things in proportion.