Shapes Don’t Change, but Ways to Get in Shape Do : Everyone is born one of three body types. All the wishing and working out in the world can’t change that, but you can work with what you’ve got.


We are each born with one of three body types that we must live with all our lives: We’re either a round and soft, pear-shaped endomorph; a muscular, hourglass-shaped mesomorph; or a long and lean ectomorph. Although many people have traits from more than one category, we all tend to represent one type more than the others.

To identify which body type you are, try a simple test. Encircle one wrist with your other hand’s middle finger and thumb. If they don’t touch, chances are you’re an endomorph. If they just touch, you are likely a mesomorph, and if they overlap, you are probably an ectomorph.

And although body type can’t be changed, many people try mightily, which leads to frustration. Ask most people how they feel about their bodies and you’re likely to hear complaints.


“Surveys show that at least 75% of us are dissatisfied with some aspect of our appearance,” says Stacy Rae Roberts, owner of the personal training facility Body Techniques in Costa Mesa.

Not only are many of us dissatisfied with our bodies, we often have a warped view of how we look.

“Most women and many men may look great to other people, but will quickly point out their inadequacies,” says Holly MacGowan, a marriage, family and child counselor with offices in Irvine and Laguna Beach. “We’re constantly barraged by information about how our bodies are supposed to look,” she says.

Many women’s magazines are filled with pencil-thin models and some men’s magazines picture weightlifters bursting with mountains of muscles.

“People take these images very seriously and struggle to attain these unattainable body types,” Roberts says. “The fact is, we’re all ruled by genetics. If your mother has a tendency toward wide hips, or your father has a lean upper body, then chances are you’ve inherited these traits. Working out will improve your shape, but it won’t change it.”

Rusty, a furniture store owner in Newport Beach, is an ectomorph who says being small-boned and slender isn’t without its problems.


“I’m tall and long for my bone structure and I regularly lift weights to build muscle mass, but the truth is I’ll never have a lot of curves like some women,” Rusty says. “I’ve been married for 10 years and my husband still thinks I can gain a few pounds, but it’s not possible.”

Danielle, 27, a postal carrier in Huntington Beach, is an endomorph who has learned to be comfortable with her body type.

She grew up in the shadow of her thin ectomorph sister, who is now a model.

“Even though I worked out and starved myself, I was always bigger than my sister,” she says. “I was even sent to overweight camps as a child, but nothing would make me thin like her.”

A couple years ago Danielle went so far as to consider liposuction, but couldn’t afford it. Instead she began personal training and has since experienced dramatic changes--physically and personally.

“I learned about my body type and I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to be a smaller person,” she says. “I’m now working with my body, not against it.”

Instead of struggling unsuccessfully to be something you’re not, condition your body to be best it can be, Roberts says.


To stay in shape in a way that is best suited to your body type, keep the following in mind:


Endomorphs such as Danielle have a tendency toward round, soft, curvy bodies with more weight distributed at the hips and thighs, Roberts says. “They have small to medium-sized bones and shorter limbs relative to their trunks.”

If you’re an endomorph, you share your body type with many famous people, including Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Dolly Parton, Paula Abdul, Cindy Crawford, Roseanne Arnold, Jackie Gleason, Tom Arnold, Dan Akroyd, John Candy and Jay Leno.

The endomorph’s main problem is a tendency toward high body fat, which will often lead to a bottom-heavy look, Roberts says. “Fat also tends to drop off this type more slowly.”

Endomorphs who would like to enhance their shape should burn body fat three to seven days a week for 20 to 60 minutes through a combination of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Good sports include low-impact aerobics, swimming, bicycling and walking, Roberts says.

When doing weight training, the endomorph should use lower weights and do higher repetitions, which will decrease body fat and make muscles more long and lean and less bulky, she says. This person should also concentrate on building the upper body, which will counterbalance the heavier bottom.



Mesomorphs have medium to large bones and well-developed and defined muscles. Of all the types, they find it the easiest to build muscle, Roberts says. They often excel at sports and can even look fit without exercising.

Public figures who fall in this category include Ginger Rogers, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Linda Evans, Demi Moore, Madonna, Linda Hamilton, John Wayne, Jerry Lewis, Elvis, President Clinton, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Swayze and Magic Johnson.

Although this type can quickly build muscle, on the downside, mesomorphs can look bulky and not well-defined. They also tend to gain weight in the abdominal area.

To stay lean and keep clear muscle contours, this type should do fairly high intensity 20- to 60-minute aerobic workouts three to five times a week. Good sports include in-line skating, aerobic dancing, jump roping and running. Exercises to strengthen the front of the calves are also important because mesomorphs have a tendency toward shin splints. Mesomorphs should strength train with moderate weights and high repetitions, which will shape the muscles, rather than bulking them up, Roberts says. This type should also do plenty of stretching, because they tend to have very tight muscles.


Many models have this long, lean rectangular look. This type tends to have long arms and legs and slender hips. Women of this type are usually small-breasted.

If you’re an ectomorph, you share this body type with people such as Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Claudia Schiffer and Niki Taylor, Twiggy, Geena Davis, Robin Givens, Julia Roberts, Cher, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Ted Danson.


Ectomorphs have difficulty adding muscles and curves. Although they have the lowest body weight of all types, because of their lack of muscles, they can also have a high fat-to-muscle ratio, Roberts says. Because of this overall body weakness, they are susceptible to low back problems.

This body type should do three to five aerobic workouts of 20 to 60 minutes each week. Moderate exercise is good, such as running, cycling, hiking and step aerobics. They should also weight train, although muscle growth is likely to require more effort for this type. Weights used should be increasingly heavier to build bulk, Roberts says. Abdominals should also be regularly exercised to strengthen the lower back.

Besides exercising, there are a few things you can do to mentally come to terms with your body type.

* Accept yourself. “Before you go to an aerobics class or pick up a weight, accept your body for what it is and forget about looking like another body type,” MacGowan says. “A lot of life is missed when you focus on transforming yourself to someone you can’t be. Concentrate on making your body a wonderful place to live by working with it instead of constantly warring with yourself.”

In addition, don’t put any conditions on your self-acceptance. “Don’t tell yourself you’ll be OK when you lose 10 pounds or firm up your thighs,” she says. “Many people mistakenly think that their life will be terrific as soon as they lose weight or build muscles. The only way you can go forward is to accept yourself today.”

Look in the mirror. The best way to learn to accept your body type is to look at it on a regular basis, MacGowan says. “Stand in front of a mirror and instead of telling yourself how much you hate your stomach or thighs, concentrate on your strong points, of which there are probably many.”


Keep an image journal. Anytime a situation evokes negative feelings about your body, write it down, Roberts suggests. Then determine what is bothering you and talk it out with someone. “You may find, for instance, that you actually look really good in a swimsuit and are just unrealistically comparing yourself to the magazines full of airbrushed models,” she says.