Break Through The Fear: Use Your Body Type To Train & Build A Better You!

What if I told you that you could have a dramatically improved body just by learning about your body type and the exercises that benefit it the most? Let me share those body types, exercises that work best with them, and much more right here!

A woman once said, "I love my body. I mean, I just adore it. It's great. I don't want to change a thing about it. I mean, my thighs are so tight, any my booty makes J. Lo jealous, and let's not even get to what's up top, alright? Thanks. My body is great."

Yeah, right. As we women all know, very few women feel one hundred percent satisfied with their bodies. We don't work like dudes do. We don't look in the mirror in the morning and say "d@mn, I look good today."

Most of the time we think, "Wow, I think I got fatter/skinner/older/more wrinkly/zittier/another pejorative adjective since yesterday. What am I going to do?

My life is on a decline!" and then there is much frenzying and sometimes the consumption of massive amounts of consolative chocolate. Or sometimes there is the maniac trip to the gym for three hours of cardio and a lift session, during which you burn a bazillion calories and then wonder why you are injured for the next two weeks and can't hit the gym at all.

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In other words, we women have a hard time approaching our bodies objectively. We assess ourselves with a slew of emotions, and these prevent us from seeing ourselves as what we were genetically made to be.

If we can first get over the hump of the fact that we are not all going to look like Halle Berry (sad, I know), then we will be more able to accurately plan and devise individual workouts and eating strategies that will be the best for our own particular bodies.

Let me just come out and say it. We are not all made to have six pack abs. We are not all made to be lean. Some people, no matter what they do, are not going to be super skinny. And others, no matter what they do, will never be very fat.

Women
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
We Women Have A Hard Time
Approaching Our Bodies Objectively.

As a runner, we used to say that the most important choice you could make in your training was to "choose your parents." If your parents were built in a way that made their bodies efficient for running, chances are that you inherited those genetics, and will have an efficient body.

If they were made differently, you aren't going to be banned from running well, but you just are not going to have the natural ability that some runners will have. Just how it's done, people.

In bodybuilding, and in sports science, we call this categorizing of the body based on its ability to gain/maintain muscles/fat "somatotyping."

There are three basic somatotypes: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. You've heard this before, I know. And women, if you are like me, you read those terms, and you think "ectomorph = skinny," "mesomorph = medium," and "endomorph = fat."

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What Body Type Are You?

Ectomorph
Mesomorph
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I'm Not Sure

"Well, I am having trouble losing weight," you say, "so I am an endomorph. I'm consigned to be fat forever! Bring on the ice cream!" And this is probably why women have eating problems, because it is so hard to objectively assess our bodies through conventional somatotypes without seeing ourselves in an emotionally detrimental light.

So allow me to bring back a different way of physical assessment, something much older and much more positive. It is called the "5 Elements Theory."

Don't stress over it. Let me tell you about that chart you are looking at. Basically, in Qigong, an old oriental way of studying the body's energy, people are categorized into five groups depending on a dominant "element" in their bodies.

Fire, earth, wood, metal, and water are the possibilities. Oh my gosh, Kristin, this sounds like you are bringing back the seventies and trying to make bodybuilders out of them. No, listen up for a second and let me tell you a little about what each body type is, so that you can figure for yourself which one you might be. It'll be sort of like one of those quizzes in Cosmo, except that you might actually learn from it. Remember that no one is exactly one type; you may be a mix of a few.

dot Fire dot

    Fire people are lean, but not tall. They are the "petites" of the world. They are sinewy and energetic, like... very good... fire! Fire people tend to have tempers and feel anxious a lot of the time. You won't find a super fat fire person, but they won't be super skinny either. They have a natural propensity towards carrying lots of lean muscle, but have trouble adding bulk muscle.

Women
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Fire People Are The
"Petites" Of The World.

dot Wood dot

    Wood people are tall and skinny, like, you guessed it, trees. They have long arms and legs and are considered "willowy." They are generally flexible, agile, and have trouble putting on muscle. They aren't necessarily "lean" in the body building sense of "low body fat" but they are not packing excess poundage.

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dot Water dot

    Water people, on the other hand, carry a bit of excess bulk. They carry this bulk spread throughout their bodies, on their tummies, and legs, and hands, etc. They have a "soft" appearance. Water people can put on bulk muscle easily; they can also put on fat easily. It is hard for them to get lean.

dot Metal dot

    Metal people are lean and muscular and of a larger stature. Your "stereotypical" bodybuilder is a metal person. They have very "square" lines throughout their body, and can maintain muscle on both their core and their extremities. Metal people can put on all sorts of muscle, and maintain it well, too. They have great strength.

dot Earth dot

    Earth people are grounded. They tend to have a round torso and muscular appendages. An earth person can carry a lot of muscle. Although they have muscular appendages, the predominance of their muscle is in the core.

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Using Your Element To Train
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As I said, we are all composed of parts of each of these elements, but you should see one that feels dominant to you. That is your Element. Now we will use that chart to help us train.

The outside circle is the circle of creation. Water creates wood, wood creates fire, fire creates earth, earth creates metal, and metal creates water.

Kristen
Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
The Chart Of Elements.

The star in the middle is the star of destruction, wood destroys earth, earth destroys water, water destroys fire, fire destroys metal, and metal destroys wood. Think of how these processes work in nature if you have trouble remembering, or just look back at the chart.

What does this mean for you? That you want to do exercises that foster your cycle of creation, and stay away from those that foster the star of destruction. In other words, you need to work out in a way that utilizes your strengths so that you get the best workout possible instead of focusing on your weaknesses and having cr@ppy workouts.

Let's talk about an example before we get into it. So back when I was a track runner, my first coach noticed a small problem. I could not sprint to save my life. I could run for three and four hours straight at a sub-seven minute pace, but ask me to break seventy on the track and you might as well have asked me to grow wings and fly.

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What Is Your Dominant Element?

Fire
Wood
Water
Metal
Earth

Sure, I could keep up with the team when we were doing intervals of 1200m or longer, and I'd lead tempo runs and long runs with ease, but when we got in a race I'd be promptly "shot out the back" because I couldn't sprint out of the starting box fast enough.

Now the first coach thought, well, we'll just have her focus on sprints. She'll cut her mileage and sprint more, and that will make up for the difference, and soon she'll be lean and fast like the other girls.

I didn't get lean and fast, though. I got fat, slow, and eventually I broke my leg with a stress fracture. My quarter, which had been a respectable 74 or so, dropped to an 83. And my 5k time went from the low seventeens to the mid eighteens. So not only did I get worse at doing what I was already not the best at, but I lost my ability to what came naturally to me, as well.

Luckily, when I came back from injury I had a new coach, and he had a different strategy. He decided that he would use my "strength" to compensate for my weakness.

What this meant was that while the other girls were sprinting 12 by 400m on the track in 65 seconds, I was out running on a hilly road, doing 25 by two minute intervals with a minute running rest in between. My workouts were longer, but less intense.

Every few weeks he would race me on a track in a longer race, or at least make me run a track mile, and to my surprise, I got faster and faster. I was able to not only run the 74 second quarters again, but I could finish a five thousand meter race with a 72 second surge. And my quarter speed got down to 67!

Because I had become so efficient at running for long periods of time, my body's set point for "speed" had gotten faster, and when I turned on the "speed" gear, I naturally went into a faster mode. In short, he trained my strengths to overcome my waeknesses. As a result, I got fitter and better.

So that's what you have to do. Except in a bodybuilding way. You need to train based on your elemental strength, supplementing this with workouts from the element that "creates" you, and not focusing on training the elements that "destroy" you.

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Workouts
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Here are some suggestions of workouts you could do. Remember, when in doubt, you need to think about the natural properties of the element you identify yourself with.

If the exercise shares a lot with these natural properties, chances are it will be beneficial to you. If it doesn't, it is going to be a lot harder for you (For me, sprinting was very rhythmic and required perfect, efficient, flowing form. It was anaerobic. It did not tax my heart.

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Distance running was much choppier and eccentric. It was more aerobic. So for a fire gal, it was much more suited to what I could do. After all, fire feeds on air, right? Who would expect a fire person to be excellent at something that doesn't require air?).

This doesn't mean that you can't ever do an exercise that is out of your element, (even my coach occasionally made me run those sprints to see where I was at), but that you will see more results from doing other things.

Remember that the old Qigong studiers wanted to achieve balance - they wanted all your elements to be healthy - so work out, eat, and rest accordingly. For all your hard workouts, make sure you have adequate rest; for every meal you have to stress over making clean and perfect, take the occasional cheat meal to keep you sane. Balance is everything. Your grandma knows that, and so do I.

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But let me go ahead and tell you about different exercises for different "elemental body types" first.

dot Wood dot

    Wood is about growth and stretching and reaching out. You are going to benefit from flexibility exercises, such as yoga, Pilates, walking, etc.

Yoga
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You Will Benefit From
Flexibility Exercises Such As Yoga.

    Your body is alert and responds well to cleanliness, so train accordingly. Don't junk it up with lactic acid producing heavy lifts and complexes; instead, treat it gently with higher repetitions and lighter weights. Also, be sure to take in plenty of carbohydrates and drink lots of water, as wood governs liver health, and your body will respond well to these elements.

dot Fire dot

    Fire people, you are great at cardiovascular exercise. So take advantage of it. You can handle harder cardio workouts than other body types. You also have a lot of power, so when it comes to lifting weights, light to medium weights with fast reps (accelerate on the push of a bench press, for example) will benefit you.

    The heart governs the fire person, so be sure to keep it healthy with lots of good protein and healthy fats. Spicy food can also do well for you.

dot Earth dot

    Earth, being the most stable element, is great at core lifts. Do you like complex exercises, such as squat/ deadlift/ bent over barbell row compounds? Good. Because they are good for you. The earth person can do these exercises excellently.

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    Since earth is governor of the digestive system, your eating habits as an earth person are crucial. Be sure to be taking in foods your body can assimilate and use efficiently, and take care of that colon!

dot Metal dot

    Metal folks, you've got that strength that makes you great at doing the really eccentric lifts. You can do an entire workout just on biceps and see great changes in your body! You've got that ability to work very specifically, so in your cardio if you need legs, bike. And if you need arms, swim.

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    You'll benefit from a lot of different workouts. Since your body is so responsive and malleable, be sure to work all of it. Metal is governed by the lungs, and breathing, so you will find your lifts to be better if you focus your energy on the muscle groups and use strategic breathing to help your workout.

dot Water dot

    Water. I know, water, you feel bummed. You are thinking, come on, why am I the one who has the toughest time at this. But honestly, in Qigong, you are the most revered! Not to mention you are excellent at "flowing" exercises like swimming and dance.

    Water dominates the kidneys, so be sure that you are keeping up with a healthy, balanced diet; you don't want to have any toxins in there that could strain them.

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Workout Plan
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So you've identified what element predominates in your body, and you've seen some sample exercises that will work best for you. How do you put this together into a workout strategy? Let me show you how I incorporate my elemental body type into my workout plan, and how you can do something similar.

I am very much a fire person. That means that I derive power from wood (since wood creates fire, think of burning logs or something), and I am destroyed by water (since water puts out fire). So in my workouts, this translates that I naturally am good at doing cardiovascular exercise (fire), I can get stronger by doing stretching/yoga exercises (wood), but I will not benefit as much from rhythmic exercises (water).

So when I work out, I tend to do a little more cardiovascular exercise than most, just because I enjoy it. I generally do outside running for forty-five minutes to an hour six days per week.

On Mondays and Thursdays, because I know I will benefit from it (as it is a wood exercise) I do yoga in the evenings. And my weight routines are not the typical "sets and reps" routines that might benefit someone of a different composition. Instead, I do circuits and supersets constantly, keeping myself moving throughout my gym time.

I find that I get much stronger doing this than I do taking a rest period in between sets and reps. If you were in my gym, you would see me jumping over and onto boxes in between squats, doing lunges in between stiff-legged deadlifts, and using rapid movements (such as dumbbell snatch to curl and press) with medium weights.

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These exercises keep me warm and keep my blood flowing - perfect for a fire person. Because (admittedly) I like to follow an established program, I use the Core Performance Workouts (the ones geared at performance sports, such as soccer, football, or lacrosse) in order to have a plan to follow. And I always rest completely on Sunday, because remember, the elements are about balance, and part of balance is rest.

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Maximizing Your Workout
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So what about you? Ladies, what can you do to maximize your workout by using your elemental type?

Here Are Some Steps:

  1. Determine your elemental type.
  2. Use the chart to figure out what creates you and what destroys you.
  3. Use your own intuition and any other resources you come across to figure out what kind of workout your body takes best to.
  4. Focus your workout on this type of exercise, but be sure to include (and these exercises may be hard for you) some of the exercise that "creates" you. Try to stay away from the exercises that "destroy" you. This doesn't mean you have to eliminate them altogether, just admit that they aren't going to be the most beneficial for your progress and transformation and should be seen more as "fun" and less as training.

So, if I were going to train my mom, who is a wood person, I would look at the chart and say, "Mom is wood, because she is tall and skinny, like wood. She is destroyed by metal and she is created by water. This means that she is naturally akin to exercises of flexibility and elongation, she will not take well to heavy weight lifting, especially in the extremities, and she could benefit from putting more rhythmic exercise in her day."

As I read this, it shocks me how true that is! At 55 years old, my mom avoids weights like the plague because of boredom and a health related problem, but eagerly will come to yoga with me or take the dog for a walk. She likes dancing and swimming, and these would be great for her, but she needs to step up to the plate and actually do them!

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Are you starting to get the idea? It's not about Ectomorph, Endomorph, and Mesomorph anymore. These tell you what you are; they consign you to a group of musculatures and do not teach you much more about training. But by using the elements, we see that all body types have benefits and struggles.

By working in conjunction with the elemental cycle, we can not only avoid outright categorization, but also train our bodies for what they take most naturally to, and we can create exercise strategies that work for life. And that's what's most important, because the best exercise plan is one that you will actually do... and keep on doing!

So the next time you're struggling in the gym, thinking, "I'm consigned to be a mesomorph forever. I hate this elliptical and I just want to go do bicep curls," take time to realize that maybe you are just a "metal person."

Then, go ahead and hop off the elliptical and try getting your cardio in from doing some serious complexes over there on the squat rack like an earth person might do (earth makes metal - creation cycle), and then go do those bicep curls, and enjoy them (you metal person you), because you've been enlightened to a new (old) way of appreciating your body and working out in a way that is specific to you!