One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Discover the Best Form of Exercise For Your Unique Body Type
BY DR. SUHAS KSHIRSAGAR AND MICHELLE SEATON
photo: efe kurnaz
The Right Exercise for Your Body Type
When people think about exercise, they usually think in terms of building muscle or losing weight. But exercise for body types is so much more than that. While you must eat and sleep in order to stay alive, exercise is a different but equally crucial kind of habit. It’s something you must choose to do every day to maintain your body’s vitality.
We all need exercise every day, but we don’t all need the same amount or the same level of exertion. What’s more, some people do best in group classes, where they can socialize and stay focused. Others need solo walks or runs to clear their heads. A few people need competition or high levels of exertion, but these are the exception. No tendency is better than another. The question is: What kind of exercise do you need? Only when you know your body type and how you respond to exercise physically and mentally, can you choose the right fitness program and exercise for your body type.
To find out how your body responds to exercise, you can take this short quiz. What we are looking for in this body type test is your natural response to exercise from your own experience. For each of these questions, find the answer that best describes you.
Exercise for Body Type Quiz
1. When you were a teenager, how much exercise did you get?
a) I did some dance classes, but no formal exercising. I was rushing around doing other things.
b) I loved team sports. I was always outside playing some kind of game.
c) I was not that active. I liked socializing, reading, or hanging out.
2. If you played organized sports (or even kick the can) as a kid, what did you like best about it?
a) Every game was different and interesting. I liked chatting during the game.
b) I loved winning and seeing how hard I could push to win.
c) I liked the social aspects. It was a great way to hang out with other people, and there were often snacks afterward.
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3. When you do go to the gym, what is going to get on your nerves the most?
a) I have to have music or something to read or someone to talk to or I lose interest.
b) Someone using the machine that I want to use. I don’t want anything slowing me down.
c) Being surrounded by people who are obsessed with their fitness and their bodies.
4. When you’ve tried working out in the past, what got in the way?
a) When my workout feels like a rut, I start skipping days.
b) Work deadlines are the only thing that gets in the way.
c) I lose my motivation to get to the gym if there is anything else I’d rather do.
5. If you engage in exercise that’s more intense than usual, how do you feel afterward?
a) Exhausted and wrung out. I need a nap.
b) It resets my emotions; it takes the edge off of my anger and frustration.
c) I feel lighter and more focused.
6. What is it about your daily routine that gets in the way of regular exercise?
a) I’m overscheduled as it is. So the workout drops off my to-do list.
b) Exercise is always a priority. I’d rather exercise than eat lunch.
c) My schedule isn’t the problem. Motivation is the problem.
7. If you have to skip working out for a few days, how do you feel?
a) Not that different. Unfortunately, this makes it easier to pass on exercise.
b) Frustrated and fearful that I’m losing my level of fitness.
c) Dull and heavy, especially in the morning. I feel bloated.
8. The best kind of workout is one in which I:
a) Feel energized but not exhausted.
b) Sweat and struggle enough to know that I’m getting fit and toned.
c) Move from feeling reluctant to feeling that I’ve accomplished something.
9. What I’m most concerned about when I start a new exercise program is:
a) Am I going to struggle with nagging pain or get an injury?
b) Is this going to be intense enough to produce results?
c) Am I going to be motivated enough to continue?
10. How would you describe your body type?
a) Naturally short or thin, with smaller bones at the wrists and ankles.
b) Strong bones and good muscle tone.
c) Big-boned and sturdy.
To score the exercise for body type test: Add up the answers. If your answer for most questions was A, I would say you are a variable exerciser. If your answers were mostly Bs, you are a strong exerciser. And if you answered mostly Cs, I would say you are a light exerciser.
As a variable exerciser, you’re someone who wants to be fit, but often finds that something gets in the way. In Ayurvedic terms, your body type would be called “vata,” which means air. And like the air, you are shifting, swirling mass of ambitions, plans, and contradictory impulses. As a result, you probably exercise in streaks. You have found exercise routines or fads that worked for you for a few weeks or months, and then when you got bored or suffer an injury, you forget to exercise.
Exercise for your body type might also be a struggle because of your variable energy levels. Variable exercisers who engage in intense workouts may find themselves wrung out and emotionally exhausted afterward. While other body types can be energized by an intense workout, you tend to feel spent, and it may take you ninety minutes or more to rebuild the energy you need to focus on your other goals. You can also put yourself at risk for injury: dry joints can get inflamed and sore, especially if you don’t have enough healthy oils in your diet.
Here are some exercise pointers for this body type:
Stay mentally engaged in your exercise. You need to find exercise that engages your mind as well as your body. That probably means a fitness class where you can move to music or follow instructions. Yoga is also a great choice because it can calm your racing thoughts and deepen the mind/body connection. By contrast, reading and watching TV while on the treadmill is a bad idea because you are not paying attention to the way your body feels during exercise. This puts you at greater risk for injury and exhaustion.
Less is more. Look for grounding exercises for this body type that increase flexibility at a more relaxed pace. This means yoga, Pilates, tai chi, walking or hiking, or cycling. Don’t worry about whether you are sweating enough or straining enough. Ideally, you should feel energized and calm during your exercise routine and afterward. If instead you feel light-headed, depleted, or suffer from muscle cramps, you have probably done too much. Interval training is great exercise for your body type because you have short bursts of high intensity followed by much longer rest periods.
Make time to warm up. Other body types can jump into an intense routine with minimal warm-up, but not you. You need to stretch and spend time doing deep breathing while you ease into a workout. This is particularly true in winter, when variable exercisers struggle with chills and poor circulation that keeps their hands and feet cold. Make sure you use a lot of stretching and at least five to ten minutes of walking or jogging lightly to get your circulation moving and your lungs working before you dive in.
As a strong exerciser, you probably live by the motto “no pain, no gain.” In Ayurvedic body type terms, you would be a “pitta,” which means fire. When it comes to exercise for your body type, you crave intensity, heat, and progress. When you are not at the gym, you are on a bike, on a tennis court, or swimming laps. The best thing about working out and exercise for a strong body type is knowing that you are getting stronger and more capable every day. Scheduling workouts is no problem for you, just as keeping a regular routine in your daily life is a priority. Even on vacation, you are looking to get as much out of every day as possible.
Strong exercisers usually have a large appetite because their digestive fire is as intense as their personalities, and so you may have felt that exercise was a great way to balance your love of food. Having a strong body and an equally strong metabolism works well as a weight-loss solution until middle age. At that point, many strong exercisers find that their metabolism shifts and their bodies no longer build muscle at the same rapid rate.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you exercise for your body type:
Leverage your love of competition and intensity. You have a stronger natural drive and love to feel challenged, so a difficult workout helps reset your emotions. Try to engage in sports that combine competition with exercise, such as basketball, racquetball, or martial arts. Any activity that requires you to track your progress helps you stay motivated, including CrossFit training or distance biking. You can excel at winter sports because your body isn’t affected by the cold. Be careful too about pursuing adventure sports, such as BMX biking, extreme skiing, snowboarding, which can also take a toll on your body.
Avoid lunchtime workouts. You are often over-scheduled, and that means that you are tempted to exercise later in the evening or at the noon hour, instead of eating. Noon workouts push your blood flow away from your digestive tract, which will upset your stomach when you do eat. Morning workouts will offer you an emotional reset first thing, so that you can face the day calmly and with greater focus.
Stay cool. You have a natural fire, meaning that your body temperature runs high. You sweat a lot when you work out, and that’s fine, but you need to make sure you don’t get overheated. High heat increases inflammation and puts you at risk for injury, so be sure to hydrate, and you may also benefit from a cool shower after an intense workout. This natural fire also speaks to your emotional intensity. You can and do push yourself too hard in competition, and that’s when you get hurt. You sometimes try to lift too much weight, or force your body to do things it can’t. The antidote to this is staying cool mentally as well as physically: keep your mind sharply tuned to your body while you work out. Stay curious about how you feel during each exercise. Swimming is an ideal exercise for this body type, especially if you are dealing with nagging injuries, because it keeps the body cool and takes the pressure off your joints.
Light exercisers often struggle to get enough healthy exercise. You may go to the gym intermittently, but it’s never been a priority. In Ayurvedic terms, your body type is called a “kapha” or water type. You are too easy going to get obsessed with your body or to get caught up in competitive activities. And that’s a good thing. But you do need exercise. Without it, your body takes on excess fluids and you feel sluggish and dull. Of all the body types, yours responds best to exercise because you rarely face injury and you never tire.
An intense workout will fill you with vitality and give you a healthy glow. This may be a revelation, because a lot of light exercisers think of themselves as overweight. Your body type is one that built bones and tissues early in life. And as you sailed through the teen years and young adult life, you may have struggled to lose weight. And you may have a tendency to put on weight, regardless of what you eat.
Here are some guidelines for choosing the best exercise plan for your body type:
Do anything that causes you to breathe deeply. Some of my patients say that exercise is better than coffee in the morning, because it makes them feel so focused and alive.
Go the distance. This body type has the most endurance because you have larger bones and more tissues. You can work your body endlessly without worrying too much about injury or exhaustion. That means you will do really well with power walks, hiking, rowing, distance running or biking, or anything that requires steady, sustained energy. Even if you start with walking, you can build up longer distances, then alternate with running and walking. Eventually, you can add weight training or a higher intensity class such as spinning or aerobics. Once you get past your inertia, you work harder and longer than anyone in any fitness class.
Connect to your body. It’s important to notice how you feel during your workout and afterward. Many people with this body type have forgotten how great they feel while engaging in intense exercise. They have forgotten how light they feel and how clear their minds get. Make time to notice the natural high that comes from exercise for your body type and you will be more likely to keep doing it.
This piece is excerpted with permission from Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar and Michelle D. Seaton.
About The Author
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar is an internationally recognized leader in the ancient science of Ayurveda, which emphasizes a comprehensive, whole-body approach to health. His mission is to empower people to take control of their wellbeing and help them restore their body’s natural, happy balance. In addition to running his private clinic in Santa Cruz, California, he frequently shares the stage with many of the top pioneers in health and wellness circles, including Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins, and is a keynote speaker and faculty member at several Ayurvedic institutions worldwide. Visit his website: ayurvedichealing.net
Michelle Seaton is an award-winning journalist, NPR reporter and the co-author of several fitness and health books, including Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life and Living with Cancer. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals including Reader’s Digest.