What’s the Right Workout for Your Body Type?

If you’ve ever felt limited when choosing the right kind of exercise for your body, we have good news. Despite evidence that suggests otherwise, you really don’t have to let your body type determine what you can and can’t do. Yes, certain people are more prone to injuries than others, but eliminating an entire category of physical activity from your repertoire is just too extreme.

According to Dr. Bradley Thomas, an orthopedic surgeon and founding partner of Beach Cities Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, basing your workout on your particular shape isn’t a good approach. “I’m not sure there is a perfect workout for a body type,” he said. “I think it’s more of an individual thing.”

While it’s exciting to have the entire fitness world at your fingertips, it’s also incredibly daunting. New sports and classes come out all the time, so how do you even begin to choose? We asked Dr. Thomas how to share some tips to make the process a lot more manageable. Combined, these four suggestions can help you find a workout program you love that also keeps you injury-free.

1. Figure out what you want

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Everyone’s after the best workout. What burns the most calories? What builds the most muscle? Instead, try taking a look at what it is you’re really after. “I always like to talk to people about goals because I think if you can determine someone’s goals, then you can set appropriate expectations for what particular exercises will benefit them,” Dr. Thomas said.

Often, folks are after weight loss, building muscle mass, or getting faster and more agile. While there’s certainly overlap for all these goals, having a specific idea will help you target the exercises that will get you the results you want. “If someone is just looking to lose weight, then they’re going to be looking for more aerobic types of exercises,” Dr. Thomas said. “Endurance types of exercises where they’re going to be able to do sustained exercise over a long period of time.”

While many poo-poo the idea of a workout that involves prolonged stretches of cardio, reasoning intense intervals can burn more calories, it’s worth recognizing the advantage of investing a bit more time. Dr. Thomas explained, “Even with a very hard workout, you’re not necessarily going to burn twice as many calories working twice as hard. A lot of it just has to do with duration.” Activities like biking, running, and swimming are all great for this. And swimming can actually be one of the best choices for folks who don’t have much pool experience. “If you’re flailing around in the water, you burn a lot more calories than an experienced swimmer,” Dr. Thomas said. And yes, circuits and other intense workouts can be good, so long as you’re going for 20 to 30 minutes.

When it comes to building muscle, Dr. Thomas recommended CrossFit classes. “You just have to be careful that you don’t get too competitive early on in CrossFit, because that’s where I see a lot of injuries,” he said. If you’re new to the activity, focus on yourself rather than what everyone else is doing. You want to increase your weight or repetitions because you’re improving, not because you’re embarrassed.

When it comes to guys who really want to boost their athletic performance, they might need to seek a little bit of help from a fitness professional. “You definitely can improve your speed and reaction time, but that’s probably going to take a trainer,” Dr. Thomas said. Athletes will be able to do conditioning activities on their own, but a trainer can help work on the sport-specific skills that often require a partner. They’ll also keep you honest and help you address any problems with form right away.

2. Embrace cross training

swimming

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Once you find what activity or activities you think will work best for you, consider introducing some cross-training to address all your fitness needs. Getting too narrowly focused on one type of sport can be great for motivation, but harmful for your body. Incorporating alternative workouts will help minimize the chances of getting hurt, and Dr. Thomas said it’s better to start sooner rather than later.

He highlighted the prevalence of injuries among single-sport athletes, saying it can happen even at a young age. “The reason why is there’s a lot of coordination that occurs as we do different movement patterns, whereas a single sport or a single workout is only going to build one set of movement patterns,” he explained.

Arming yourself with a little bit of knowledge about your particular activity will help you determine what types of exercises you should do to work other muscles and planes of movement. Take running, for example. “Running causes tightness in your hips, hamstrings, and IT band, so you’re also going to spend time doing stretching, or yoga classes, or whatever the case may be to counteract the tightness that develops with running,” Dr. Thomas said.

3. Manage expectations

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Now for the less fun part: making sure you keep your goals are reasonable. Even if a certain race time or one-rep max is appropriate now, there’s a good chance it will change in a few years. “Injury rates go up dramatically as we get older, whether it’s overuse or even traumatic injuries,” Dr. Thomas said. This includes everything from a stress fracture to a torn ligament.

An injury doesn’t mean you can’t ever do a particular exercise again, it just means you have to evaluate where you are and take things easy to start. Dr. Thomas mentioned an aging patient recovering from a torn rotator cuff who absolutely loves to lift heavy weights. In this case, going with a lighter load is the right move. “That doesn’t mean lowering it drastically, maybe only by 15 or 20% and increasing repetitions,” he said.

The same goes for guys who just want to play a friendly game of basketball or football with their friends. Most people are used to rushing to the court to squeeze in a game when they have a free hour, but skipping a proper warm-up is a lot more of a problem as you get older. “Warming up, the stretching, the stuff you do before you play is very important to help prevent injury,” Dr. Thomas said. Getting hurt isn’t a guarantee, it’s just something to keep in the back of your mind.

4. Try something new

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Finally, take some time to think about what workouts seem easiest or the least intimidating. Now, try something completely different. “People always try to pick things they’re comfortable with rather than something that’s really going to benefit them,” Dr. Thomas said. “I think once people step outside their comfort zone, they often see more significant gains in their weight loss or strength building.”

Classes offer a huge variety in terms of size and activity. The chances of finding something that sounds fun are pretty good, as long as you’re willing to look. Love land activities? Try hitting the beach. “Maybe the water isn’t your thing, but jump on a stand-up paddleboard,” Dr. Thomas suggested. “Paddleboarding is great for your core, it’s great for strength building, and you get a great sweat.” You might discover a new passion and get in the shape of your life at the same time.

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