Make the most of your gym time by exercising with your body shape in mind. Here’s how to find your best fit.
Not all workouts are created equal. By tweaking your exercise routine according to your particular body shape — whether you’re hourglass, circle, triangle, ruler or inverted triangle — you can help balance out your physique and make the most of your beautiful body.
Exercises for hourglass body shapes
You’re curvy up top and down below with a small waist — basically, the smokin’ definition of the old Hollywood bombshell.
Best cardio routine: “Muscle confusion is key,” says certified fitness trainer Lisa Avellino. “Because the symmetry of your lower and upper body is ideal, routines should rotate to challenge different muscles on different days in order to maintain this balance.” A sample week might include four, one-hour workouts: Zumba one day, a recumbent bike with light free weights the next, then a boot camp class with a step challenge, and a classic cardio workout, like indoor cycling or hiking for the final day.
Best strength-training routine: Certified strength and conditioning specialist Kevin Bailey recommends two to three days a week of a total body strength training routine that focuses on the extremities to balance upper and lower body curves.
For the upper body, use a moderate weight (one with which you can perform two sets of 15 to 20 reps) to do biceps curls, shoulder presses, and triceps dips to build lean muscle, suggests Bailey. He notes that hourglass figures needs to pay special attention to strengthening the upper back with moves like the Bent Over Row (two sets of eight to 12 reps with a moderate to heavy weight) because the chest is often front-loaded and needs support.
For the lower body, Bailey recommends focusing on the quadriceps, inner thighs, hamstrings and calves to complement the curve of your hips. That means dumbbell squats with a light to moderate weight, supine bridge curls with a stability ball and single-leg calf raises with a light to moderate weight. Try two sets of 20 reps for each.
Exercises for circle body shapes
Your smaller shoulders and hips — not to mention those shapely legs and trim backside — are the fittest parts of your body. Your fat tends to fall right in the middle, around your stomach.
Best cardio routine: “Engage in cardio stretch, where the target heart rate is elevated in the fat burning zone without impact,” Avellino advises. Half an hour of power yoga and then power walking for 30 to 45 minutes is an ideal cardio workout for a Circle. Bailey concurs, adding that people with this body type have lean and strong legs, which allow them to endure longer cardio routines without risking joint injury.
Interval training—short sprints of high-intensity cardio drills—is also great for Circle shapes, once a certain level of fitness is reached. “It boosts the metabolism even more than regular cardio workouts because the pace changes from slow to fast, challenging the body to work harder,” he says. Bailey recommends four weeks of regular workouts before starting interval training.
Best strength-training routine: Do strength training two to three days a week for 30 to 45 minutes, suggests Bailey. One key exercise is the diamond push-up (two sets of 10 to 15 reps). These are push-ups with hands close together in a diamond shape, which work to build the biceps and triceps and also engage the transverse abdominals—the deepest layer of your core. “Strengthening these muscles pulls the abdomen inward like a girdle, giving a Circle a leaner look,” he says. The Plank (keeping your body long and straight, arms straight or bent at the elbow and shoulder-width apart, holding you in a hover above the ground) is another great move that focuses on the abdomen. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then rest. Work your way up to 60 seconds.
Exercises for triangle body shapes
Curvy on the bottom with a small waist and upper body, you’ve got a classic womanly silhouette.
Best cardio routine: Walking, jogging, cycling or the elliptical machine are the go-to cardio workouts for Triangle body shapes, according to Bailey, who recommends working up to 45 minutes of cardio five to six days per week. “Lower-impact exercises are good because there is decreased pressure on the knee, hip and ankle joints, which may be weaker since there is more weight in those areas,” says Bailey.
Best strength-training routine: Although it’s important to do some lower-body exercises like squats and calf raises, triangle shapes should emphasize upper body training in order to build these muscles and balance out a, ahem, more generous lower half. Bailey’s plan: Using a moderate to heavy weight, do three sets of 10 to 15 reps of each of these exercises: dumbbell bicep curls, overhead triceps extensions, dumbbell shoulder presses and chest presses. As you progress, Avellino recommends increasing the weights in the upper body program while reducing the number of reps. “This will build upper body size to re-proportion the hips and achieve a more symmetrical look,” she says.
Exercises for ruler body shapes
You’ve heard the term stick-straight and you can apply it to your body, which has shoulders that align with your torso and just a slight curve at the hips.
Best cardio routine: Twenty minutes of cardio two to three times a week is all that Ruler body shapes need, according to Bailey. “They want to gain lean muscle tissue to add shape to their narrow frame,” he says. “A short bout of cardio will help burn extra body fat without hindering muscle-building—walking, jogging, cycling, jumping rope and swimming are great for Rulers.”
Best strength-training routine: Rulers should focus on strength-training four to five times each week in a total body program in order to build muscular curves, suggests Bailey. He recommends the plank and side plank poses (hold each for 30 to 60 seconds), as well as the diamond pushups to tighten the waist area and create an hourglass-like shape. These push-ups, with hands close together in a diamond shape, work to build the biceps and triceps and also engage the transverse abdominals—the deepest layer of your core. Lateral hip raises (lying on your side and raising and lowering your leg, two sets of 20 reps on each side) help develop hip muscles, while squats (three sets of 12 to 15 reps, holding a moderate to heavy weight) strengthen the thighs and backside. Up top, try dumbbell lateral raises for shapely shoulders (two sets of 15 to 20 reps).
Exercises for inverted triangle body shapes
With a small waist and broad chest and shoulders, your body has a sporty shape.
Best cardio routine: “The Inverted Triangle shape has an athletic build and little body fat, so 20 minutes, two to there times a week is all the cardio you need to keep the heart strong and efficient,” says Bailey, who recommends utilizing the elliptical, cross-trainer and stair-climbing machines as well as step classes. “Those workouts all emphasize the legs, which will help to add shape and muscle that balances out broad shoulders,” he says.
Best strength-training routine: For the lower body, Inverted Triangle shapes should focus on increasing the weight load, while the upper body focus should be on increasing flexibility, according to Avellino. “A common complaint with this body type is a thick middle and disproportionate football player look,” she says. “So incorporating light weights in a full range of eccentric movements for the upper body and the opposite for the lower body—heavier weights with short-range movements like squats—is ideal.” Shoot for strength training sessions three to four times a week.