It’s simply a fact that we’re born with certain body shapes. Depending on where the fat is distributed among our bodies, most of us fall into specific body-shape categories that include pear, apple, hourglass, rectangle, and other figures. For the record, the shapes are exactly what they sound like.
If you’re a pear-shaped woman, you’ve got shoulders—and an upper body—that are narrower than your hips. If you’re a man who is an inverted triangle, you’ve got broad shoulders and a skinnier hip area. Those who are apple-shaped, which is known the be the highest-risk shape of all in terms of health, have a larger waist surrounded by more visceral fat. (If you’re apple-shaped but not actually obese, according to the health experts at Penn Medicine, you’re still at greater risk of cancer and heart disease down the road.)
The good news is, if you’re looking to change your body shape—whether for health reasons, you want to get fitter, or you want a better-balanced figure to the eye—you actually can with the right workout routines. Below I lay out three great workouts for four of the most common body shapes. If you’re a woman, I’ve written workouts that can help those with apple, pear, and hourglass shapes. For men who are “rectangles,” there’s a workout here for you, as well.
Now, whatever your body shape is, it’s important that you pair any of these workouts with a proper diet. My colleagues here at Eat This, Not That! have all of the tips you could possibly need for transforming your diet, so I’ll be brief, and only offer a few fundamental tips as it applies to changing your body shape. For any of these workout programs, in which you’ll be trying to lose fat and build muscle simultaneously, I’d advise you to keep a strict diet. And I mean strict—that means one serving size of lean protein along with green vegetables for lunch and dinner. (With lean protein, one serving size for men is two fistfuls, for women it is one.) The best sources of lean protein are fish, poultry, and lean cuts of red meat. In terms of green vegetables, you want to get at least one cup, which is also the size of a fist. Some good choices include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and spinach. (For breakfast, just see here.)
Finally, don’t be afraid to enjoy some starchy carbs before or after your workout. After all, carbs give you energy and they do help build muscle. Great carbs include potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, and legumes.
Now, with that said, let’s go to the gym. Read on, and if your goal is to lose a few pounds, don’t miss these Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.
If you have an hourglass or pear-shape figure (the second and fourth shapes shown above), the goal of my workout is to better balance out your upper body with your lower body. Given the similarity of the goals, the same workout applies to both shapes.
Now, this workout changes the shape of your body because it helps even out the proportions by emphasizing the top half. It focuses on the areas that needs to be built more, such as the upper back, shoulders, and arms. With the lower half, it emphasizes more of the muscles surrounding the hips and glutes—and less bulky muscles like quads. By training these key areas, it will help reshape your entire body. Here is the full-body workout for you to do two-to-three times a week:
- Kettlebell Deadlift (3 sets; 10-15 reps each)
- Incline DB Bench (3×10-12 reps)
- Lat Pulldowns (3×10-12 reps)
- DB Row (3×10 reps each arm)
- DB Reverse Lunges (3×10 reps each leg)
- DB Curls (3×12 reps)
- Overhead DB Triceps Extensions (3×12 reps)
Got it? Here is how you perform each move.
Stand in front of the kettlebell with your feet outside of the weight. Push your hips back and squat down low enough to grab the weight. Make sure your shoulders are in line with the handle and that your torso is straight when you get into position. Keeping your core tight and shoulders down, pick up the kettlebell by pushing through your heels and hips. Stand tall and flex your glutes at the top. Reverse the motion to put the weight down afterward before performing another rep. And for more great exercise advice, see here for the Side Effects of Walking Just 10-Minutes Per Day, Says Science.
Lie flat on an incline bench and grab a pair of dumbbells. Have them up with your arms fully extended. Pull your shoulder blades back and down into the bench and begin lowering the weight down towards your chest. Get a good chest stretch, and then press it back up, squeezing your pecs and triceps at the top.
Grip the lat pulldown bar with your palms facing away from you just outside your shoulders. Lean back slightly and pull the bar down towards your sternum with your elbows, squeezing your lats at the very bottom of the movement. Resist on the way up, maintaining tension in your lats. Get a good stretch at the very top by letting your shoulder blades come up before performing another rep. For more great workouts, don’t miss The Secret Exercise Trick for Flatter Abs Faster.
Position yourself parallel to a bench so your hand and knee are firmly pressed. Grip the dumbbell with the opposite arm and begin the motion by pulling the dumbbell towards your hip, squeezing your lats and upper back at the very end of the movement. Straighten your arm afterwards and get a nice stretch at the bottom before performing the next rep.
Begin the exercise by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and stepping back with one leg. Firmly plant the ball of your foot on the ground and lower your leg (under control) until the knee touches the floor. Push through with the heel of your front leg afterwards to return to starting position.
Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing up and curl them up, flexing your biceps hard at the top. Resist on the way down until your arms are fully straightened, maintaining tension the entire time.
Grab a dumbbell with both hands and hold it over and behind your head. Bend from the elbows and lower the weight slowly under control, getting a nice triceps stretch at the bottom. Once you’re at the bottom, extend your arms back up, flexing your triceps hard at the top. And for more exercise advice, see how This 10-Second Exercise Trick Will Help You Lose Weight.
For apple shape (the first figure shown above), the goal of the routine is to put a greater emphasize on three main areas: Your glutes, your hamstrings, and your upper back. The following workout is so effective because it targets all of the muscles in the back of your body. Also, because these are compound movements that target all of your major muscle groups, you’ll burn a lot more calories than you would with standard isolation movements. In short: Your tummy will shrink while the rest of your grows.
Here’s a workout for apple shapes to perform 2-3 times a week:
- Dumbbell Hip Thrust (3 sets; 10-15 reps per set)
- Bulgarian Split Squat (3×10 reps each leg)
- Seated Row (3×12 reps)
- Stability Ball Leg Curl (3×15 reps)
- Rope Face Pulls (3×15 reps)
Here’s how to do those moves:
Start the movement by setting your upper back on a bench or sturdy platform. Place a dumbbell on your lap with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your core tight, lower your weight down. Push through your heels and hips until they’re fully extended, squeezing your glutes hard at the top for 2 seconds.
Position your back foot up on a bench with either the top of your foot or on the ball of your foot and step out about 2-3 feet. Once in position, lower yourself down under control while keeping the back knee bent as you descend. Drive through with your front heel to return to standing and repeat.
Place your feet firmly on the pad of a seated row machine and grab the handle with both hands. Pull the attachment out and position yourself so your back is straight and your legs are almost fully extended. Keeping your chest tall, your core tight, and your knees soft, row the attachment towards your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end. Straighten your arms fully until your shoulder blades extend before performing another rep.
Laying flat on your back, place your feet on top of a stability ball. Lift your hips off the ground and begin curling the ball towards you with your heels, flexing your hamstrings and glutes at the end of the movement. Return the ball to the starting position and repeat. Be sure to keep your hips up the entire time and to continue bridging as you curl the ball in.
Attach a rope handle onto the cable pulley station and set it at your neck level. Grip the rope so that your thumbs are facing you. Pull out the cable and take two steps back. Get into a split stance for balance, with one foot forward and one foot back, and pull the rope towards your face, flaring the elbows back at the end of the motion. Squeeze the back of your shoulders and your shoulder blades together before returning to the starting position. And for more great fitness advice, check out The Secret Way Sitting Can Extend Your Life, Say Experts.
Now, for the men. The truth is, a number of men are “rectangular” and our goal is to achieve more of the X-Physique shape (which means wide shoulders and a small waist along with good quads and calves). This workout is so successful in helping you achieve this shape because all of the exercises are movements that target the key areas. The incline pressing targets the upper pecs, while the shoulder exercises help build wide shoulders. The squat, lunges, and calf raises help round up the quads and calves.
With the two upper and lower workouts, you can perform both of them twice a week, alternating between.
So a sample split would look like this:
Here is the upper body workout, emphasizing broad shoulders, chest, and arms.
- Incline Barbell Bench Press (3 sets x 6-8 reps per set)
- DB Shoulder Press (3×10 reps)
- DB Lateral Raises (3×15 reps)
- Rope Triceps Extensions (3×15 reps)
- Hammer Curls (3×12 reps)
Here is the lower body workout, emphasizing quads and calves:
- Barbell Squat – (3 sets x 6-8 reps per set)
- DB Walking Lunges (3×10 reps each leg)
- Leg Extensions (3×10-12 reps)
- Seated Calf Raises (3×15 reps)
Here’s how to do these moves:
To start the exercise, position yourself on an incline bench with your hands about shoulder width apart on the bar. Unrack the bar and pull your shoulder blades back and down into the bench. Pull the bar down towards your upper chest and have it touch before pressing the weight back up towards your eyes. As you press the bar up, imagine bringing your hands together, squeezing your upper pecs when you finish the rep.
Start by having the dumbbells up next to your shoulders. Keeping your core tight and glutes squeezed, press the dumbbells up, flexing your shoulders and triceps at the top. Lower the weight under control before performing another rep.
Grab a pair of dumbbells and with your chest tall and head slightly tiled back. Begin the motion by raising both dumbbells out to your side just right where your arms are parallel to the floor. Flex the sides of your shoulders at the top, then lower the weight under control. As you lower the dumbbells, maintain tension in your shoulders the entire time.
Start by attaching a rope to the part of a cable pulley and grip it just above the knobs. Keeping your chest with a slight forward lean, pull the rope down with your elbows, tearing it apart at the very bottom while flexing your triceps.
To perform the hammer curl, grab a pair of dumbbells with both hands facing each other in a neutral grip. Keeping your shoulders pulled back, curl the weight up, flexing your forearms and biceps the entire time. Squeeze hard at the top, then resist on the way down.
To perform the back squat, start by placing the bar comfortably on your upper back (not your neck). Grab the bar with both of your arms outside shoulder width and make sure it is secure. Un-rack the bar, take two steps back and stand tall. Tighten your core, push the hips back and squat straight down until your hips are parallel to the floor before coming back up.
Start the exercise by holding a pair of dumbbells and stepping forward with one leg. Firmly plant your foot, then lower yourself under control until the back knee touches the floor gently. Once the knee touches the floor, step through with the other leg and repeat.
Sit down on the machine with your legs underneath the pad. Kick the weight up, and squeeze your quads hard at the top. Lower the weight all the way down before performing another rep.
Position yourself in a seated calf raise machine with the pad resting on your thighs and the weight on the balls of your feet. To start the exercise, perform a toe raise and pull the lever out to the side to unlock the machine. Lower the weight by dropping your heel down as far as possible, getting a calf stretch at the bottom. Push through your big toes to raise the weight up, flexing your calves hard at the top. Lower under control to the bottom again before performing another rep. And for more great workouts you can try now, see here for the 15-Second Exercise Trick That Will Change Your Life, Says Science.