In our minds are deeply held beliefs about our bodies. We constantly assess our bodies whether we’re naked, clothed, or being intimate. The thoughts never completely leave our minds because, let’s face it, our birthday suit is the only gift we can’t return. We can, however, improve it, shape it, and mold it to our liking. Even with its amazing potential for customization, we often panic, fret, and judge our bodies. We see terms like “pear,” “apple,” and “coke bottle” to describe our body shape. But, unless you’re in the mall looking for clothes, all of these terms (including other references to your body using fruits vegetables and inanimate objects) are wrong. Once you understand what your body type really is you can relax knowing that, while some physical features can’t be changed, you still have a lot of control over your body and it’s physique.
Muscle, Fat and Bone
When we think of our body composition three things usually come to mind, muscle, fat, and bone. Now if you’re in the medical field those thoughts go much deeper but for the sake of simplicity it’s true that our body’s shape mostly consists of muscle tissue, fat tissue, and bone tissue. Media and mass circulated misinformation can make it seem like our body types are set and there isn’t much we can do about them, that our genetics have to be perfect in order to be fit and healthy, or that we have to undergo some crazy surgery and take a miracle pill to get our bodies to a place where we feel confident and positive about ourselves. This type of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. As a trainer I’ve heard the excuses and the concerns that plague the minds of friends, family, and clients. It’s often a feeling of helplessness, one that is incredibly hard to express let alone deal with. The good news is that muscle fiber can be built, fat cells can be reduced in size and the body really is concerned with only two things, efficiency and survival.
Your muscles, a major part of your musculoskeletal system which is made up of bones muscles ligaments and tendons; its purpose is to, “protect and support the internal structures and organs of the body, allow movement, give shape to the body, produce blood cells, store calcium and phosphorus and produce heat.”[emphasis added] Your body is in a constant struggle to create efficiency by constantly changing to meet the amount of strain you place on it. Muscle fiber gives the body shape and your organs protection. It also creates more red blood cells, increases your white blood cell count, and can increase the body’s ability to fight infection. Here is the secret: you need muscles. Skinny isn’t necessarily healthy. Skinny is in itself a potential health issue, but I’ll get to that in a future article. Muscles big and small are vital to your survival and well-being.
Fat, also known as lipids, is another misunderstood aspect of health. Lipids of the appropriate type are incredibly important to the body. While saturated and trans fats can be harmful, other fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats are healthy and support your body’s functioning by acting as a “highly concentrated secondary energy source, and a carrying agent in the transportation of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. They are an essential ingredient in skin and hair and regulate blood pressure.” (pg. 478) You as an informed consumer need to be aware of what you are putting into your body. It will determine the quality of life you live both now and in your later years.
Usually we only get information about bones after damage has been done or in a milk commercial. Your skeleton “serves as a collection of levers that transmit muscular forces, protects organs, serves as a framework for tissues and organs, and serve as banks for storage and release of minerals like calcium and phosphorous.”(pg. 74) Exercise (low or high impact) creates dense bones providing us with a healthier, stronger, and more durable skeleton. A diet and exercise regime that supports bone health is also critical to help people create a healthy future.
In keeping with the idea that the most useful information is simple information, I’d like to bring your attention to something called Somatotypes. When people talk about what genetic body type they are, this is what they should be referring to. Your Somatotype is your body’s propensity to create, store, or regulate muscle and fat. The term “Somatotype” was coined by William H. Sheldon. “William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD, introduced the concept of body types, or somatotypes, in the 1940s. Most people are unique combinations of the three body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.” “Most individuals have a dominant somatotype and also display some characteristics of the other two.” Keep this in mind the next time you look in the mirror and are being a little overly critical of your body. There are arguments involving bodybuilders, scientists, and fitness professionals that support the theory that your Somatotype is not set in stone and can change through exercise and dieting. This is an entirely different subject and there is a lot of information out there if I’ve piqued your interest.
It is believed that ectomorphs have fewer fat cells and muscle fiber cells. Again, this is arguable but they are classified as having very lean frames, high metabolisms, and small muscles. Ectomorphs can build muscle and they can get fat if they become overly sedentary. The University of Houston says, “While most of us love to hate these genetically-blessed individuals, some male ectomorphs may not be thrilled with their narrow-chested frames, and some female ectomorphs long for more womanly curves.” Now does this mean that a female ectomorph can’t have womanly curves? Absolutely not! It just takes work and she has to pay attention to her diet. She can’t be peckish about eating and has to educate herself on proper dieting to get her to her goal.
On the other end of the spectrum is the endomorph. Many endomorphs simply give up thinking that they must be cursed to never be fit and healthy. Many endomorphs are actually ecto- and mesomorphs that are super sedentary and have terrible diets, thus they are not endomorphs at all. But, to those true endomorphs, you are not without hope. Endomorphs simply have more muscle fibers and more fat cells, so paying close attention to exercise and dieting is crucial. Step off the yellow brick road and Dorothy is storing fat, fast. Living healthy, exercising, and being active, all while adopting a healthy diet is the key to a fit healthy life.
Last is the famed and envied mesomorph. Their bodies pack on muscle easily and have fewer fat cells so they usually have a very muscular build. I’ll even admit (and I’m an ectomorph), that they hit the genetic jackpot. All that is needed is consistent exercise and a good diet and their bodies can become shaped very easily. Does this mean mesomorphs don’t get fat? No! Like any person, no matter the body type, diet and exercise is critical to good health.
A Healthy Lifestyle is all that Matters
So, no matter your body type, the key is to live healthy (research your food and what is going into your body) and be active. When you stand in front of the mirror and you’re being your own worst critic, ask yourself a few honest questions. Do you really have any goals for your health and fitness? How do you eat, honestly? Are you active and how? Then realize that what you see is your creation. You can change it. Genetics are there to help us survive as a species, not hold us back. They neither doom or guarantee fitness or good health. You have power over your body, and there are people like me who simply want to dispel the myths and encourage and empower you with the ability to live the life you really want to live. So now you know that the terms Pear, Apple, Bottle, etc. belong in the clothing stores. They have no practical application other than picking out a shirt, jeans, a dress or other garment. When you look at yourself, see what you want to be, make a plan, and get after it. Stay healthy, and keep moving forward.
“It’s Your Body Composition, Not Your Body Weight That Matters!” IronMagazine Bodybuilding Fitness Magazine Anabolic Steroid Resource RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2013.http://www.ironmagazine.com/2012/its-your-body-composition-not-your-body-weight-that-matters/
“HOW TO SOMATOTYPE.” HOW TO SOMATOTYPE. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2013.http://www.mysomatotype.com/howtosomatotype/
“Understanding the Basic Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Body.” – The Musculoskeletal System. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2013. http://lrrpublic.cli.det.nsw.edu.au/lrrSecure/Sites/LRRView/7700/documents/5657/5657/5657_04.htm
“THE 3 SOMATOTYPES.” THE 3 SOMATOTYPES. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2013.http://www.uh.edu/fitness/comm_educators/3_somatotypesNEW.htm
Hatfield, Frederick C. Fitness: The Complete Guide.Santa Barbara,CA: International Sports Sciences Association, 1996. Print
About the Author: John-Brandon Pierre is a former enlisted United States Marine who, for twelve years, had the responsibility of keeping Marines in shape, conditioned, and ready for the worst both physically and mentally. John is now an ISSA Certified Fitness professional and the proud owner of Pinnacle Fitness and Training.