Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Fitness Advice for Changing Body Shapes?

Q&A Wednesday: Fitness Advice for Changing Body Shapes?

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Fitness Advice for Changing Your Body Shape

Q: Do you have any tips for people who have unbalanced body shapes? As I’ve lost weight, most of it has been from my top. I can start to see the outline of my abs and clavicle, but unfortunately I still have the bottom of a Kardashian. I still have 20lbs I want to lose, but with my body type, how would you recommend I continue to really slim down the hips and thighs? More cardio or more weights?

So, essentially, what we’re talking about is wanting to go from one body shape – pear, triangle, diamond, and so on – to another. And how in the world do we do that?

Simple. (Not to be confused with “easy.”)

Which body type are you?

Which body type are you?

When you’re talking about body shapes, you’re almost invariably talking about body fat. Lots of people are under the impression that their body shape is due to their “frame,” but unless your body fat percentage is around 25% or lower, it’s likely due to a combination of genetics, lived experiences (did you give birth? are you very sedentary? were you athletic as a teen — maybe a swimmer, even?), and age.

But, back to that word: “frame.” What does that mean? When you’re talking about a “frame” in terms of body shape, your skeleton doesn’t contribute much to it. You could be talking about your muscular frame, but again – unless your body is around 25% or lower, it might not make as much as a difference as we’d like to believe.

So, back to the body fat. Theoretically, body fat is intended to be protective of reproductive organs, which is why it’s supposed to “make so much sense” for body fat to be more present in the lower half – thighs, booty, hips, calves – for women. The only way to change your shape, in that regard, is to lean out, which is another way of saying “lose body fat.”

Tips and Tools for Changing Your Body Shape Click To Tweet

Does cardio lose body fat? Absolutely, but it also loses muscle, too, which is important when it comes to changing your shape. When you lean out, it gives your muscle the opportunity to shine and, while you can’t choose which parts of the body you lose fat in, you can always choose which muscle groups and physical regions of your body to build.

When it comes to your preferred body shape – for the record, I’m not into passing judgment on which one you like or dislike… what you like is for you – there are three components – your shoulders, your waist, and your hips. They’re all made up of multiple muscle groups, but these are the three primary points that contribute to the kind of “shape” you appear to have once your body fat percentage starts to cruise into the 20s. Take a close look at which parts of the body are featured most prominently in your chosen body shape – are the shoulders more pronounced than the rest of the physique? Are the hips and thighs more pronounced than everything else? Is everything pretty evenly distributed? Or are you shooting for more of an hourglass figure, where everything except the waist has pronouncement?

When I say to think of your shoulders, it’s not just the shoulder muscles you have to consider – it’s your back, your arms, your chest, and your neck that make up that region. Moves like kettlebell presses, push-ups, chin-ups (assisted or otherwise), and their infinite variants will help you define this area.

Identifying Your Body Shape and Change It the Healthy Way Click To Tweet

Virtually all of the body shapes, except the round and diamond types, call for particularly lean waists. This includes your tummy, the sides of your abdominal muscles, and your lower back – essentially, the majority of your core. Muscle-building exercises – like crunches and their myriad variations – actually work to expand your waist, which can work counter to your goal if you’re shooting for anything other than a ruler-esque shape.

I prefer something I refer to as “passive core training” as opposed to “active core training” – since the overwhelming majority of people have needs that are best served by not targeting core but, instead, target adjacent muscle groups – push-ups, squats, presses, for example – which trains the core, but also proportionately trains the muscle groups surrounding the core, as well. It saves time, serves as a more balanced way to approach training, and quite honestly, training multiple muscle groups at a time serves as a more function-centered form of training. (I didn’t always think that way, but when it comes to this, compound training – the idea of training multiple muscle groups at a time – is best.)

When it comes to your hips, you should know that this is the hardest part to rid of body fat, primarily because this is where it goes first, and usually where it leaves last. (Particularly lean people often joke about something “going straight to their thighs,” and they’re usually telling the truth.) When it comes to the hip area, you’re mainly talking your lower core, your quads (front of the thighs), your hamstrings (back of the thighs), your glutes (hello, booty!), and any fat that might reside in the area.

What do you need to change your shape? HIIT and lots of squats! Click To Tweet

Squats. That is all. No, really. Go read that.

When it comes to a “safe” way to lose body fat while also reducing the amount of muscle you use from such high octane activity, getting your pre- and post-workout nutrition up to par is key. What’s also key is high intensity interval training. Challenging all of the muscles in your body while simultaneously getting – and keeping – your heart rate high while simultaneously staying on par with your nutrition will help you both burn fat and maintain the muscle you have, so as to not set you back by much.

When everything’s said and done, you will have lowered your body fat percentage to the point where developing muscle can alter your shape in a positive and long-lasting way that leaves you feeling confident, happy, and empowered to take your training to the next level. So go run something! And go lift something! And go eat something! And come see me in six months to tell me how it’s going!

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17 comments

Jomaria March 26, 2015 - 3:11 PM

Thank you. Thank you. This article came just in time. I have been clean eating (70%) for 3weeks now, next is sticking to my calorie intake. But I was starting to wonder what type of excerise I should started working on (cardio or strength training?). But this give my an idea and a guide.

Confussion: when with that picture, I still can’t tell what body shape I am

Erika Nicole Kendall March 26, 2015 - 3:18 PM

You can’t tell your body size? If you’re willing to describe, I may be able to offer some support.

JoMaria March 28, 2015 - 11:53 PM

Hey. I am morbidly obese (321). I have 3 rows (michigan man tires) of back Fat. I have a hanging belly. My thigh are huge but my calf is small (my legs look like a drumstick)…. . My Arms are huge. I recently purchase a body analysis scale; and, it says my Body Fat is 46%.

Does Body Shape still apply to someone who is morbidly obese?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 29, 2015 - 11:41 AM

Aww, sis, no matter your size, *everything* applies to you just as it would anyone else! In this particular regard, if anything, I’d say to prepare yourself for what might appear to be multiple shifts in your body size if you have a long way to go before you reach your desired goal. Spend lots of time in the mirror admiring your progress, and take a little time to assess whether your body shape has changed and whether it matters to you in a way that means you should change what your training consists of. If so, switch it up! If not, press on. <3

Ashley March 26, 2015 - 5:20 PM

Wow, this is such a detailed response to my question. I did not expect this! I think first off it’s clear I’m going to have to work more on committing to a workout routine at home. I usually go to classes at the gym because the group atmosphere/peer pressure helps me make it through the hour and work to failure, while at home after 15 minutes I’m like, “Yeah….I’m good.” But those classes focus a lot on core. There’s squats and dumbbell lifting, but there’s also a lot of plank/crunches/mountain climbers and I definitely do NOT want a bigger waist. ^_^; Also burpees. So so many burpees.

Also the gym is kind of a sore spot for me, because there aren’t many women with my body shape there. They’re mostly white and Asian girls who are tiny and lithe all over or have a bigger stomach but very small legs.

I guess at this point I’ll try to continue doing cardio and focus my training mostly on the lower half with different types of squats, lunges, and kettlebell swings. I’ve been scared to do it because I mean, they’re already so big. Especially my quads. But since pretty much all my fat goes there hopefully the focus will at least make the fat look better until I can get rid of more of it. I would prefer an inverted triangle shape, which has more focus on the shoulders, but like you said, I need to cut my body fat down so that my lower half is small as I want it and I can really see what needs more work. Else I think any work on top is just going to make me look big all over (especially since I don’t have small breasts like most pears).

Aja March 29, 2015 - 3:03 PM

Thanks so much for this. So often when I see articles address changing your “shape,” the advice is basically ‘your body is what it is so just accept it since you can’t spot train.’ I like my shape but I would like to focus on narrowing my waist a little and building my lower half.I am glad to finally see someone writing about the fact that there are ways to do that, and that you don’t have to be ashamed for wanting to. Also thanks for speaking to why all the ab work I’ve been doing is actually not getting me closer to my goal!

Erika Nicole Kendall March 29, 2015 - 3:19 PM

See, and I’m empathetic to the need for writing that kind of content – because body image for women is supremely complicated – but I’m also sensitive to the reality that is… most people aren’t taught much about their bodies, let alone the female body, and women’s fitness has always amounted to “burn calories!” and “700 calories a day” and “[insert meme that can sell magazines]!” instead of actual empowering information.

I personally think it’s much more empowering to give women the reality of what it means to get fit, be in actual shape (not appearance based but function based), and to be as lean as they often desire. More often than not, it becomes much more clearer for each individual woman what will work best for them and make them happiest and fit into their lives best… not just doing whatever’s on the cover this week.

There are infinite reasons why women want to choose the size (and shape) they do, and it’s not my place to judge. My only goal is to provide the healthiest, least shame-filled, and most helpful support I can, because that’s what I’d want. So, really, thank you for acknowledging that. It’s literally made my day. <3

Donielle March 29, 2015 - 9:58 PM

I love this article. I primarily do squats, lunges, deadlifts and use the leg press. My body shape is changing. I still need to work on my core, but it’s a work in progress. It can be intimidating to be in the weight section, but go for it.

ac March 30, 2015 - 2:22 AM

I appreciate this post! I’m already an hourglass shape but I want to bulk up my lower half and reduce my waist size by 2-3 inches for more definition. I feel like I’ve made no progress, especially in the lower stomach area (although I’m starting to think that having a little pouch there is normal and seeing all the curvy lipo-d ladies without it has us confused.

So no more abdominal exercises? They’re not helping at all? 🙁

Erika Nicole Kendall March 31, 2015 - 10:33 AM

If the goal is to reduce the size of your waist, they really aren’t. Squats do you much better than ab-targeted exercises ANYday.

Wanda April 5, 2015 - 2:06 PM

i have such a struggle staying consistent, changing my lifestyle. I want to eat what I want but want to be healthy and thin. I want to deviate after a couple of days. I lost 13 lbs. and then start eating wrong. It’s Luke I sabotage myself from success, any help please.

Tabitha Talon September 25, 2015 - 2:02 PM

Huh nice post. Surprisingly i actually still retain my hourglass figure i see i have lol. And as i am losing weight it goes in more and in my back i have a dip which equates to a gap in between my back and pants back there lol.

The 'Bre' That Sporadically Comments June 4, 2016 - 10:25 AM

I read or heard from Fran (heyfranhey) that achieving the hourglass figure is a matter of “body-bone structure,” or something to that effect. What do you think?

I’ve always been envious of that body shape. I’m a small girl, 5’2″ and around 112 lb. Athletic build. (Not to say I couldn’t stand to be 115% healthier.)

I have naturally wide-set shoulders (frowny face), small B breasts, an average NON-TINY waist (thanks ribcage), and virtually non-existent hips, in that they barely “flare out.”

Should I hold out any hope of ever seeing myself shaped like an hourglass? Wouldn’t my actual hip bones have to be naturally wider? Or is it a matter of me building muscle *over* my small hips? Because I doubt much can be done about my wide shoulders or rib cage.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 5, 2016 - 1:46 PM

I adore Fran! She’s not wrong, here. We just have to make sure we’re clear on what “body structure” really means. There’s bones and pelvic width, sure, but “body structure” literally also includes muscle, much of which you can develop in a way that can give you more of an hourglass figure.

When you think about building an hourglass figure, you have to remember that shoulders wider than your waist is ALSO a large part of building that shape, otherwise what you’re really coveting is a pear shape. Also, your waist is below your ribcage—usually a few fingers-width below.

Genetics will play a large part in how fat is dispersed throughout your body, but muscle development is something you can 100% control. You’re 5’2″ and 112—have you ever had a body fat test done? That’d tell me far more about your build than your height and weight.

I don’t think you should give up hope, but I think you should chill out a little bit. A lot of the women you might see with hourglass figures may very well be taller than you, so it looks differently on them than it does you. Get to know your body a bit more, clean up your diet, take on a strength training class, and see how you progress over time. This will be much more helpful in terms of developing a goal that is suited to you, not merely what you’ve seen.

Does that help a bit?

Bre June 5, 2016 - 7:32 PM

What method do you recommend in me measuring body fat? Can I do it myself or will it require a professional?

Erika Nicole Kendall June 9, 2016 - 10:52 AM

There are scales that can help you get a rough estimate of your body fat percentage. There’s also having a trainer measure your body fat with calipers. Nothing is quite 100% accurate, but if you choose one method and stick with it throughout your progress, you can get a consistent estimate to help you determine how you’re changing and by how much. This is the scale I use, linked here. If you use my link to buy it, I’ll get a few coins from Amazon for the link.

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