In Episode 08: Your Body Type Helps You Find Your Activity, Geof and Todd discuss how peoples’ bodies come in all shapes and sizes, shapes and sizes that make certain sports and activities more conducive to one body type or another.
Humans come in drastically different shapes and sizes. For example, the four time Olympic gold medal gymnast, Simone Biles is 4’8’’ tall and weighs 104 pounds. By comparison, the four time NBA world champion Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) is 7’1” tall and weighs in at 324 pounds (although that seems a little light for his size in my opinion). Simone Biles probably isn’t very good at basketball and I doubt that Shaquille O’Neal would have made for a very good gymnast. Although these two represent the extremes of human body types/sizes, they provide an excellent example for how your body type helps you find an activity that you may be good at.
The vast majority of us aren’t extremely small and muscular like Simone or extremely big and muscular like Shaq so our strengths and weaknesses aren’t quite as obvious as theirs. But to some degree we all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
In Episode 08, Geof tells a story of a client of his that wanted to run because her friends were runners. The only problem was that Geof’s client was 5’3” and built more like a powerlifter than a runner. Geof’s client improved as a runner over time but was never able to keep up with her friends, likely because she didn’t have that body type (or ability).
My own experience with performing an activity that you might not be made for or good at it involves high school football. In my opinion I probably had enough ability to be good at football (in my small hometown) but I was never quite aggressive/mean enough on the field. During my weight training for football, I discovered that I actually enjoyed weight training more than I did playing football per se. During this same time (and a few years earlier) my dad and older sister were running a lot of road races together. My dad was a pretty good runner, especially in high school as he made it to state competition two different years.
I ran with them a couple of times but decided that those genes must have passed me over. I wasn’t a runner. Fast forward to the end of my college years and beginning of graduate school and I was running and road cycling a ton while training for triathlons. It turns out that I did have some ability for endurance activity as I could consistently finish in the top 20% of my peer group.
The point is that I didn’t think I had the body (type) for endurance athletics and perceived myself more as a football player. But this wasn’t really the case. To a certain degree you can change your body type with training. I have been a 172 pound road cyclist and I have also been a 195 pound weight lifter. But I’ll never be an awesome cyclist and I’ll never be a great weight lifter. I’m pretty good at both but I’m definitely not great at either of them.
When I was 172 pounds I was road cycling 200 miles/week, swimming 5000 meters/week, and running 25 miles/week. There wasn’t much room for more activity, yet 172 pounds was the lightest I ever got. On the other hand, doing three 90 minute full body workouts each week got me up to 195 pounds. Most people can change their bodies to some degree but even with extreme activity, it is difficult to change your body to the point that most fitness enthusiasts and marketers will lead you to believe. In many cases you kind of are what you are.
In our podcast Geof and I talk about how it is more important to find what you love to do than it is whether or not you have the body type for it. Just because you are tall doesn’t mean you have to play basketball and just because you are short and stocky doesn’t mean that you need to be a gymnast or powerlifter.
All too often we pursue physical activities for the wrong reasons. We do them because our friends do them. We do them because we think they will be a means to an end (i.e. run for weight loss). We do them because we have the body type for it. We do them because we know of no other option. We do them because a personal trainer or friend or television commercial has planted a seed that “this” is what we should be doing.
In hindsight I wouldn’t have traded my football days for cross country but I think at any point in life it is fair to try to assess what you’re doing for physical activity and whether you like it and it meets your goals. When I was road cycling back in the day, I was obsessed with increasing my fitness levels and aerobic capacity (VO2max). Nowadays, my fitness level is far lower. I don’t go on 80 mile rides, I go on 10 mile rides with my 13 month old daughter on the back of my bike (in a safe carrier). I don’t average 22 mph, I average 10 mph. And yet I really enjoy these bike rides with my daughter. My fitness level isn’t increasing because I am not riding intensely enough. But who gives a shit about fitness levels. I’m fit enough and as fit as I need to be to enjoy a bike ride with my daughter. The idea that more fitness is always better just isn’t true. We need to be able to balance fitness and enjoyment. Sometimes these goals are congruent and sometimes they are incompatible.
Geof and I also discuss how you don’t need to choose a particular activity type and be wed to it for the rest of your life. Geof finds that mountain biking suits his body type and interests very well. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t lift weights or occasionally lift really heavy weights to bulk up a bit over the winter. In my case, when I was road cycling a lot (for a period of 3-4 years) I didn’t lift any weights. Then for a period of 2-3 years all I did was lift weights (other than commute to and from the gym on my bike).
And exercise doesn’t have to be weight lifting, running or organized sports. Walking, gardening, rock climbing, and hiking all suffice. Kayaking, roller blading, you name it, provided it requires muscular effort above a baseline effort and/or an increase in heart rate, you are going to be (relatively) healthy.
The idea that your body type finds your activity is part of the equation. If you’re struggling to become better at an activity and aren’t finding a lot of enjoyment in that struggle quit and find something else to do. No health metric or fitness ideal is worth that type of frustration. We don’t want you to use your body type as an excuse for not trying an exercise but I think it is also important to acknowledge that a mismatch between body type and activity can cause an unpleasant uphill battle. But again, if you enjoy the activity, do it. If Shaquille O’Neal liked gymnastics he should have found a way to do it…….just kidding, he is actually way too big for gymnastics, I don’t think physics and strength to body size ratios are on his side. But for the vast majority of people this still applies.
There are so many different types of activities out there that body type shouldn’t be an excuse for not exercising. Now I know that we all have our limitations. Whether that be financially (some sports are really expensive), physically (i.e. arthritis) or geography (you can’t climb a 14er in Wisconsin) there are so many activities out there, we just need to find one that we enjoy doing and so does our body type.