Words of the Week

Poker Hand

Body Types

We come in all shapes and sizes, us humans. Do a little people watching and that's pretty obvious. And life is a bit like a poker game in that you can't control your starting hand. Like it or not, you have to play the cards you're dealt.

Could you toss your cards to the side? Sure. Lots do, don't they? They throw them right into the muck. It's only one game though, this life. No re-upping. And if you're reading along right now chances are good that you've decided folding your hand isn't an option. You refuse to be the first one to bust.

Yet the issue is still the same as the start-- even a peek at someone else's cards isn't going to change your own.

Basic human science explains we are all born with genetics which includes a predetermined body type set by our DNA. To a large extent, your make and mold is the result of centuries of ancestry. But your potential, your future within yourself, that, fellow card sharks, is up to you.

Let's ante up and look deeper into this notion.

Card Sharks

The stress of physical work, particularly the central nervous system response to heavy lifting or quick, explosive movements, creates a positive surge in human growth hormones.  Namely androgen. Others as well, but it's androgen that gets the focus when looking directly at muscle growth. Two of those androgen amino acids specifically responsible for the anabolic effect of muscle protein synthesis are the well-known testosterone and estrogen.  [1] [2] [3]

We all have these hormones running through our bodies. Both men and women. Women release testosterone just like men do; men release estrogen like women do. It's just in different amounts. That's what separates the genders.  [1] [2]

Thanks to the pituitary gland during puberty and the endocrine system throughout life our gender-specific responses to age and daily living cause the excretion and regulation of our body hormones.

In layman's terms? Your brain and your body combine to make you you.

pituitary_gland It's this percentage of varying hormone chemicals that creates your starting hand. That and your ancestral DNA.  From there the game is on-- it is our job to make the most of ourselves. The goal is to hit a lucky streak in life, isn't it?  But if you know poker, then you know it's not just a game of luck. Depending on the style of game you can change your strategy, play off of percentages, turn over new cards, or even read opponents and embedded risk. But in the end it's the strength of your final hand that's the real measure.  In other words, overall health and well-being, if you're following along here.

To continue the analogy, some people realize they scrapped their hand way too soon when they could've simply pursued a different angle. Like, say, being active and monitoring nutrition.

In the game of life, our fitness is what we make of it.  But there are rules. There are limits.

Our body types run the gamut of different styles, but the three main somatotypes have historically been referred to as ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.


• An ectomorph is typically skinny and lean, usually taller with long limbs and thin muscles. Ectomorphs find it hard to gain weight with their generally fast metabolism burning up calories. [1]

• A mesomorph is naturally athletic in build with larger muscles. Mesomorphs find it relatively easy to gain and lose weight. Although they gain body fat more easily than ectomorphs, they are genetically strong and inherently build muscle quicker than any other body type. [1]

• An endomorph is usually solid and generally bigger but is sometimes labeled "soft." Endomorphs gain fat very easily but do carry some inherent strength. Endomorphs are often shorter in stature but can have strong and muscular limbs, legs in particular. [1]

Within these very generalized physical categories can exist other partial somatotypes combining the larger headings. For instance, an ecto/meso or a meso/endo body type.

body types real imagebody types real image women

While this terminology isn't super important, it does help set up the understanding of one's body.  And it exposes the asinine statement of, "I want to look like him/her!"

Sorry, folks. In examining physical fitness, you will always remain you. Just a new and improved version of you.  With nourishment, work, and recovery people will look like the fittest rendition of themselves.

For both men and women, if the real goal in your fitness journey is to look like a completely different person then that isn't actually possible. Yes, of course, we can build muscle fibers, both fast and slow twitch, which also means we develop both the number of muscle cells as well as the size of pre-existing muscle cells. We can gain speed as well as endurance.  Conversely, we are able to drop excess body fat and change body composition into a healthier us, if needed and desired. But we will only do all of this according to the potential and limitations we were born with.

This is known as a person's genetic predisposition.

Similar to the above, other unhealthy statements we sometimes hear in the gym are "I don't want to do too much cardio and become a stick," or "I don't want to lift heavy because I don't want to get bulky."  Or worse, from some young ladies out there, "I don't want to look like a man."  Nails on the chalkboard.

Great news, if that's your worry: you won't. You can't.

It doesn't mean a person can't get stronger, faster, and in some ways, larger in size... even more "toned" or "cut" as body fat falls. What it does mean is that we can only do all of this according to 1) our gender, and 2) what our genes will allow.

body series

Again, it's simple, in a way: you can't turn into a different person. No one will change their body type without artificial means.

If you truly want to look like someone else, get plastic surgery. Plenty in the world do this; no judgement passed. Hormone therapy is part of gender modification.  All well and good if that's a person's goals. But again, it's artificial. Just like it would be to look for complete body modifying fitness gains.  This includes illegal growth hormones, anabolic steroid use, and to an extent, blood doping. [1]

The only way to do something to your body beyond what is genetically possible is artificially.

What we really need to be examining, then, is eustress and the endocrine response. The real statement should be, "I want to be the fittest, fastest, strongest ME."

This, this, is a quality statement. This is a healthy path to fitness. This, my friends of all shapes and sizes, is absolutely possible.

Instead of comparing your physique to others, the healthier mental exercise is to compare your body to your previous self. And frankly, many people out there put a lot of worry into aesthetics anyway, versus result-driven data like work completion (rounds, reps, weight, etc.) or overall positive feelings and self-affirming emotions.

So as you examine your true goals in and outside of the gym, take this to heart.  It isn't a deterrent from seeking what it is you want from your body.  Hell no. No, this is the opposite. What you want, athletically, can actually be obtained as you realize what genetics you've been given from your ancestors.  What hand you've been dealt in this life. If you are gunning for strength, that's doable. Definitely. If your weakness is conditioning, then cardiorespiratory endurance can improve. Unquestionably. If your coordination, your agility, your overall athleticism is lacking, it can all come to fruition as you develop within your life journey.

body type funny cartoon

So go out and get it. Go "all in" if you must. Don't let anyone tell you you can't.  But remember you are your own person and will remain just that. Be smart enough that if anyone tries to sell you otherwise, you can see through their bluff. Don't put effort into trying to be a different person, in a different body. Work to be the best in your own skin, and love the life you have.

Good luck, all. The cards are on the table, the stakes have been raised; it's your move. Don't fold now.

- Scott, 7.14.2014




Come with me, if you will, to a land of make believe.

A place of fairy tale wonder, full of people who never have the need to warm-up their bodies before physical exercise. Playfully leaping around in lush valleys of barbells and chalk... giggling through treelimb pull-ups and snatching gigantic flower stems... climbing vines and swinging kettleberries. In this pleasantville of sparkle-eyed, chiseled bodies, not a soul lacks range of motion. Not a soul has tight muscles. And not one fitness nymph gets a "no rep." Ever.

Sound ridiculous? That's because this place doesn't exist. Remember? It's make believe.

For the world of reality that lays before us muscle mortals, warm-ups are useful and necessary-- even for those seemingly perfect professional exercisers. But maybe not in the way you think. So what is truly necessary for workout preparation?

Physical Warm-up
Common sense tells more and more people to give their bodies 1) a generalized warm-up before physical activity, and 2) an exercise specific lead up to any workout or sport.

Just stretching a bit beforehand doesn't do the trick. In fact, stretching in general has received critique in recent years anyway. See a few viewpoints here: NBC via the CDC, HuffPost, Mobility WOD, Mark Sisson, T-Nation.

A muscular and connective tissue warm-up is often best when suited towards the individual. At the gym, we use a group warm-up as a one-size-fits-all preparation. It works, but is mostly beneficial to give members an idea of what movements to use if ever prompted to take time on their own for warm-ups. The more knowledge you gain about yourself, the better you can prep for a workout or competition.

General theory is the shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up. Meaning, higher intensity work requires a longer warm-up, whereas a shorter prep might be just fine for longer exertion. Also, extra mobility work should take place outside of the warm-up and is potentially best post-workout or at least when blood flow has increased. Past that, get to know your body so you can gear preparation correctly. And be adamant and committed to doing things right so a good warm-up ensures you are set up for success in the gym. Does a varied warm-up work? Or do you like the same, scripted preparation to feel ready to go each day?

But what's often missing is something else entirely. Sit back and listen close...

CNS Warm-up
Once upon a time there was a misunderstood body system called the central nervous system. The CNS, for short. Around before you were born, the CNS is as complex as all the solar systems in all the galaxies in the universe. If we could go back in time, we'd see this system actually start to develop before your first heartbeat.

Potentially overlooked in the gym, the CNS controls a person's motor functions and all voluntary muscle action. Nothing "goes" unless the nerves send a signal. So we could think of a CNS warm-up as a start up to the body's computer-- the brain to muscle group connection needs booting up to be online.

Would you jump in a car that sat in the garage all day and pop it in drive, immediately slamming the gas pedal to the floor? No way. Well, at least not if it's your car and you want it to last. So why would you get under the barbell without preparation and expect maximum performance out of your body? It's a more complex machine than a car's engine. And you definitely want yourself to last.

In basic terms for physical movement, you can't expect to perform at your best when the nerve pathways that fire to make you move aren't greased.

Approaching Warm-ups
If the workout facing you has heavy lifting, in the vein of a 1repmax, then you'll need to put some intensity ahead of the stress that will follow. A person can go in "cold" and still have success in a lift or a workout, but think of when you've had your PR lifts-- it's after a few quality ramp up sets, guaranteed. Otherwise you haven't maximized your potential. This is why we often use plyometrics or other explosive movements to ignite your CNS. Speed and power are critical-- more muscle fibers need to be recruited for the more weight you lift.

Once you have performed a general dynamic warm-up, a number of exercises can be used to light up your CNS before your heavy training. These exercises are not performed in a manner to fatigue the muscles, remember. They are meant to prime the pump... which is an amazingly accurate pun if I do say so myself. Before squatting, go through a few box jumps, split jumps, or kettlebell swings-- all excellent options. Prior to deadlifting or Oly lifting, clean or snatch from various positions at the hang to initiate lat/trap/shoulder involvement and improve hip mobility. (Reference from Chad Smith.)

A warm-up for a higher rep workout, something with gymnastic elements for instance, would still include dynamic activities that require quick and strong muscular contraction. Once the body's core temperature has been elevated, these movements would serve to fire up the CNS and prepare it for the upcoming volume. Particularly if fast movements will be required in a WOD. Think kipping pull-ups, air squats, push-ups, etc.

We'll often do running drills pre-workout, even if there isn't any running in the WOD. Calling on the CNS to rev up by messing with coordination a little creates those routes necessary from synapses in the brain and all along the spinal cord. Other simple items to include could be contract/relax exercises for mobility prep and core awakening exercises such as toes to bar, hollow rocks, and isometric squat holds. (Reference from Allen Besselink.)

For more details, check this excellent post by Darrell Morgan.

So there's the quick run-down to the warm-up. Think about what you are working towards, and what would be beneficial to include in your preparation to maximize your power output. Then see if the warm-up helped, and live happily ever after.

Better than a fairy tale ending, this is a smart and realistic approach to warming up for success in the gym.

- Scott, 8.25.2013