Cone, Hourglass, Ruler, Spoon -- What Shape Are You?

Reviewed by Aman Shah, MD on September 22, 2000
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 22, 2000 -- Edward Jackowski knows why most of us can't seem to achieve the body we want, despite the fact that we spend so much time working out: We're exercising all wrong -- for our body type, that is. When it comes to body types, Jackowski, founder of the New York City-based "motivational fitness company" Exude, has the population of the world categorized into one of four shapes: hourglass (tapered waist), cone (top-heavy), spoon (bottom-heavy), or ruler (straight line from bust to bottom). And, unfortunately for most of us, we end up picking the wrong type of exercise for our shape. But is this just another exercise fad?

"In the last 10 years, as a country, we have gotten 10 pounds heavier; yet health club membership has doubled," says Jackowski. "So what does that tell you? One of two things has happened: Either people are joining and not going, or they are going but they are not exercising correctly."

The classic example he uses is that of a spoon-shaped woman who rides a stationary bike because she thinks that if she works out her bottom and thighs, they'll shrink. Wrong! says Jackowski (who has written a book on the subject and has another one coming out soon): The stationary bike will only bulk her up more in exactly the areas where she wants to slim down.

"If you're exercising for 30 days or more and your body hasn't changed dramatically in your problem areas, 'Hold it! You're Exercising Wrong!'" he says, which -- no coincidence -- is the title of his book.

Exude -- via its fitness center and web site and Jackowski's book -- guides people to the best kinds of exercise for their shape while steering them away from what won't help by specifically dictating which activities and what intensity levels are appropriate for hourglasses, rulers, cones, and spoons.

"That's the hook," acknowledges Jackowski. "People love to be categorized." But, he says, Exude is more than a gimmick. "The purpose and objective of Exude is to get people to include proper fitness into their everyday lifestyle," he says. "The system we have developed in order to do that includes taking a snapshot of people's lives, which we divide into four quarters: lifestyle, medical and orthopaedic background, body type, and present level of fitness and motivation."

Using those four factors, Jackowski and his team tailor a fitness program to each individual client -- but not without first taking a page from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). "You have to exercise in a fashion that improves five components: cardiovascular efficiency, muscle strength, muscle endurance, fat to muscle ratio, and flexibility," he says. And, according to Jackowski (and the ACSM), a workout has to have four stages: warm-up, stretching, exercise, and cool-down.

"So when you take all these factors and throw them into a ball, you can see how fitness -- plausibly simple -- how complex it really is and why very few people ever achieve [it]," says Jackowski.

Despite all the different components, could getting in shape really be as simple as figuring out your body type?

"Some things about it make a lot of sense," Jane Corboy, MD, tells WebMD. "Watching the Olympics, it's obvious that some people are built for gymnastics and others are built for swimming." Corboy, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, specializes in sports medicine.

"What he talks about is that if you have a tendency toward being heavy in your thighs, you shouldn't do high resistance-type exercises for your thighs because that is going to build up the bulk," she says. "So it seems as if it is fairly logical on the surface."

Corboy also likes the fact that Exude emphasizes aerobic exercise. "If you are going to change your body shape, you have to burn off fat," she says. "And aerobic exercise is a way to do that; you can't just tone up muscle and hope you are going to look thinner."

But she would like to have seen more about the association between the cone shape and certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease. "One of the things we know about the physiology of bodies is that people who have a tendency toward diabetes, high cholesterol, and high lipids tend to have truncal obesity, meaning that they tend to be heavy in the abdomen," she says, noting that adding more information on that aspect would, in her opinion, improve the message.

"In terms of picking an exercise that will make you look better, I think it makes sense," says Corboy. "It is intuitively obvious if you think about what people's appearance goals are."

But Scott Powers, PhD, doesn't buy any of it. "To say that there are specific exercises for different body types to improve health really isn't very logical," says Powers, director of the Center for Exercise Science at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "Why would a Stairmaster bulk up your bottom? Endurance exercise doesn't typically cause great hypertrophy of muscles -- if anything, it might cause atrophy of fibers slightly.

"In my view, there is no science behind it," says Powers. "There are no studies that show that cell types -- for example, muscle or [fat cells] -- of people of differing body shapes respond to exercise differently. I guess I get annoyed at people coming out with [illogical] ideas every two weeks and trying to make money at other people's expense."

Robert Oppliger, PhD, also feels that it is more about marketing. "What he is trying to do is put his shtick on the concepts of fitness that have been around for many years," he says. "There's nothing really very novel there; it seems like he has a prudent plan -- I don't begrudge him that point at all. I just don't see what is novel about it." Oppliger is a research scientist at the University of Iowa as well as a member of the ACSM.

Like Powers, Oppliger is not sold on the body shape idea. "What he is trying to say is you don't want to [enlarge] muscles in the area where you already look bulky. I don't know, that might be true ... [but] I am not sure I agree with that. I don't see the rationale there," he says.

"The rest of what he says is very good and accurate, in line with what the ACSM would recommend," says Oppliger, referring to the four stages of a workout and the five different components of fitness. "But you can walk down to the local YMCA and get the same kind of information. It's unfortunate that groups like the American Dietetic Association and the ACSM aren't able to bring in the marketers and present some of what we have been saying for many years with some kind of catchy shtick."