While it would be nice to change your body type at will, many of the factors affecting your shape are outside your control. Your skeletal structure, where you store fat and how easily you gain muscle are all genetic factors that help determine your overall shape. But a well-planned cardio and diet regimen can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight to show off your natural shape, while strategic strength training can help you achieve more of an hourglass look. Just set realistic expectations and work toward a healthy body image -- you can't completely change your body type, but you can work hard to achieve the best version of yourself you can be.
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Losing Weight for Curves
Maintaining a healthy body weight can allow the natural curves of your figure to show through. To do that, you'll need to follow a calorie-controlled plan that involves consuming fewer calories than you burn.
Exactly how many calories depends on your body size, age, gender and activity level. For example, a 27-year-old woman who is 5 feet tall, weighs 140 pounds and leads a sedentary lifestyle needs 1,866 calories to maintain her weight. To lose weight, she could cut her calorie intake to 1,366 calories daily and lose 1 pound a week. Alternatively, she could eat 1,200 calories and work out to burn an extra 334 calories each day. That would mean she's burning 1,000 more calories than she eats each day, so she would lose 2 pounds of fat per week.
Use an online calculator to figure out how many calories you should eat for weight loss, ensuring you get at least 1,400 calories daily to avoid losing too much metabolism-boosting muscle during weight loss. Then get your target calorie intake by eating nutritious, wholesome foods -- lean poultry and beef, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy, beans and legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Whittle Your Waistline
Cardiovascular exercise can also help you lose weight, and strength training can help tighten your waistline to enhance hourglass curves. Cardiovascular exercise not only works out your heart -- boosting your overall well-being -- but it helps create the calorie deficit you need for weight loss. Exactly how many calories you burn depends on which exercises you do, as well as your body weight. For example, a 125-pound person can burn 165 calories in a relatively easy 30-minute, low-impact aerobics class -- or 255 calories during a vigorous 30-minute session on the rowing machine. Heavier people also burn more calories -- a 150-pound person would burn 205 calories in the low-impact aerobics class or 316 calories on the rowing machine.
Pair your cardio workouts with strength-training moves that target your abdominals -- as your aerobic workouts melt away belly fat, strength training will tighten your waistline. Use planks, side planks and wood chops to strengthen your obliques -- the muscles that run along your sides -- and transverse abdominals, the "corset" muscle that circles your midsection. Toning these muscles will not only improve your posture, but it will help define your natural waist to give the appearance of curves.
Strength-Train to Fake an Hourglass
While you can't spot-reduce fat -- meaning you can't create curves by selectively losing fat from certain parts of your body -- you can use strength training to build muscle, filling out areas on your body where you want to create curves. For a more hourglass-type appearance, you should focus on toning your hips, butt and outer thighs, as well as your shoulders. By toning these areas, you'll emphasize a narrow waist, which will create a curvier appearance.
Use squats and lunges to tone up your butt and thighs, incorporating lateral movements -- like side lunges and curtsy lunges -- to target the muscles on your outer hips and thighs. Side leg lifts, the abductor machine and leg abductions using a resistance band also target your outer thighs.
Perform pushups and rows to strengthen and tone the muscles in your shoulders. As a bonus, these exercises also challenge your core, which means you'll be toning your abs at the same time. Use lateral shoulder raises to target the sides of your shoulders -- over time, this will help broaden your shoulders slightly to make your waist appear smaller.
Accept Your Curves -- or Lack Thereof
While lifestyle changes can certainly help you look fit and healthy, and targeted strength training can enhance the appearance of curves, no lifestyle habits will change your underlying body type. If you're naturally tall and lanky, your workouts won't give you a Marilyn Monroe figure. Conversely, if you're naturally curvaceous with full hips and thighs, you can't healthfully diet your way down to a boyish physique.
Instead of focusing on attaining an appearance that may not match your natural body type, consider creating goals that focus on living a happy, healthy lifestyle -- for example, running your first 5K race, completing your first set of unmodified pushups or pushing through a tough dance class. Setting attainable goals keeps you motivated to persevere with your diet and fitness routine, which will help you look good and feel great in the long term.