Your body type may influence how well you respond to diet and training. Most athletes have heard about the three different somatotypes used to classify different body types. Understanding what they are; Ectomorph, Endomorph, or mesomorph can help you to strategically plan your strength training and diet regiment.
Each somatotype ropes everyone into these three categories based on their bone structure, joint ratios, and body composition. Since the original somatotype formulations, they’ve been used by many in both the fitness and academic world as a way to classify male and female body types. But how accurate are they? The science comes with some controversy and a few useful aspects as well.
This article will explain the history of somatotypes, what the normal body types are defined as, provide examples of notable people with each somatotype, and explain how following their definitions strictly can be somewhat misleading when trying to train and diet.
History of Somatotype Classification
The idea of somatotypes came about in the 1940s when American Psychologist William Herbert Sheldon constructed a new (his) version of somatotypology. His ‘theory’ looked at one’s body’s ratios and body composition to place them into one of the three classes. When he first performed his somatotype research, Sheldon used nude postural photos of Ivy Leave undergraduates, which has since been seen as very controversial. From here, he defined three classes judging from one’s bone ratios and body composition.
Sheldon then formulated the definition of each somatotype to relate them to characteristics like one’s personality and life trajectory path. There have been plenty of critics of Sheldon’s original somatotype research. Some criticism discusses how Sheldon’s views were often biased, or opinionated with little actual science behind them. Yet, research has seen some truths between somatotypes and various aspects of sports performance, gym performance, and nutrition habits, but not as much when it comes to personality and life trajectory paths.
Sheldon’s Original Definition of Somatotypes
Below are summaries from the book Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology, by Jon E. Roeckelein, of how Sheldon originally defined each somatotype. (Which are quite comical because he not only defines their physiology but he ventures into psychology as well.)
- Ectomorph: Characterized as linear, thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat-chested, and delicate; described as cerebrotonic (intellectual), inclined to desire isolation, solitude, and concealment; and being tense, anxious, restrained in posture and movement, introverted and secretive.
- Mesomorph: Characterized as hard, rugged, triangular, athletically built with well-developed muscles, thick skin and good posture; described as somatotonic, inclined towards physical adventure and risk-taking; and being vigorous, courageous, assertive, direct and dominant.
- Endomorph: Characterized as round, usually short and soft with under-developed muscles and having difficulty losing weight; described as viscerotonic, enjoying food, people and affection; having slow reactions, and being disposed to complacency.
In Sheldon’s book, Atlas of Man, he then used a series of three numbers to define each body type. Often times, people are a mixture of all three body types, and the chances of one being a full ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph are slim. A full ectomorph in his rating system appears as 7-1-1, a mesomorph 1-7-1, and an endomorph 1-1-7.
My Definitions of Somatotypes
An ectomorph is a typical skinny guy or gal. Ecto’s have a light build with small joints and lean muscle. Usually, ectomorphs have long thin limbs with stringy muscles. Shoulders tend to be thin with little width. Ectomorphs are the body type that is the most resistant to weight gain due to a fast metabolism. In other words, ectomorphs are often able to overeat, while gaining little or even no weight. This body type is mainly characterized by its lack of mass, i.e. ectomorphs tend to have little body fat, are only lightly muscled, and have a small frame (and joints). Because they have little fat, bone, and muscle, ectomorphs naturally weigh less and would be at the lower end of the BMI scale. This lack of mass also means that female ectomorphs tend to have a more linear body shape.
- Small “delicate” frame and bone structure
- Classic “hard gainer”
- Flat chest
- Small shoulders
- Lean muscle mass
- Finds it hard to gain weight
- Fast metabolism
Ectomorphs find it very hard to gain weight. They have a fast metabolism which burns up calories very quickly. Ecto’s need a huge amount of calories in order to gain weight. Workouts should be short and intense focusing on big muscle groups. Supplements are definitely recommended (IE Whey Protein). Ectomorphs should eat before bed to prevent muscle catabolism during the night (I suggest a casein protein). Generally, ectomorphs can lose fat very easily which makes cutting back to lean muscle easier for them. However, even the skinniest of guys can bulk up. Yes, it’s harder but if you’re willing to put in the hard work it can be done.
A mesomorph has a large bone structure, large muscles, and a naturally athletic physique. Mesomorphs are the best body type for bodybuilding. They find it quite easy to gain and lose weight. They are naturally strong which is the perfect platform for building muscle.
- Generally hard body
- Well defined muscles
- Rectangular shaped body
- Gains muscle easily
- Gains fat more easily than ectomorphs
The mesomorph body type responds the best to weight training. Gains are usually seen very quickly, especially for beginners. The downside to mesomorphs is they gain fat more easily than ectomorphs. This means they must watch their calorie intake. Usually, a combination of weight training and cardio works best for mesomorphs.
The mesomorph body type is the most desirable body type for men. However, mesomorphic women tend not to feel so lucky. While muscle mass is greatly celebrated in men, and "strong is the new sexy", it's typically less celebrated and desired in women. Mesomorphic women who like to work out, are the most likely to fall foul of exercise programs that do not take their body type into consideration. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are able to grow much larger with resistance exercise and mesomorphs who do not wish to have a muscular physique have to be careful in their exercise choices. Unlike ectomorphs who gain muscle with great difficulty, mesomorphs can gain muscle almost by accident. This means that mesomorphic women often end up bigger and bulkier than when they started exercising. In other words, instead of their goal of losing inches and lbs. and becoming smaller, they sometimes gain inches and become larger. You must remember though that muscle is more dense than fat. So, if you gain weight before you lose, keep in mind this may only be your increase of lean muscle. This growth will ultimately increase your ability to burn fat. So try not to become discouraged by looking at the number on the scale.
If you are a mesomorph who wants to lose weight and reduce inches, you should focus on fat loss through diet and exercises that are right for your body type. (The perfect workout program for Mesomorphs) Once you’ve lost the weight you wanted, you can always add resistance training to add muscle to specific parts of your body where needed.
Another problem mesomorphic women face is that in a bid to reduce the size of their body they may over-exercise or restrict their calories too severely, losing too much fat. Biologically, women carry a higher body fat percentage than men. This is nature's way of equipping you for childbearing. Unlike ectomorphs who have a delicate skeleton and naturally carry less fat and less muscle, mesomorphs do not look “right” skinny. Mesomorphs have larger bones and bigger muscles, which will be exaggerated if your body fat percentage is very low. Musculature will be particularly marked if the workout includes weight lifting. Thus, the result is a muscular, masculine body that is smaller than suits your mesomorphic frame, with sinewy limbs, along with bulging veins and muscles. This is a great look for female bodybuilders. Mesomorph women tend to place very high when competing. Nothing against this look if you are going for this, however, I find a large majority of women are not.
The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft. Endomorphs gain fat very easily. Endo’s are usually of a shorter build with thick arms and legs. Muscles are strong, especially the upper legs. Endomorphs find they are naturally strong in leg exercises like the squat.
- Soft and round body
- Gains muscle and fat very easily
- Is generally short
- "Stocky" build
- Round physique
- Finds it hard to lose fat
- Slow metabolism
- Muscles not so well defined
When it comes to training, endomorphs find it very easy to gain weight. Unfortunately, a large portion of this weight is fat and not muscle. To keep fat gain to a minimum, endomorphs must always train cardio as well as weights.
Usually, supplements may not be needed as long as the person has a high protein intake in their diet.
Once you know you are endomorph, you know that you were born this way. Your propensity to gain weight is in your genes. It’s not your fault that you gain weight easily. Once you understand that, you can stop blaming yourself for who you are and start educating yourself on how to maximize your body's potential.
As an endomorph, you may feel as though your body has let you down a little. It isn’t working as well as it should do in defending against weight gain. However, this doesn’t mean you are destined to be overweight or even obese. Your body’s internal weight regulatory systems may be short-circuiting, but that doesn’t mean your head has to as well. Where your body falls short, your head should lead the way. In other words, you have to make a conscious, concerted effort to do the things your body should be doing for you automatically. If your body isn’t instinctively telling you to get moving, you have to make sure that exercise is part of your daily routine. If your metabolism is sluggish, you need to eat the right foods that will fire up your metabolism. To put it plainly as day, you need to bust your ass by exercising and eating right for your body type.
Endomorphs don’t have to be fat. In fact, endomorphs shouldn’t even be fat. Female endomorphs who are in shape are simply stunning like J. LO, Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce, Raquel Welsh, and Elizabeth Taylor all have endo bodies. Sure, ectomorphic women tend to look great with their clothes on and can wear almost any style of clothing (most "models"), while endomorphs are more restricted in their look (endomorphs do best in fitted clothes, which is the reason Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian wear the clothes they do or design their own). However, I'm going to toss in my opinion that no ectomorph can beat an in-shape endomorph in swimwear or sports clothing. The ectomorph’s body lacks curves, while the endomorph’s body is all about them. It’s the reason that every pin-up has been an endomorph and not many have been an ectomorph. Your body doesn’t need clothes to look its best! In shape, endomorphs look good naked!
So what’s my point? You are at a disadvantage in that you have to work harder than any of the other body types to control your body fat percentage but once you master this art your body can be incredibly spectacular.
A combination of Body Types
These body types aren’t set in stone. In fact, most people have a combination of two body types. These combinations are either ectomorph/mesomorph or mesomorph/endomorph. It is not uncommon to find a pure mesomorph that gains weight like an endomorph for example.
For the most part, these somatypes are not hard-coded into our DNA because there are many varieties of body types. And people seem to overcome some of these so-called limits with proper training, diet, and long-term strategies for changing their physique.
Another thing worth mentioning is the environment someone spends most of their time in will have a big impact on their development. For instance, if someone is exposed to weight training at a young age, their chances of overcoming a certain “body type” are greater due to more time under the bar than if they started at a later date. The same goes for those who work laborious jobs and develop their physiques under the stress of manual labor.
Given the information above you should be able to identify your body type. You may also want to optimize your diet and training to suit your body type.
I am a combination of an Ectomorph and Mesomorph. I have small bones but I find it extremely easy to build muscle but also easy to gain fat. I keep my body balanced by eating mostly vegetables for my carbs, lean proteins, and supplement my fats with fish oils and flaxseed. For a look inside my nutritional routine, secrets, meal plans, and intermittent fasting techniques, please check out my Kaizen Clean Eating Manual.