You’ve probably heard about the three different body types or somatotypes; ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph but you probably don’t know where these terms came from or what exactly they mean. In this article you will learn the brief history of body type classification, how to tell what body type you are and what workout and diet is right for your body type. Read on for some tips and tricks to transforming your body type into what you want it to be.
First popularized by American psychologist Dr. W.H. Sheldon in the early 1940’s was the notion that people fall into three various body types or somatotypes categories. The word somatotype is derived from the Greek word soma meaning body. During this time period the study of anthropometry and eugenics were popular. Sheldon based his research on nude photos of incoming freshmen in Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools. Up until the 1970’s students were photographed nude under the pretext of posture correction.
The three distinct bodytypes were named ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. He created the field of somatotype and constitutional psychology which associated these body types with a person’s temperament. The names of the body types were derived from the fact that Sheldon believed people’s traits were determined in the pre-birth embryonic ectodermal, endodermal or mesodermal layers.
These somatotypes or bodytypes are still used today in the fitness industry’s vernacular. Although the original association of these body types to personality traits and criminal behavior has been debunked.
To better understand the roots of the infamous body type classification we should look at how Sheldon grouped each body type.
Sheldon’s theories of body type being correlated to personal characteristics and criminal behavior have been dismissed by psychological community. However, some of his concepts regarding somatotypes are still used today. Thanks to science we do know that no one is destined for a particular body composition of being fat, skinny or muscular as a result of prenatal development.
Our bodies are the amalgamation of different influences including genetics, environmental and social impacts, personal choices and geographic settings.
You can tell what your dominant body type is by looking in the mirror to check for some tell-tale physical markers. A good way to realize what your body type is, is to think back to your childhood or teen years. Recalling what your body looked like in the past is important because it would be more aligned to your original body type rather than your body type after decades of making various decisions regarding diet and exercise.
If you’re one of those people that can eat just about anything and everything in sight then not gain weight then you might be an ectomorph. This has pros and cons depending if you are someone that wants to stay skinny or someone who wants to pack on a bit of muscle. Even though an ectomorph might be able to eat unhealthy foods without getting big it can also be very difficult to put on any type of muscle mass.
If you’ve ever wondered if you’re an ectomorph then have a look below at some common traits. You might not fit the entire description but if the majority apply to you then this is probably your dominant body type.
Unfortunately, endomorphs might’ve drawn the short straw compared with the other body types. Endomorphs are naturally thicker, heavier and rounder as their slow metabolism make it easier to put on the pounds while making it harder to shed the extra weight. You might be thinking that putting on extra weight can mean muscle too but often times the fast weight gain is fat not muscle tissue.
To see if you’re an endomorph check some of the characteristics listed below. Once again not all of the characteristics need to apply but if the majority describe you, then endomorph is probably your body type.
Perhaps the most desirable body type, mesomorphs are blessed with a good starting foundation for musculature and can add to this easily compared with the other two body types. You can probably picture that kid you grew up with that was always muscular, strong and lean, chances are that he/she was a mesomorph dominant. This body type seemingly got the best qualities from ectomorphs and endomorphs without the negative sides. These people can gain muscle and lose fat easily, must be nice!
If you’re lucky enough to be a mesomorph then many of the following descriptors will apply to you.
Most people don’t fall directly into one body type classification but rather on a range where there is a dominant body type mixed with a few traits of another somatotype. It can be used to your advantage if you are a hybrid body type, for example you may be an meso-ectomorph with the ability to eat whatever you want leading you to be a tall muscular person.
The Heath-Carter method is a system where you’re rated based on the three body types because we all have some characteristics of ectomorphy, endomorphy and mesomorphy. You’re give a score of 1-7 for each type starting with endomorphy followed by mesomorphy and ectomorphy.
So, the example above of a tall muscular person that hardly gains fat would be a meso-ectomorph with a score of 1-7-6. An extreme ectomorph would have a rating of 1-1-7, extreme endomorph 7-1-1 and extreme mesomorph 1-7-1
The most common hybrid types are endo-mesomorphs with solid, thick bodies that are muscular or ecto-mesomorphs who have wide chest and shoulders with long slender limbs.
The takeaway here it that you have the most control in determining your body type. Although you might not be able to grow taller/shorter or change bone structure you can definitely dictate your overall body composition through diet and exercise.
People that primarily fit into the ectomorph body type classification usually have fast acting metabolism and a long slender body structure making it difficult to put on any type of mass whether it’s muscle or fat. The normal goal for ectomorphs is to put on muscle so the best training regimens should revolve around hypertrophy and strength gain. It may be necessary to reduce or cut out cardiorespitory training for a short time as this consumes more energy, translating to more calories burned and a more difficult task of putting on weight. If you’re new to exercise, start with bodyweight exercises until you get form and technique down before moving into resistance training with weights.
Focus should be placed on resistance training with the end goal of hypertrophy or strength gain. Ideally, you will take longer breaks between sets and exercises so that you can have maximum output of force while reducing calorie burn compared with high intensity circuit training styles.
The set and rep ranges for most exercises should fall within 8-12 reps per set for hypertrophy and 3-8 for strength gain. Ideally you want to stay under 20 total sets per major muscle group per week.
Workout programs that suit ectomorphs best include:
To match the goals of most ectomorphs in putting on some size, these “hard gainers” should have diets that contain a more than sufficient number of calories. With metabolisms that seem to incinerate anything thrown into the body these people shouldn't be concerned with following a strict low carb or low calorie diet.
There are some products on the market like “mass gainer” powders that will help to boost caloric intake without having to stuff your face throughout the day making it easier to hit your target consumption. Protein intake should remain at at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight in order to provide the protein necessary to build new muscle through the process of muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Protein intake and calorie intake in general should take place throughout the day to aid the process of weight gain. Slow digesting protein shakes at night can be a great way to get some gains in your sleep. Ideally ectomorphs should eat at an energy surplus, meaning consumption of more calories than they’re burning.
The main types of foods that should be in an ectomorph diet are:
Some people might be jealous of ectomorphs because they can eat things considered fattening without gaining the fat. The primary goal of ectomorphs usually centers around putting on muscle mass then keeping it there. To constantly fight the against the uber-efficient metabolism, ectomorphs need to eat a higher calorie diet than the other two body types.
Diet: Lucky them, ectomorphs can eat some of the most delicious foods with worrying about consuming too many calories. Shoot for whole foods that are calorie dense that are packed with protein such as peanut butter, whole milk and sometimes even mass gainers if having trouble eating enough calories.
Cardio: If you want to do cardio as well as resistance training then opt for steady state cardio that gives some heart healthy benefits without burning an immense number of calories. Stick to a 15-to-20-minute walk or other light cardio a few times a week.
Exercise: Workouts should be based around the end goals of gaining muscle size (hypertrophy) or strength gain. If new to working out make sure you get the basic techniques and form down then move into compound lifts. Ideally you will want to go for low to mid rep ranges of 3-12 with overall short workouts not exceeding an hour. Get enough rest between sets where you can try to go as heavy as your body will safely tolerate.
General: Do everything in your power to maximize the capacity of putting on some quality mass. This means following a high calorie diet with plenty of protein combined with lifting heavy weights at low rep ranges combined with better sleeping habits to encourage muscle growth.
Related: How to Gain Mass without Fail
Generally speaking, endomorphs will require a training regimen that focuses on losing fat. Training protocol should be based on anaerobic cardio and resistance training. It’s important to reach a healthy cardiorespiratory level before targeting specific end goals. Begin with low to reasonable intensity cardio at least 3 times a week of 30 minutes to an hour in length. This can include walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. Once the body is accustomed to some activity then bodyweight exercises should be thrown into the mix at least three days a week, this can include pushups, planks and air squats. The bodyweight exercises should advance to machine, free weight or resistance band training over time.
Building on your fitness progression the cardio aspect should morph into more intense interval training. In 2018 a metanalysis was done of 39 studies which came to the conclusion that interval workouts were effective in the reduction of overall body fat and abdomen fat in overweight and obese adults.
Workout sessions employing circuits of cardio and resistance training should make up the main components. You should gauge your fitness level regularly so that incremental changes can be made over time to where plyometric exercises are feasible.
To improve the metabolism of endomorphs it’s vital to emphasize both anaerobic and aerobic exercise. The goal here is to increase the calories burned during workouts as well as throughout the day. This means making more of an effort to increase activity throughout the day whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the escalator, getting over 5,000 daily steps in or just move more throughout the day.
When ready for it, some sample workout programming might include:
To counterbalance the typical endomorphic body type of slow metabolism and an excess of body fat, the optimal nutrition protocol should center around fat loss while simultaneously building lean muscle mass. The best diet to satisfy the end goal of fat loss is one that is high in protein and low-calorie. To build lean muscle you should consume just over 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or 2.2grams/kg. By gaining lean muscle your body will in turn burn more calories aiding in overall fat loss goals.
Once reaching the protein intake goals, the remaining calories should be supplied by a mix of fats and carbs. This balance should be catered to the individual as some people thrive on low-carb or keto diets, turning them into fat burning machines while other can’t tolerate a low carb diet and will suffer from hypoglycemia without the adequate carbohydrate intake.
Regardless of the breakdown of the calories the main point is to stay lower than the daily total calorie requirement. With that said, it’s crucial to stay in a range that won’t jeopardize the ability to gain muscle or will avoid muscle catabolism. A sample breakdown or caloric intake could be 40% protein, 40% fats and 20% carbohydrates.
Some of the main foods that should be a part of an endomorph diet are:
The most common goal of endomorphs is to lose fat so this is the primary target. Once fat loss reaches desired level then muscle gain should be the next step. It can be a little tricky to execute these goals as losing fat will equate to a caloric deficit while gaining muscle requires a caloric surplus. When eating more calories than you’re burning, it’s super important to make sure you are eating clean and not overdoing carb intake.
Diet: You should stick with a diet where you’re only eating clean foods so no more processed junk! If possible, try intermittent fasting where you limit the time window of eating, many people opt for the 16:8 method because up to 8 hours of the fasting time can be sleep. You have limited calories to work with so make your food choices wisely and don’t drink your calories, stick with water, black coffee or tea. Try to get most of your calories from protein and fat while limiting carbs. Aim for 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight as this can help to make you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
Related: How To Speed Up Your Metabolism
Cardio: Start with aerobic cardio sessions 2-3 times a week at a moderate to difficult intensity for at least 30-minute sessions. Once your body is used to regular exercise try to incorporate intense interval training at least 3 times a week. These sessions can last from anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, just make sure to challenge yourself.
Exercise: Make sure you’re staying hydrated during your exercise sessions whether you’re doing cardio or resistance training. Your workout programs should include more high-volume resistance training with short resting periods between exercises with a 10-20 rep range. Full body workouts where you hit all major muscle groups should be done 3 times a week until you’re at a point where you can transition to more targeted workout plans.
General: Endomorphs need to be more disciplined when it comes to food choices and exercise plans. With enough dedication and consistency endomorphs can turn their hefty appearance into an intimidating muscular machine!
Yes, endomorphs can get skinny by adhering to a strict diet and workout plan. The key points for endomorphs to follow are to eat whole foods at a caloric deficit and reduce carb consumption. They should also do high intense interval training with short rests and resistance training with higher rep ranges.
Mesomorphs got a little lucky seeing how they were blessed with well-balanced body composition and enjoy efficient metabolism. They might be able get to their end goals with relative ease compared with others. However, make no mistake about it most mesomorphic like body types are the result of dedication and hard work over a number of years. There are outliers to this where some people are naturally ripped without putting in much effort but many of the so-called mesomorphs you see walking around were once endomorphs or ectomorphs that made the necessary changes to improve their physical appearance.
Mesomorphs have a larger range of freedom when choosing workout training programs. HIIT workouts to powerlifting training can be executed by mesomorphs resulting in positive results. Sport specific training can also be undertaken by mesomorphs as they likely have a decent foundation to build upon.
More Resources on Workout Programs:
Mesomorphs should still follow a diet with adequate protein and calorie intake. Adjustments in the breakdown of calorie content can be tailored to specific body composition or performance goals. The key here is to eat a balanced diet of whole foods. A sample caloric breakdown could be 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates.
A few whole foods that should be a part of an mesomorph diet are:
Even though mesomorphs may be more blessed than others it’s still important to follow some rough guidelines and tips that will help you to stay at peak performance. Here are a few rough rules to follow below.
Diet: Mesomorphs have a little more flexibility in dietary choices. A simple rule to follow is to avoid having multiple meals or days of unhealthy foods. Try to stick with a normal feeding schedule that works best for you.
Cardio: Because mesomorphs can lose fat rather easily, cardio can be a mixture of steady state and high-intensity. Try walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes at a moderate pace a 2-3 times a week plus two 20-minute sessions of HIIT interval training spread over the week.
Exercise: Mesomorph workout planning should be based on specific goals. Look for training programs that fit your desired end goals and stick with them. Aim for programs that last 8-12 weeks with specific goals like gaining X amount of muscle, improving 1 rep max or getting shredded for summer.
General: Don’t get lazy! Although muscle gains may come easy to mesomorphs this can also be a curse as they won’t put in total effort to reach goals. Try to unlock the true potential of your body type.
The best body type for females is largely dictated by personal preference. The best body type is a healthy body but society believes that the ideal female body type is an hourglass shape, usually defined by a small waist to hip ratio.
The best body type for males once again comes down to personal preference. However, many people would describe the ideal male body shape to be the inverted triangle look with broad shoulders and a small waist.
You may have been dealt a less than stellar hand by genetics but you have the power and ability to control your body's outcome. Barring medical conditions, everyone has the potential to transform their body into a physically fit specimen. Regardless of your body type you can exceed your goals with the right work ethic and by making the right personal decisions. Getting the body type you want is a marathon not a sprint, you need to put in the time and effort to figure out what works best for you!
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