Do you struggle to lose weight, or find it difficult to put on muscle no matter how much time you spend in the gym? The answer may lie in understanding your body type.
Knowing your body type can be be helpful if you have been trying to achieve fitness, strength, or weight loss goals less successfully than you’d like to. It can allow you to personalize diet and workouts to suit your specific needs, work with your body instead of against it, and achieve better results.
What is Body Type?
From Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and even Galileo’s Square-Cube Law, to the medical classifications by Hippocrates, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda, the human physique has fascinated scientists for millennia.
In the 1940’s American scientist William H. Sheldon and his colleagues proposed a system of classification of the human physique that comprised of three body types (also known as somatotypes), which he called ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.1
Today body typing is used by exercise physiologists, nutritionists, coaches, personal trainers, and sports scientists.
Body type is a combination of frame size, and level of body fat and muscle mass relative to height. There are 3 main body types:
The Science of Body Types
Research shows that genetics has a substantial influence on body type, particularly on ectomorphy and mesomorphy.456 This is important, because it helps explain individual differences in both physique and athletic performance that can’t be explained by lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise alone.
Having a high degree of mesomorphy is associated with greater strength performance.7 Furthermore, sprinters tend to be very mesomorphic, while endurance athletes become increasingly ectomorphic the longer their distance (e.g. 10K runners versus marathoners).8910 Body type can also influence different playing positions in team sports, while in individual sports it might be a factor an athlete considers when forming a game plan (e.g. tennis).111213
Body types is sometimes used in research, particularly in the study of elite athletes.14151617 A precise assessment of body type is done in a lab, where several measurements are taken. 18 However, fitness trainers for example may simply make a rough assessment by looking at which traits best describe their client in order to design a more individualized weight loss, nutritional, and fitness program.
The 3 Body Types.
Body types don’t just help to explain physical differences in physique and body composition, but also metabolism. Each of the three body can gain or lose weight, but the degree and rate at which they do varies. Body types are key to understanding that when it comes to weight loss and weight gain we are not all the same.
Body types can help us understand our struggles, capitalize on our strengths, accept our amazing bodies, and learn what we can healthily and realistically achieve.
Here’s a deeper look at the characteristics of each body type.
- Metabolism: Slower metabolism than the other body types.
- Body composition: Gain weight more easily and find it more difficult to lose weight. Because of this, endomorphs are more likely to be overweight. Able gain muscle relatively easily.
- Sporting strengths: Excel in sports requiring strength and power, as well as middle-distance or moderate-intensity activities.
- Body shape: Medium-to-large frame and joints, tapered limbs, and tend to be very shapely.
- Famous endomorphs: Famous female endomorphs include Marilyn Monroe, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Kate Winslet. Famous male endomorphs include Henry Cavill, Chris Pratt, and Russell Crowe.
- Body composition: Gain muscle mass with ease and can have low body fat, resulting in high muscle definition.
- Metabolism: Efficient metabolism. Can gain and lose weight easily.
- Sporting strengths: Predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Athletic, strong, agile, and fast. Excel at explosive sports that require power and speed.
- Body shape: Medium frame and joints, thick muscles, and tend to have a more rectangular, compact body shape.
- Famous mesomorphs: Famous female mesomorphs include Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Janet Jackson. Famous male mesmorphs include Daniel Craig and Jason Momoa.
- Body composition: Little fat and muscle compared to the other body types.
- Metabolism: Fast metabolism, and are more resistant to weight gain (fat or muscle). Ectomorphs can look slim, but may carry unhealthy levels body fat.
- Sporting strengths: Tend to excel in endurance sports.
- Body shape: Small frame and joints, with long limbs and long, thin muscles. Slender and lanky, with a more linear body shape.
- Famous ectomorphs: Famous female ectomorphs include Audrey Hepburn, Taylor Swift, Zoe Saldaña, and Gisele Bündchen. Famous male ectomorphs include Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling.
No-one is just purely one body type, but a combination of all 3 body types. However, while we may not fit a body type exactly, most people are dominant in one or two body types.
Body Type Combinations
Common body type combinations include:
- Meso-endomorph is predominantly an endomorph, with qualities of the mesomorph. This body type combination has a very shapely endomorphic physique, but is more muscular – e.g. Jennifer Lopez.
- Ecto-endomorph is predominately an endomorph, with qualities of the ectomorph – e.g. Scarlett Johansson. This body type combination has a very shapely endomorphic physique, but is more slender and able to lose weight more easily.
- Meso-ectomorphs are mainly like an ectomorph, but have traits of the mesomorph. This body type combination has a slender, narrow ectomorphic physique but is more muscular or able to gain muscle more easily – e.g. Cameron Diaz.
- Endo-ectomorph is mainly like an ectomorph, with traits of an endomorph. Many female ectomorphs have this body type combination. People with this combination have a slender, lanky ectomorphic physique but are softer, more shapely, and gain weight more easily.
How to Determine Body Type.
Perhaps it was immediately obvious which body type fit you. But if it wasn’t, also consider how you react to food and exercise.
While we may not fit a body type exactly, often we will fit into one category better than the next and have a predominant body type, or will be a hybrid of two body types.
Do you gain weight quickly after going on a lazy holiday? If you struggle to lose these extra pounds, then you may be an endomorph. If you don’t put on any weight, you most likely are an ectomorph. If you lose this weight easily after a change in diet or some exercise, you are probably a mesomorph (or a combination of body types).
3. Frame Size
Frame size is associated with body type, and may also have an impact on body weight (see how much should I weigh?).19 To determine whether you are small, medium or larger boned/ jointed, encircle your wrist with your thumb and middle finger.
If your middle finger overlaps your thumb, then you are small boned/ jointed. If your middle finger and thumb just touch, you have medium sized bones/ joints and if your finger and thumb do not touch then you are larger boned/ jointed. Alternatively, you can use the body type calculator below.
3. Eating Habits
If you eat what you like and are still slender, you are probably an ectomorph. If you have to carefully watch your calorie intake in order to maintain your weight you are probably an endomorph. If you keep a rough eye on what you eat and don’t gain weight you are probably a mesomorph (or a balance of body types).
4. Body Type Calculator
5. Think Back!
To help determine your body type, think back to your early twenties, a time before age (metabolism slows as you get older, making you more prone to weight gain) and lifestyle transformed your body into what it is today.
Below is side-by-side comparison of the three body types.
|Slender, linear physique||Square, athletic physique||Shapely physique|
|Small frame/ joints||Medium frame/ joints||Medium to large frame/ joints|
|Long limbs||Limbs proportional to torso||Tapered limbs|
|Little muscle||Naturally muscular||Can be muscular (with exercise)|
|Lower levels of body fat||Balanced body composition||Higher levels of body fat|
|Fast metabolism||Average metabolism||Slow metabolism|
|Lose weight very easily||Losing fat is easy||Lose weight slowly|
|Difficult to gain weight||Can gain fat||Gain weight easily|
|Difficulty gaining muscle||Gains muscle very easily||Gains muscle easily|
Height has little to do with body type, despite the fact that ectomorphs tend to be thought as tall and endomorphs or mesomorphs as short.
Body Types Are A Starting Point.
Diet and lifestyle habits directly affect our level of muscle and body fat. However, no amount of exercise will transform a short-limbed person into a long-limbed one, because characteristics, such as the width of you hips and shoulders or whether you are small or big-boned are unchangeable.
Furthermore, anyone can lose weight and anyone can gain muscle. You’ll see that written everywhere. What people are less apt to talk about, the inconvenient truth if you will, is that the ease and degree to which fat loss and muscle gain can be achieved varies between people. 202122 That each of us is unique, and that we don’t all have the same tendency to have a BMI of, say, 22.23242526
You cannot change your body type in the sense that an endomorph will always have a greater tendency to put on weight compared to a mesomorph or ectomorph. However, an endomorph body type doesn’t mean being overweight nor does an ectomorph body type equal being skinny. Think of body types as a describing your natural propensity for weight gain.
An ectomorph can gain much more muscle and become more mesomorphic, but cannot become a mesomorph in the sense that a mesomorph who trains will always make bigger gains. Endomorphs can slim down and become more ectomorphic, but can’t become ectomorphs who naturally have little mass and a small frame. For example, Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Lopez are endomorphs, while Audrey Hepburn and Taylor Swift are ectomorphs.
Therefore, the different body types are simply a starting point of what your body is and what you can do with it. Although you can’t change the framework, through healthy diet and exercise you have a huge amount control over what your body will become. In other words, body type sets the scene, but lifestyle largely determines the result. It places limits on what you can healthily achieve, but not on being healthy, fit, or strong.