The 3 Body Types: Ectomorph, Mesomorph & Endomorph

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Do you struggle to lose weight or gain weight super easily? Or do you struggle to put on muscle, not matter how much time you spend in the gym? The answer may lie in understanding your body type.

Knowing your body type can be very helpful if you have been trying to achieve fitness, strength, health, or weight loss goals less successfully that 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?

In the 1940’s American scientist William H. Sheldon and his colleagues proposed a system of classification based on physique that comprised of three body types (somatotypes), which he called ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.1

William Sheldon was not an anatomist, instead he was a behavioural psychologist and thus the core of his theory lay in associating the three somatotypes with temperament types. This relationship has since been dismissed as simplistic and outdated.

While the element of behavioural science in his theory may have been poor, the study of somatotyping itself has merit. Since the introduction of this classification, it has continually evolved and developed. Presently the most commonly used method of somatotyping (or body typing) is the Heath-Carter method.2

Today somatotypology is studied and applied by anthropologists, biologists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, coaches, personal trainers, coaches, sports scientists and even doctors the world over. 

While it is used in research, body types is also used for designing individual, effective and efficient weight loss, nutritional, and fitness programs.

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.345 This is important because it helps explain individual differences in both physique and athletic performance, that can’ be explained by lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise alone.

For example, having a high degree of mesomorphy is associated with greater strength performance.6 Furthermore, sprinters tend to be very mesomorphic, while endurance athletes become increasingly ectomorphic the longer their distance (e.g. 10K runners versus marathoners).789 Body type can also influence different playing positions in team sports.1011

Who should eat and train for their body type? Body types help to explain differences in metabolism, activity, and nutritional needs. For people who lose weight or gain muscle when they want to and achieve expected results, body types are not necessary. However, people who have tried to lose weight and really struggle (endomorphs) or those resistant to weight gain (ectomorphs), can really benefit from tailoring their diet and exercise routine to suit their body type.

Three Body Types

Each of the three body can gain or lose weight, but the degree and rate at which they do varies.

Endomorphs. This body type has a slower, less forgiving metabolism and have a greater tendency to store fat than the other body types. Endomorphs gain weight more easily and find it more difficult to lose weight compared to the other body types. Because of this, endomorphs are more likely to be overweight. Endomorphs have a medium to large frame and tend to be very shapely.

Mesomorphs. This body type builds muscle mass with ease. Mesomorphs are athletic, strong, powerful, and fast. They tend to have a predominance of fast-twitch muscle fibers, and excel at sports that require power and speed. They can lose weight without much difficulty. Mesomorphs have a medium frame, and a more square body shape.

Ectomorphs. In contrast to the other body types, ectomorphs have little mass (fat and muscle). They have a relatively small frame and long limbs. Ectomorphs are slender, lightly muscled, with a more linear shape. They have fast metabolism, and are more resistant to weight gain (fat or muscle). However, ectomorphs can look slim, but may still carry unhealthy levels of body fat.

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.

Most of us do not fit perfectly within one of the 3 body type groups, but instead have qualities of at least two body types. Experts believe that many people are a combination of body types, such as ecto-mesomorphs or endo-mesomorphs, where they’re mainly like the mesomorph, but with traits of the ectomorph (e.g. small joints or a trim waist) or with qualities of the endomorph (e.g. a tendency to gain fat easily). 

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 achieved varies between people. 121314

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, endomorph doesn’t equal being overweight or ectomorph being skinny. Think of body types as a describing propensity for weight gain.

Therefore, the different body types are simply 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.

An ectomorph can make huge gains and become more mesomorphic, but cannot become a mesomorph in the sense that a mesomorph who trains will always make bigger gains. Endomorphs can lose weight and become more ectomorphic, but can’t become ectomorphs who naturally have little mass and are very lanky. For example, Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Lopez are endomorphs, while Audrey Hepburn and Tailor Swift are ectomorphs.

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.

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, we will fit into one category better than the next and have a predominant body type.

1.   Metabolism

Do you gain weight quickly after going on a lazy holiday? If you lose this weight rapidly after a change in diet or some exercise, you are probably a mesomorph. 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.

2.   Eating Habits

If you consume a large amount of calories and are still slender, you are probably an ectomorph. If you keep a rough eye on what you eat and don’t gain weight you are probably a mesomorph. If you consume few calories and still gain weight you are probably an endomorph.

3.   Frame Size

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 (ectomorph). 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. Frame size also has an impact on weight (see how much should I weigh?)

4.   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.

5.   Body Type Calculator

Use this body type calculator to help determine your body type.

Below is side-by-side comparison of all three body types.

EctomorphMesomorphEndomorph
Slender, linear physiqueSquare, athletic physique Shapely body
Lightly muscledNaturally muscularGains muscle easily, but may be underdeveloped
Small joints/ bonedMedium size joints/ bonesMedium to large joints/ bones
Low body fat (without exercising or following low calorie diets)Naturally strongHigher levels of body fat
Small shoulders, chest and buttocksBroad/ square shouldersSmall shoulders, high waist and large hips creating a pear-shaped physique
Long arms and legsLong torso and short limbsLose weight slowly
Difficulty increasing body fatLosing fat is easyDifficult to keep lost body fat off
Difficulty gaining muscleGaining muscle easySlow metabolic rate
Fast & efficient metabolismEfficient metabolism 

Body types can also combine so that the upper body is ectomorphic with a smaller frame and slender, while the lower body is more endomorphic with larger-framed and greater body fat. These people are pear-shapes. On the other hand, people with a more endomorphic upper body and ectomorphic lower body are apple shape.

Read more: The 5 body shapes

Age & Body Type

Body type changes with age.1516 After your mid-thirties, no matter what body type you have, you slowly become less ectomorphic and mesomorphic, and more endomorphic.

This is because maximum skeletal muscle mass and strength is reached between the ages of 20 and 35.17 The loss of muscle starts after the age of 30 and accelerates in your fifties. Muscle is lost at a rate of ½-2% per year.1819 As muscle is metabolically active, the loss of muscle also leads to the slowing of metabolism.

However this shift in body type is not completely inevitable.20212223 Once people hit their mid 30s they start to decrease their level of physical activity.2425 This not only leads to weight gain and the loss of muscle, but with time also adversely affects health, mobility, and fitness.262728 So the good news is, this age-related change in body type can be substantially reduced with regular cardio and strength training.293031

How to Eat & Train for Your Body Type

All body types can be developed and body composition improved with the right training and diet. However, each body type needs to approach their goals with slightly different strategies.

Diet & Workout for Endomorphs

Endomorphs have the greatest transformational capacity of all the body types.

Endomorph diet: Endomorphs tend to be carb sensitive and get better results with a diet lower in carbs to help control insulin and blood sugar. Focus on nutrient-dense and complex carbs such as vegetables, good quality fats, and protein. Eat regular meals and avoid crash dieting, which can slow metabolism even further.

Read more: The Best Diet for Endomorphs

Endomorph training: Focus on cardiovascular exercise for weight loss and to keep weight off long term. A training plan should incorporate a combination of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking) and high-intensity workouts such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and CrossFit style circuit training, which also help build muscle.

Endomorphs should try to increase NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), which is the calories you burn outside deliberate exercise, in order to boost metabolism. This involves adding a little extra activity here and there, e.g. standing more, pacing while talking on the phone. It doesn’t sound like much, but the fast metabolism of ectomorphs may be in part due to very high NEAT, which may be as high as an extra 700 calories a day.3233

Read more: The Best Workout for Endomorphs

Diet & Workout for Mesomorphs

Mesomorphs respond quickest to exercise, compared to the other body types.

Mesomorph diet: Mesomorphs do well on a diet with moderate levels carbs, that includes vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Include good-quality fats (helps increase satiety) and protein (important for muscle repair).

For weight loss aim for a macro ratio of about 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. Mesomorphs lose weight fairly easily and don’t need to follow low-carb or otherwise restrictive diets.

Read more: Calorie calculator

Mesomorph training: For weight loss focus on moderate endurance training and HIIT workouts. To increase strength and build muscle mass lift moderate-to-heavy weights.

To gain strength and stamina without size do super sets or circuit training and use lighter weights (with higher reps) or body-weight exercises. Pilates and yoga can lengthen and strengthen muscles.

Read more: Macronutrient calculator

Diet & Workout for Ectomorphs

It can be difficult for ectomorphs to eat healthily, as poor eating habits don’t lead to weight gain. However, with age ectomorphs are likely to gain body fat and may suffer with high levels of hidden, unhealthy belly fat (known as skinny fat).

Ectomorph diet: Ectomorphs tend to have a higher tolerance to carbs, but may become a little sensitive to carbohydrates with age. Either way, shoot for high-quality, whole-food carbs, and skip the high-sugar fast foods. Eat healthy fats and try to consume protein with every meal. If your goal is to gain weight, eat every 3 hours and stick to healthy, nutrient-dense snacks for extra calories.

Read more: Weight gain calculator

Ectomorph workout: Long limbs and more slow-twitch muscle fibers mean ectomorphs are great at endurance cardio. Use some of your cardio workouts to also build strength and power. Seek out hills if you’re exercising outdoors, ramp up the incline or resistance on the cardio machines, or throw in some plyometric exercises.

Ectomorphs who don’t need to lose weight should still do some regular cardio to maintain cardiovascular fitness and health.

Strength training is a key part of the training strategy for ectomorphs. To build muscle, aim to lift weights at least 3 times a week using heavier weights with longer rest periods.

Read more

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Comments

17 COMMENTS

  1. Hi! I’m not sure what I am. Okay so my measurements are 33-21-34 and the calculator said that I have a small frame. I weigh 100 pounds. I’m 15 so I’m not really sure if my age affects my body type or anything. I think I might be an ectomorph, but then the thing is I have hips and stuff, so I’m not really sure. So could one of you guys help me please? Thanks!

  2. I have an ectomorphic upper body and endomorphic lower body. What type of exercise should I do to get skinnier thighs while maintaining my upper body and not make it any more skinnier than it is. Please help.

  3. I am not sure what I am. I believe I am between endomproh and metromorph but not 100% sure. My measurements are
    34-26-36 since the last a measured. I am 5’2 and my frame is mediumish..

  4. I’m 5’9 and I’m confused on whether I’m consider a ectomorph or mesomorph body type. I have long legs that people describe as lean. I also have broad shoulders. My thighs however are muscular due to competitive cheerleading. They aren’t super muscular but very toned and all muscle. I have little body fat.

  5. Hello,
    First off, I’m obsessed with your website it’s awesome.
    Secondly, I’m trying to trim down and get lean but know how to. I’m really confused about my body type and shape because I know for a fact that I have a small frame (my hands are tiny but my middle finger still manages to cover my entire thumbnail when I do the wrist measurement) but I’m also a clear hourglass as my measurements are 34-28-38 and my shoulders and hips are equal which makes me look really out of proportion considering I’m only 5ft 3in. I gain weight so easily and my body fat is like 28-29% but beneath the fat I can feel strong muscles on my stomach and when I sit down my thighs feel rock hard and they look really bulky. I’m 130 pounds so I’m not overweight but I feel it. I want to have a lean hourglass like Leighton Meester and Scarlett Johanssan but I don’t know how to. I thought I was an endomorph but I feel like I have qualities in all three so know I don’t know what to do to slim down and get lean. I’ve started doing pilates and jogging from time to time (like once or twice a week) but even though my weight went down to 130 my body looks the same.

  6. This is very interesting – although I wonder if it is possible to be between 2 body types? I think I’m either an Mesomorph or an endomorph. I’ve always been told I have a ‘swimmer’s physique’ – broad shoulders, narrow waist and strong legs. I measure up at 36-25-36 (a typical hourglass) and I’m a comparable shape and size to Beyonce and Scarlett Johansen as per the aritcle. I lose body fat fairly quickly (when I put my mind to it!) but I find it hard to identify with body types such as Jennifer Aniston; as an example of a Mesomorph. My frame is medium build, I’m 5,7″ and currently weight 143. I know my margin of error for weight loss is very small – I’ve been down to 130 – which is still classified as ‘ideal’ – but I was very sickly thin with protruding hips and ribs at that weight. I’m still trying to fathom what’s my own ‘ideal’! I guess it’s hard to really figure where I should be…I have a lot of friends which if anything, are actually slightly larger than me, and weight a good 10-14lbs less than I do….however I know if I lost that much I’d be frail and bony.

    • Hey Emma!
      Absolutely! Almost everyone is a combination of body types. It seems that you have a good understanding that weight isn’t everything. Even though you’re smaller than your friends, you might have more muscle and/ or heavier bones than they, which means you’d weigh more, despite being slimmer. When people think of weight, they think body fat, but the scale measures everything! So I wouldn’t be too hung up on a number on a scale but would focus more on what you see in the mirror and how you feel. If you’re currently exercising and watching your calorie intake to lose weight, just keep going until your like what you see and how you feel (full of energy & healthy!) – that’s your ideal weight. Then maintain that weight with regular exercise and a balanced diet. You have a wonderful body shape, and I’m sure look pretty spectacular at your happy, healthy weight! 🙂

  7. I have a long lean top half (ectomorph) and a pear shaped bottom half with thick muscular legs…where does that place me and what kind of regimen should I be on?

  8. I think etcomorphs can gain weight under the right circumstances. I don’t gain weight unless I’m stressed. My bones are tiny and I am ruler shaped. I think I am either etcomorph or etco-meso but I am overweight. Nothing about me sticks out. I was born skinny and long and I always been skinny and long until my 20s.

    I am on medication so losing weight isn’t fast nor slow. ( surpisingly i’m losing something considering it’s hard for most people to lose weight on steriod meds). It’s just really hard to find excercises on the web for overweight ruler/etcomorphs.

    My measurements: 42, 37.5, 44.5

  9. Thank you so much for helping me! Im a 15 year old Foster kid and Last year around this time I Was underwieght 95 pounds for my hight and shape, and had always had bad body image issues and thought I was to fat, The people I was staying with gave me up and I was just going through puberty, now this year 2013, I am 130 and was totally freaking out because I hated my wieght! My real mother is very large and I never wanted to look like her and was thinking about trying to become bellimic or anorexic soon because a week ago a boy in my class called me fat, and I hate how I look! I am still very small aprantley because everyone reasured me I am…But still.. Thank you for showing me that I am mesomorph

    • Hi Shruti,
      your body shape appears to be apple/ cone. See this page on body shapes. If you search the web for clothing/ dresses for apple shapes you’ll find that there is a lot of information on it. Hope this helps!

  10. I need some help, I’m 5’2 and 103 pounds, It says I have a small frame, but I have a pear shaped body. I really don’t know which one I am.

    • Hi Lily.

      You can have a small frame and be pear-shaped. For example, Keira Knightly and Misha Barton appear to have small frames, but are also pear-shaped.

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