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
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. His theories on the relationship between personality and physical appearance have since been roundly debunked and dismissed.
While the element of behavioral science 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.23
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
For example, ecto-mesomorphs are mainly like a mesomorph, but have traits of the ectomorph (e.g. muscular with a more slender, narrow shape). While an endo-mesomorph is predominantly a mesomorph with qualities of the endomorph (e.g. muscular, but muscles not as well defined, a more shapely physique, and a tendency to gain weight a little more 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. 192021 That each of us is unique, and that we don’t all have the same tendency to have a BMI of, say, 22.22232425
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.
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 balance of body types, such as ectomorph-endomorph or ectomorph-mesomorph).
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?).26 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.
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 can combine in different ways to affect body shape. For example, someone may have an upper body that is more ectomorphic with a smaller frame and less body fat, and a lower body that is more endomorphic. People with this combination have a pear body shape. On the other hand, people with a more mesomorphic upper body and ectomorphic lower body are V-shaped (aka inverted triangle).
How Does Age Affect Body Type?
Body type changes with age.2728 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 35.29 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.3031 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.32333435 Once people hit their mid 30s they start to decrease their level of physical activity.3637 This not only leads to weight gain and the loss of muscle, but with time also adversely affects health, mobility, and fitness.383940 So the good news is, this age-related change in body type can be substantially reduced with regular cardio and strength training.414243
Next, read how to exercise and eat for your body type to help you reach your goals.
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!
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.
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..
Hi Mariah, the measurements you gave are for your body shape, which is different from your body type. You sound as though you might be hourglass shape.
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.
My measurements are 40-36-46 I’ve always been an endomorph and so I just wanted to know what shape I am.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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?
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
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 my size is
36 – 31- 32
i really dont know what shape i am..
i have no idea what sort of dresses i shud wear
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!
I THINK I AM ECTOMORPHIC NICE LEARING ABOUT BODY TYPES.
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.
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.