Next time you go to the gym, take a glance around the room to the people surrounding you. You are bound to see a variety of shapes and sizes. Some people are going to be slim while others are completely jacked. You might be thinking that this a result of their effort and their fitness goals, but there is more to it than that.
Every human being has a body shape that is produced from genetics and other factors.
Your size and shape changes your metabolism and training preference, so understanding where you fall into the somatotype—ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph—categories can give you a massive advantage. You’ll be able to fine-tune your training regimen and your nutrition.
Ready to step up your game?
Introduction To Somatotypes
Back in the 1950s, there was a psychologist named William Sheldon who looked at the proportions of people are decided to give these generalized proportions a name. He called these proportions “somatotypes,” where “somato” is a word meaning “relating to the human or animal body.” Sheldon believed that the three somatotypes he discovered could give him an insight into the individual’s psychological traits.
He looked at his students and gave one of three types—ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. To receive his scoring, he not only observed their behaviors, but he also measured their body’s fat, muscle mass, and other behaviors, like nervousness and anxiety.
Although Sheldon’s research on the behaviors of somatotypes is not seen as significant, the characteristics tend to hold strong in terms of physiology. In the same way people can be divided up by shapes, like rectangles, hourglass, triangle, or circle—or even by the dreaded fruit classification—somatotypes give us insight to how our bodies put on muscle and burn fat.
Thus, knowing whether you are an ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph can be beneficial to help you bust through a plateau and get the results you want. You can develop a more refined training program, as well.
Without further ado, let’s have a closer look at the three somatotypes.
What Is An Ectomorph?
The ectomorph is often described as the “hard gainer” in the weight room. These are the people who take a long time to gain muscle and are at the risk of remaining rail thin unless they eat right and avoid overdoing cardio.
Characteristics of an Ectomorph:
- Thin, slender appearance
- Can be skinny fat
- Small chest
- Fitted jeans are generally loose around the glutes
- Fast metabolism
- Long limbs
- Thin bones and small joints
- Gains both weight and muscle with great difficulty and loses muscle easily
Other features of an ectomorph include having a delicate stature, especially in women. Muscles are slight, lean, and long; and you might notice a slight droop in the shoulders that makes the arms look lanky. Ectomorphs also have trouble with temperature regulation due to a lack of both fat and muscle mass.
Famous athletes who are ectomorphs include Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Bruce Lee, Usain Bolt, and Manny Pacquiao.
At the opposite end of the thin-heavy spectrum, where the ectomorph takes the thin end, you have the endomorph, whose body is naturally round, soft, and stout. However, just because an endomorph is more round than mesomorphs or endomorphs, it does not mean that they cannot gain muscle easily. In fact, endomorphs gain muscle much faster than ectomorphs.
What Is An Endomorph?
Characteristics of an Endomorph:
- Soft, round body
- Short, stocky limbs
- Large bone structure; “big-boned”
- Fitted jeans are snug around the hips and glutes
- Slow metabolism
- Lose fat with difficulty
- Gains fat and muscle at an average rate
- Lack of muscle definition
- Large appetite
Additional features of endomorphs include short arms and legs with tiny hands and feet. Because of their typical girth, the length of their arms and size of their hands and feet tends to make endomorphs look less fit than the other body types.
Famous examples of an endomorph body type include Lee Priest, Vin Diesel, and Jack Black.
What Is A Mesomorph?
The mesomorph is someone who is blessed with natural muscle tone and strength. Though they can gain both fat and muscle with ease, they tend to burn fat faster than both ectomorphs and endomorphs while maintaining their muscle mass. The body usually is wider at the shoulders and tapers in at the waist, even with men, and the waistline is notably lower than the other body types.
Characteristics of a Mesomorph:
- Heavy, athletic body
- Gains both muscle and fat easily but can also lose both easily
- Defined muscle
- Hard, rectangular shape for men; hourglass shaped for women
- Fitted jeans are snug around the glutes but not too tight
- Shoulders are slightly wider than hips
- Gains strength easily
- Average to fast metabolism
- Thick skin
- Noted for having ideal posture
Other features of the mesomorph include hands and feet that are well-muscled; square jaws and clearly defined cheekbones. Mesomorphs also tan well, due to the thickness of their skin.
Famous mesomorph athletes include Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anna Kournikova, and Terrell Owens.
How Do I Figure Out My Body Type?
Now comes the fun part. There are a couple of quizzes online that you can take to help you figure out your somatotype, but you don’t have to go that far. From having simply read the characteristics of an ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph, you should already have an idea of what you are. Now, you just need to ask yourself a few questions:
- When I wrap my middle finger and thumb around the opposite wrist, do the fingers overlap, just touch, or is there space between the finger and thumb? If your fingers overlap, you have a small frame. Just touching is an average frame. If there’s a space, you’re bigger boned.
- Are my shoulders wider than my hips? If yes, you could be a mesomorph or ectomorph.
- Is my waist tapered in? If yes, you might be a mesomorph.
- Are my hands and feet small for my size? Or are they large? Endomorphs tend to have small hands and feet, while ectomorphs have larger and longer extremities.
- Are the bones in my face noticeable? Or is my face soft and round? More angular faces lean towards the thinner builds, while rounder, softer faces can be seen with endomorphs.
- Are your forearms small, average, or large? Again, small leans toward ectomorph and so on.
Can I Be More Than One Body Type?
Before you rush to slap a label on yourself, remember that you are the product of finely blended DNA pool unique to your family tree. It might be easier to assume that you’re just an ectomorph or mesomorph, but the truth is that you are only primarily one or the other. Some people are split right down the middle between two types. Others could be a 50%-25%-25% mix. There are “extreme” cases where someone is indeed 90%-5%-5% or 100%-0%-0%.
But more often than not, you will have characteristics from all three. For example, you could have an athletic build but have some trouble getting rid of extra belly fat beneath the belly button. That makes you mesomorphic and endomorphic.
Another example would be someone who technically has a small frame but gains muscle very easily. They could be an ectomorph and endomorph.
There was a study that looked at the somatotypes. It found that most people exhibit characteristics of all three body types. In the study, 524 men and 250 women fell into five groups: endomorphic mesomorphs, mesomorphic endomorphs, balanced mesomorphs, ectomorphic mesomorphs, and even meso-endomorphs. Another study found that the average occurrence of the above-mentioned categories was 51.6% endomorphic mesomorphs, 17.1% meso-endomorphs, 16.7% mesomorphic endos, 6.1% balanced (endo-ecto split) mesomorphs, and 3.0% ectromorphic mesomorphs.
This might cause some confusion, but don’t worry. Unless you are a 50/50 mix, you can go with what you predominantly are then look to other type if you hit a plateau or find out something for one body type isn’t working for you.
Ectomorph Diet & Exercise
Undoubtedly, ectomorphs are going to have the hardest time adding muscle mass. Losing weight is not the issue for these types, because they are lean to begin with. Ectomorphs are natural marathon runners. The reason for this is due to something called satellite cell-mediated myonuclear addition. More simply, you have cells that surround the muscle fibers. These cells can be increased through training to produce more fast twitch responses.
However, it was found that in a study of 66 individuals, the top “responders” to stimulus saw a 58% gain in muscle cross-sectional area, while those who came in last saw no gains. Most of those who gained nothing were ectomorphs. This means that the leanest, lankiest somatotype has a lack of fast twitch muscle fibers.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the ectomorph is allowed to eat whatever they want and forget all about nutrition.
In order to achieve your goals as an ectomorph, here are some diet and exercise tips:
Eat a Surplus of Calories
Since ectomorphs have a rapid metabolism, getting in enough calories throughout the day can be a challenge. Ectomorphs also process carbohydrates faster than the other body types. You might have to track calories to ensure you are eating enough. Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) using one of the many online calculators. Then add at least 250-350 extra calories to that number you are burning off.
In other words, if your TDEE is about 3000 calories. You will need to eat 3250-3350 calories a day to help pack on weight.
The ideal macro range for ectomorphs looking to put on muscle is 400-450 g of carbohydrates, 60-70g of fat, and 160-180 g of protein a day. You can play with these ranges a little bit depending on your activity level and body fat percentage.
Choose Calorie Dense Options
Now, if you were to try and eat 3350 calories a day, you would probably feel too heavy and bloated to do anything at all. This is one of the reasons ectomorphs have such difficulty putting on weight. You simply don’t have the appetite to cover your metabolism.
Here’s how you can get enough calories: Choose calorie dense options and eat them frequently. Spread your calories over 5-6 meals a day and include snacks, too. For example, if you choose a handful of almonds or have peanut butter and apple slices a few times a day and eat 400-500 calorie meals, you will be able to bump up your intake drastically without feeling too full.
The best foods for an ectomorph include things like starchy carbs (potatoes, yams); brown rice; quinoa; avocado; peaches; mangoes; pineapple; broccoli and cauliflower; beets; coconut oil and avocado oil; ghee (clarified butter); sunflower seed butter; legumes; nuts and nut butters; and lean proteins with healthy fats, like wild-caught fish and organic grass-fed beef.
Use Protein Wisely
Another way to increase your caloric intake is to use a high-quality protein powder. Choose a protein powder that contains whey isolate or other superior quality protein. If you don’t like drinking shakes, you can mix the whey protein powder into things like smoothies, pancake mix, yogurt, oatmeal, and peanut butter.
Don’t choose a mass gainer formula. Most of the time, those formulas not only have too many calories, but they are loaded with synthetic fillers and sugars that can have a negative impact on your health.
Ectomorph Exercise Mistakes
Most people gravitate towards the thing they are good at doing. Unfortunately, if you want to see gains, the one thing that an ectomorph should avoid is that one thing they like to do: sustained, low-intensity work. Ditch the treadmill. Say goodbye to cross country jogs every single day.
Don’t worry about becoming a gym rat, either. You don’t need to log long hours there, because too much intense exercise is going to rev up your metabolism too much. Ectomorphs should limit their workouts to 3-4 times a week and keep their actual workouts to 30-45 minutes in length, excluding the warm-up.
Focus on exercise that will work on fast twitch fibers, as well as compound moves, to hit every muscle group in the body. Avoid classic bodybuilder moves that isolate sections of the body, like biceps curls and skull crushers. Use movements like squats, deadlifts, TRX, and plyometrics to work your body correctly.
Volume training, supersets, and compound training are going to be your go-to. Focus on movements that work an entire chain of movement, like squats. A system of German Volume Training satisfies the conditions. Stick to an 8-12 rep range. Choose heavier weight.
Endomorph Diet & Exercise
As previously mentioned, endomorphs often have the greatest difficulty with getting into shape. Though these body shapes are not predisposed to laziness, they do have to deal with a slower digestion rate and more body fat. The body will readily store fat, and since endomorphs struggle with carbohydrate digestion, those sugars are often converted into fat before they can be used for energy.
Most endomorphs want to build muscle and reduce fat, but since you cannot do that simultaneously, you need to choose one goal for now. If you want to build muscle, you will not need too much of a caloric surplus. Instead, think about what you are eating right now and change the macronutrient range.
Endomorphs who want to slim down will need to burn about 250-300 calories more than what they consume and need about 30-40 minutes of physical activity every single day. Figuring out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) will give you a better idea of how many calories or macros you should be eating.
Here are some tips to help endomorphs create the right diet and exercise plan:
Best Endomorph Food Option
Since endomorphs have a slower metabolism, they do better than the other body types with processing fats instead of carbohydrates, and will benefit from a more ketogenic lifestyle. A diet that is comprised of about 30% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 35% protein is going to suit an endomorph the best, but if you can change the macro ranges slightly to better accommodate your goals.
The foods you should eat include things like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout); olive oil and coconut oil; avocados; eggs; nuts and seeds (including seed and nut butters); lean proteins, like chicken and beef; complex carbohydrates, like sprouted grain bread, chia seeds, quinoa, and beans and legumes; and plenty of leafy green vegetables.
Focus on Fiber
Alongside a slow metabolism is slow digestion. To aid in proper digestion and get you more nutrients, while promoting satiety, add more fiber to your diet. Concentrate of supping on foods like beans, artichokes, berries, lentils, and legumes—these are loaded with insoluble fiber. Whole grains are another excellent option.
Move Faster For More Results
Much like their ectomorphic brethren, endomorphs don’t have to become steady-state cardio kings and queens to lose weight. The treadmill is no longer a staple in your workouts. Interval training is the best method for endomorphs to shed extra inches of fat from their frames and will provide a greater metabolism boost than steady-state cardio. Try doing some Tabata exercises, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and also things like plyometric box jumps, jump rope, and sprinting.
One word of caution: Watch your joints. Heavier bodies can sometimes add stress to the joints during interval training. If you’re worried, you can modify these movements by reducing the weight, working on calisthenics, or even trying a sled push—it’s less movement but just as intense as sprinting up and down steps.
The same principle applies to rest days. Endomorphs have slow metabolisms, so you should at least do yoga, go hiking, or choose another low-intensity activity to reduce the chance of putting on more weight.
Avoid Nutritionally Devoid Food and Drink
Since your metabolism is slower than mesomorphs and ectomorphs, you will not need to refuel as much as the others after a workout. While it might be tempting to have a post-workout protein smoothie or guzzle down a sports drink when you are sweating during an intense workout, you should choose the lowest calorie options as possible. Avoid sports drinks that are full of sugars and salts. Those won’t do you any favors. Also, you don’t need to worry about adding protein shakes.
If you want a post-workout snack, choose something light, like some oatmeal or plain Greek yogurt or a BCAA supplement.
You will also want to cut out any snacks that are loaded with empty carbohydrates. Eat 3-4 small meals a day instead, and make carbohydrates the smallest portion.
Mesomorph Diet & Exercise
First, we talked about the lean and thin ectomorph. Next was the stout and thick endomorph. Now, the mesomorph—the born athlete with powerful musculature. Unlike the other somatotypes, the mesomorph has no trouble putting on weight, whether it is muscle or fat. Because of this, mesomorphs need to be the most practiced and organized when it comes to their training and nutrition because the scales can easily tip in one direction or the other.
Mesomorphs have a physiological benefit, though, that you can manipulate. In the same study that found out ectomorphs are slow responders to stimuli in their muscles, a mesomorph can see their muscle growth spike by 65% with just a little exercise. However, because athleticism comes easy to mesomorphs, many of them go to easy in the gym without realizing it.
Depending on your goals as a mesomorph, your nutritional plan will change. The basic guideline is that mesomorphs need a moderate amount of carbohydrates and more protein. Ideally, the macro ratio is 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 30% protein, but if you are on the ectomorphic end of the mesomorph scale, you might need to bump up the protein slightly.
Best Food Choices For Mesomorphs
Tweaking your eating habits is going to get you on the highway to fast results. Plus, when you factor in the higher muscle mass, you are burning more calories than the other body types automatically. Since you have more muscle to sustain and a moderate to fast metabolism, mesomorphs require a higher protein diet than their counterparts.
Foods to include in your diet include eggs, pea protein, whey protein, lentils, beans, legumes, white fish and poultry, lean grass-fed beef, Greek yogurt and skyr, and nut butters. Also, the fiber, vitamins, and nutrients from fruits and vegetables will help keep your system functioning optimally. Opt for berries, citrus fruits, apples, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, avocado, and coconut oil for a blend of fiber and healthy fats.
Remember, the mesomorph is all about finding balance.
Resistance Training For Muscle
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for any of the body types, and mesomorph is no different. Yet, with that natural advantage of added muscle mass, mesomorphic men and women both benefit from weight training up to 5 days a week. Choose four to six resistance training exercises to do for each muscle group. Splits work well here. Aim to lift a moderate to heavy weight 8-12 repetitions, if you’re trying to gain muscle mass.
Mesomorphs also respond well to moves that deal with muscular power. Think supersets like deadlifts and power cleans to keep you motivated and energized in the weight room. Don’t use exercises with long rest periods. Keep your breathers down to 60 seconds or less. Also, avoid those isolation exercises. Your body was made for moving big.
Don’t want to gain a lot of muscle but want to lean out? Do the same number of reps but with a lighter weight. Pair that with cardiovascular exercise.
Keep in mind that too much cardio will cause mesomorphs to lose their muscle tone. Try to limit your cardio to about 30-35 minutes, 2-3 days a week.
Looking to empower yourself even more? Mesomorphs who want an edge can take creatine, since their bodies respond well to it. Not only will creatine aid the recovery from intense workouts, but your muscles will grow faster too. You will feel less sore, so you can keep working hard to meet your goals.
The Takeaway of Training For Your Body Type
One aspect missing from training regimens today is body type. There are so many cookie cutter workouts available online that people forget they have bodies different from the rest of the crowd. You have a body type that influences your metabolism and your goals, so you should learn how to use that somatotype to your advantage.
Smaller builds need to train hard and eat a lot to put on weight. Larger builds benefit from faster workouts to burn calories and heavier weight. The point of knowing all this is that you can develop a training program that is unique to you and your needs. The smarter your program, the better the results in the long run.
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