What are somatotypes? In short, somatotypes represent three different body types known as ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Dr. William Sheldon developed the original system on classifying these body types. Put bluntly, an ectomorph is long and skinny, an endomorph is short and fat, and a mesomorph is v-shaped and muscular. These are extremes and in reality most people are a combination. Now, anyone can look in the mirror and try to assess where they fit in based on these three body types. However, the bigger question is: can assessing your somatotype help you design a more appropriate diet and exercise routine?
There’s no specific “somatotype test” but Dr. Sheldon did develop the somatotyping system that attempts to classify people by body type. The key is to look and the mirror, assess the characteristics below, and grade yourself on a scale of 1-7 within each of the three body types. In this manner, you come up with a three number score (endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph). A 7 is a perfect match, a 1 is a low match. So a pure endomorph would be 711, a pure mesomorph 171, and a pure ectomorph 117. Some people like to compare these scores to the perceived scores for professional athletes. For example, a professional basketball player might be 147 indicating few characteristics of an endomorph, average characteristics of a mesomorph, and extreme characteristics of an ectomorph.
Here are the characteristics of the three somatotypes:
Ectomorph Body Type
- Light build
- Little muscle
- Little fat
- Narrow shoulders/chest/stomach/hips
- Hard time gaining muscle
Endomorph Body Type
- Pear shaped
- Short arms/legs
- Soft build
- Under developed muscles
- Excess fat
- Wide shoulders/hips
- Gain weight easily
Mesomorph Body Type
- Muscular build
- Little fat
- Wide shoulders
- Narrow hips
- Easily gain muscle and lose fat
Diet and Exercise for Each Somatotype
As you can see from the above, mesomorphs have it easy. They can generally get in top shape with little effort. If you’re a pure mesomorph, a little weight training and a reasonable diet go a long way. Ectomorphs and endomorphs have it a little harder. Ectomorphs have a hard time adding muscle mass while endomorphs have a hard time reducing fat.
If you’re an ectomorph and want to gain muscle, then you might have to drop cardio from your program altogether. Fat burning isn’t the problem so it should be all about resistance training and ensuring you take in enough calories to actually gain muscle.
If you’re an endomorph, you face a difficult challenge. Fat is your enemy and you’ve probably had trouble losing it and keeping it off. Tom Venuto of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle has written a very good article for endomorphs. Based on metabolic characteristics, endomorphs are generally more sensitive to carbs. I’m not really sure I’d recommend a high carb diet for anyone, but endomorphs in particular may benefit from a diet lower in carbs. Notice I said lower, not devoid of carbs. In my opinion, there’s no reason to completely restrict or embrace any macronutrient. As for exercise, an endomorph is going to have to put in the required time at the gym, including performing cardio to burn excess fat. Unfortunately, there’s a very fine line and you’ll have to be relatively strict with yourself.
Don’t let genetics or your body type get in the way of weight loss. Sure, you may not be blessed with the attributes of a mesomorph, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight and get in phenomenal shape. Who knows, you may actually be a mesomorph stuck in an endomorph’s body. Conversely, even a mesomorph can put on fat if they eat Twinkies all day and forego exercising. Bottom line, don’t stress too much about somatotypes. Whether you have an ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph body type, if you dedicate yourself to a good diet and exercise routine, you can build the body you desire.