- There are three main components to body types: endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. Some people are balanced, while others are dominant in one with other body type traits.
- Some believe that body types can also determine personality traits and predisposition to disease and other health conditions.
- Knowing your body type might be able to help you reach your fitness and weight goals.
- Consider finding out your body type if you have trouble with weight loss/gain or increasing muscle gains.
The next time you go to the gym, take a look around the room at all the different body shapes and sizes.
Do you notice people who seem to build muscle so much easier than others?
Are there people who can’t lose the extra weight no matter what they do, and others who seem to lose effortlessly?
Have you struggled with gaining muscle or losing weight and feel like you’ve tried it all without success?
If you have, then you know that what works for one person doesn’t always work for others. Your body type may have a lot to do with what works best for you. The term for body type classification is somatotype.
Today, we’re going to discuss body types:
- The three main components that make up the somatotype
- The multiple body types
- Methods used to determine somatotype numbers
- The three component types and diets
But first, a little history on how the somatotypes were found.
The History of Somatotypes
Determining the three main components of body types is largely credited to American psychologist William H. Sheldon. He conducted a study in 1940 on 4,000 male college students to describe human physique.
Each student stood naked in the same pose and had photos taken of their front, back, and side. The photos were then analyzed and the same three components came up again and again:
- Endomorph: Round and soft body type with relaxed, comfortable, and extroverted personality traits. Named for the endoderm, or the innermost layer of a developing embryo forming the digestive organs, stomach, and intestines.
- Mesomorph: Square and muscular body type with dynamic, assertive, and aggressive personality traits. Named for the mesoderm, the middle layer forming the muscle and bones of a developing embryo.
- Ectomorph: Thin and fine-boned body type with thoughtful, introverted, and sensitive personality traits. Named for the ectoderm, or the outermost layer which forms the nerves, brain, skin, and sensory organs.
While his research was monumental, some criticized that his theory was flawed as not all types correlated with their personality traits. There are outliers, and correlation does not mean causation all the time.
Still, his methods and theory have continued to be used, even today. For better or worse, somatotype theory is used in criminology based on both body types and personality traits.
They are also used in fitness when determining:
- Body shape
- Work out methods
- Diets that fit best for different bodies
Degrees of Body Types
Though there are three main body type components, there are different degrees of each. Most people will be “mostly” one body type but also have degrees of another.
It’s entirely possible to be an ecto-mesomorph or a meso-endomorph or a balanced-morph. That just means that all three of your calculated numbers match (like 444 or 111).
All of the three components are represented equally in this instance.
Let’s take a look at both of the methods that have been used, starting with Sheldon’s method. Then we’ll discuss the Heath-Carter Method, which is used much more today, especially in athletes.
How Do I Figure Out What My Body Type Is?
Are you interested in finding out what your body is? There are two different methods to use that can help determine your body type:
- The Trunk Index Method: This method was created by William H. Sheldon. He analyzed thousands of people’s images and body proportions to determine the three main components of body types used today.
- The Heath-Carter Method: This method was created by Barbara Honeyman Heath and Lindsay Carter. At one time, Heath was an assistant to Sheldon, and they clashed on their ideals about somatotypes. Ultimately, she teamed up with Carter to develop their method.
The Trunk Index Method
Sheldon’s method is more simplistic than the Heath-Carter Method. According to Sheldon, a person’s Trunk Index measurement would stay constant throughout their adult life, regardless of weight fluctuations.
This is the main difference between the two methods. Heath argued a person’s somatotype changes over time with body and muscle mass fluctuations.
Sheldon even believed that there was a relationship between somatotype and personality. To determine your somatotype using his method, you’ll need to determine your:
- Trunk Index (ratio based on upper and lower torso measurements)
Upper trunk is from the neck and shoulders to just above the waistline. The lower trunk measurement is taken from below the waistline to the bottom of the glutes.
It makes sense that Sheldon’s theory was flawed, mainly due to weight fluctuations and age. As we age, our body usually changes, so it stands to reason that our body type might change as well.
To figure out your somatotype numbers, you can check out this website. At the top of the page, there are links to:
- Take measurements
- Assess the measurements
- Charts for males and females
- How to calculate your Degree of Balance (more on that in a minute)
The Heath-Carter Method
This method is much more involved and includes taking additional measurements. The Heath-Carter Method is the one that is actually used today, mainly on athletes.
Heath objected to Sheldon’s methods of obtaining data as well as his eugenic views. After working with him on Atlas of Men, she went off on her own, and along with Carter, modified somatotype techniques.
How to Measure Your Body
The instruction manual to determine your somatotype can be found in PDF form here. Measurements of the body will need to be taken and calculated using their formulas. Additional equipment will be needed, including:
- Scale (to measure weight)
- Height scale (to measure height)
- Tape measure
- Skinfold caliper
- Small sliding caliper
Measurements should be taken on the larger side of the body part, and noted which side was taken. To confirm measurements, go back and redo them twice. If there is a discrepancy, average the numbers.
Calipers will be used to take the following measurements:
- Triceps skinfold
- Calf skinfold
- Subscapular skinfold (shoulder blade)
- Supraspinal skinfold (love handle)
- Medial calf skinfold
- Girth of the humerus (bicep) at largest point, flexed and tensed
- Girth of the femur (thighbone)
Due to the types of measurements and accuracy needed down to the millimeter, it’s best to have a professional do these. However, if you have the right tools, you can certainly try this out yourself.
Somatotype Use in Athletes
There are many reasons why body type is used in sports, including:
- Preventing injury
- Aiding in recovery
- Determining playing position
- Determining competition levels
- Identifying strength in particular talents
The main reason that the Heath-Carter Method is used to prevalently today is due to its complexity. Body and fat mass are taken into consideration, as well as age.
It’s not uncommon for people’s somatotype to change over time as they age and their body changes.
This study on children shows that even as a youth, our body type can change. Children were measured at 4, 6, 9, and 12 years old.
The results showed:
- Endomorphs changing in the mid trunk
- Mesomorphs changing in the upper trunk
- Ectomorphs staying relatively unchanged
Here, 22 young Korean soccer players were measured and their somatotypes determined using the Heath-Carter Method. Most were ectomorphic and mesomorphic somatotypes.
Using this data, researchers were able to determine:
- Where to place each player based on body type
- Which players needed to focus on increasing muscle mass
- Which players needed to focus on reducing fat mass
- Measures to take to reduce the risk of injury and how to aid in recovery
When it comes to professional Italian gymnasts, somatotype is used to determine who would best reach elite levels. The most elite tend to be more mesomorphic than endomorphic.
The impact of high-intensity training is also studied in gymnasts who practice the sport for long periods of time.
Using data provided to calculate the somatotype can also help coaches determine the right apparatus for each body type.
Somatotype Use in Weightlifters
Weightlifters have also been studied by body type. Some results found could help better determine future weight classes:
- Lightweight class tends to be ectomorphic or balanced mesomorphs
- Heavyweight class tends to be endomorphic mesomorphs
- As weight class increases, mesomorphy and endomorphy increase while ectomorphy decreases
Can determining somatotype also predict health conditions? Let’s take a look.
Somatotypes and Health
When it comes to your health, it turns out that your body type might be an indicator of certain conditions or diseases.
Those with a dominant mesomorphy and marked endomorphy are most susceptible to liver disease and high blood pressure. They also tend to suffer from:
- Digestive diseases
- Lumbar spine nerve pain
This study of 247 medical students determined that endomorphic mesomorphy body types tend to have higher body fat mass. This makes sense given the body type structures provided earlier.
In both studies, the Bulgarian patients were outliers from other countries. In both male and female Bulgarian patients, the dominant body type was mesomorphy.
However, the other countries noted dominant endomorphic body types in both males and females.
The Endomorph Body Type
Endomorphs tend to be pear-shaped, with smaller limbs and shoulders and rounder bodies. They will likely carry most of their fat around their hips, thighs, and lower stomach area.
Carrying extra body fat puts endomorphs at higher risk for certain diseases, including:
- Heart disease
- Gallbladder issues
- High blood pressure
Unfortunately for endomorphs, they don’t usually lose weight with diet alone. A well-intentioned workout plan is needed to keep their weight in check. Luckily though, they do tend to build muscle fairly easily.
Endomorph Fitness Plan
You’ll want to have a solid plan of action in place as an endomorph. Fitness will always be a part of your life, the key is to keep at it and combine it with proper nutrition.
For the best results, the endomorph body type requires both cardio and weight lifting. Include two to three days of 30 – 60 minutes of cardio each day. The type is up to you, but consider trying out HIIT to see how you like it.
As far as weight lifting, the endomorph body type wants to focus on large muscle groups and compound exercises. Do circuit training with small rest periods between each set.
This will increase muscle mass while keeping metabolic rates high, burning the most amount of fat.
Endomorph Diet Plan
To keep weight at bay while building muscle, the endomorph body type will need to pay attention to their diet.
Avoid simple carbs (white pasta, bread, sugary foods) and instead choose complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruits).
The American Council of Exercise (ACE) suggests that eating these ratios could work best:
- Carbs – 30%
- Protein – 35%
- Fat – 35%
The closest diet plan with these ratios would be the Paleo Diet. Eating a breakfast high in protein will get your metabolism going and set you up for a productive day.
The Mesomorph Body Type
Mesomorphs tend to have the best body type for bodybuilding. They are able to gain or lose weight more easily than other body types. They also have natural strength and build muscle easily.
This somatotype has a smaller waist with wider shoulders. Those who want to stay lean will have to pay attention to their diet.
A good diet and exercise regime will allow them to maintain a lean figure with nice muscle definition.
Here are some Golden Era bodybuilders who are true mesomorphs:
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Robby Robinson
- Larry Scott
Now, we’ll take a look at the right fitness and diet plan to help mesomorphs reach their goals.
Mesomorph Fitness Plan
Like endomorphs, mesomorphs will do well with a mix of cardio and weight training as part of their fitness regime. Switch up HIIT and steady-state cardio two or three times a week.
For weight training, mixing up your routine will help reduce boredom, plateaus, and increase muscle growth. Train anywhere from three to five times a week depending on your goals.
Run the rack by starting with a lighter weight with higher reps, then the next set with a heavier weight and fewer reps, and so on. Do staggered sets and work one muscle group while you’re resting another between sets.
The great thing about being a mesomorph is that you can change up your routine or not, and still see progress. As long as you are consistent, you’ll likely get the results you’re after.
Mesomorph Diet Plan
One thing mesomorphs need to pay attention to is their macros. Too much carbohydrate and fat intake can cause unwanted weight gain. Not enough protein can inhibit muscle growth.
For the most part, mesomorphs will want to eat equal amounts of carbs, fat, and protein. However, depending on if they want to bulk or cut, they will need to adjust their fat and carb intake.
When looking to increase muscle mass, mesomorphs will likely need to increase calories to compensate. Their success will be dependent on the types of foods they eat.
Eating a whole foods diet in place of simple carbs and less nutritious food will reduce results. Stick with:
- Whole grains
- Complex carbs
- Healthy fats
Include a little bit of protein in each meal to maintain muscle growth, repair, and recovery.
The Ectomorph Body Type
An ectomorph has the smallest frame, long and lean with a thin build. Most models are ectomorphs. In the fitness world, they are considered “hard gainers” – unable to gain weight or muscle easily.
This body type may seem like it has it made in regards to weight and metabolism, but it’s not without its struggles. As ectomorphs age, their metabolism will likely slow down, which can result in increased body fat.
Ectomorphs may not have to work as hard to lose weight, but they do struggle with increasing muscle mass more so than either of the other body types.
They also can’t just eat anything they want if they want to keep their body fat and muscle mass in correct proportions.
Ectomorph Fitness Plan
If increasing muscle strength and overall mass is the goal, ectomorphs should focus on weight training over cardio. Keep cardio at a minimum, once to three times a week at no more than 30 minutes per session.
As for weight lifting, the ectomorphy body type will want to lift heavy and often to promote muscle growth. Consider focusing on one or two muscle groups per day, and then do a total body workout once or twice a week.
To build muscle, weight training should be on schedule two to four days a week. Include cardio on off days and incorporate at least one rest day per week to allow the body to recover.
Ectomorph Diet Plan
While it may seem that ectomorphs can eat whatever they want without consequence, that’s not the case. Eating unhealthy, processed foods that are high in sugar and simple carbs can cause unwanted body fat.
To stay lean and help stimulate muscle growth, ectomorphs should eat smaller meals more often throughout the day. ACE Fitness recommends the following ratios of macros:
- Carbs – 50%
- Protein – 25%
- Fat – 25%
Choose whole foods that are nutrient-dense and are high in fiber. If building muscle is the goal, then you’ll want to increase calories to sustain energy, promote muscle repair and recovery.
Whether you are an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph body type, there are ways to get the body you want. Finding out what body type you are might help you leverage your fitness and diet to meet your goals.
If you’ve struggled with gaining or losing weight, or figuring out why you aren’t building muscle, figure out your body type.
It might be just the insight you need to change up your routine to work with your body instead of against it. Knowing your body type may also help with warding off diseases or other health conditions you might be prone to.
Start with the Trunk Index Method, then try out the Heath-Carter Method if you have the tools or access to someone who does. Compare the two methods to see if they differ or agree on your body type.
You can also take a quiz to determine which body type you are based on your answers. It might not be as accurate, but it’s a starting point.
This link discusses a 25 Body Type System and has a quiz for males and females if you’re interested in something more in-depth.
Have you determined what body type you are? Has it helped you meet weight loss/gain and training goals? Let us know in the comments below!