It’s easy to get wrapped up in comparing yourself to other people, athletes, or celebrities with bodies that you admire. Especially with the popularization of the “ripped” physique these days, it can be a bit demotivating if you’re naturally skinny or “big-boned”.
Most healthy people can build muscle and lose fat with proper training and nutrition. However, there are certain body type characteristics that you may want to focus on to fully maximize your training efforts. Are you someone with a larger frame and extra body fat? Or maybe you’re a naturally athletic person with noticeable muscle tone? Or perhaps you’re a skinny individual who can eat all day and not put on a pound? Either way, there’s a specific means of training and eating to maximize your efforts and get results.
The 3 main body types
Have you ever taken a second to notice all of the different body shapes out there? Some guys are long and tall with thin arms and legs, while others are short and stalky like little hulks. Well, about 60 years ago, a psychologist named W.H. Sheldon took it one step further and created somatotypes or categories of body types.
According to Sheldon, the 3 main somatotypes for the human physique are ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.
Each body type thrives in different conditions. Super lean and long-limbed people tend to do better with endurance activities. While the more muscular mesomorph body types tend to be more suited for speed, agility, and strength. Let’s not forget the endomorphs who are naturally built to pack on muscle and build strength.
So, it stands to reason that since each body type embodies different characteristics they all respond differently to various training stimuli and nutritional guidelines. If you’ve ever wondered why your friend can do a specific ab workout and get crazy results, but then you do the same ab workout and seem to just gain more abdominal fat then it may benefit you to figure out what your body type is and cater to your strengths.
Ectomorph body type
People who fall into the ectomorph category are generally slim, don’t store much body fat, and have longer limbs and muscle bellies. This body type is often referred to as a “hard-gainer”. People who are ectomorphs have higher metabolisms and therefore are constantly burning calories, which makes it difficult to create and hold onto muscle gains.
Typical ectomorph characteristics
- High metabolism
- Low body fat
- Harder to gain muscle
- Smaller frame (narrow hips and shoulders)
- Small or stringy muscle bellies
- Long limbs
- Excels at endurance
Am I an ectomorph?
If you answer yes to most of these questions, then you probably are.
- Are your hips wider than your shoulders?
- Do you have small joints– can you wrap your thumb and middle finger around your wrist so that they’re overlapping?
- Are your forearms and calves very slender?
- Do you eat a lot of food and still have a hard time gaining weight?
- Bruce Lee
- Manny Pacquiao
- Frank Zane
- Michael Phelps
- Lance Armstrong
- Usain Bolt
Ectomorph training and performance
Ectomorphs are often described as skinny. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t gain strength and size. You’ll just need to follow some training principles that are specific to your body type.
If you are an ectomorph, you tend to perform better at endurance-based sports such as gymnastics, swimming, and long-distance running. This is due to having less lean body mass, which is common among endurance athletes.
The ectomorph body type also predisposes you to be able to regulate your core temperature better, which is an advantage for those partaking in endurance activities. If you look at a long-distance runner, they tend to be long and slender rather than bulky and muscular.
This isn’t to say that an endurance athlete can’t be muscular, of course. It’s just harder to maintain large amounts of muscle when you’re training your body to get better at endurance. This is why it’s helpful to balance it with strength training, proper nutrition, and supplements.
A person with ectomorph characteristics who wants to build muscle would benefit from heavy, compound, multi-joint movements because they send the strongest muscle-building signals. These include big lifts like:
You’ll want to aim for a rep range anywhere from 3-8 reps if you’re lifting heavy and trying to build strength and size. Exercise caution here though, as ectomorphic body types are more prone to injury due to their thinner frame.
Especially while using lower reps to build muscle, you’ll want to also use longer rest periods so that you can push hard through your sets. Rest times should be anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes if you’re doing heavy compound movements to build size and strength.
Ectomorphs also handle high-intensity training better than the other body types. If this is you, then you can probably tolerate HIIT well, and will also benefit from higher exercise volume (more sets and reps).
While ectomorphs are more suited for endurance activities, it would be more advantageous to focus on resistance training to build strength and muscle mass. Avoid doing large amounts of cardio as this sends a signal to the body to eliminate some of your muscle.
Ectomorph diet and nutrition
As hard-gainers, ectomorphs can eat and eat, and still struggle with weight gain whether it be fat or muscle. A diet high in carbs and protein will result in more lean body mass gains. Aim for a high ratio of carbs, upwards of about 50-60% if your goal is to build muscle. Some of the best starchy carb options include oats, rice, quinoa, sweet potato, whole grain pasta, and beans.
Protein should also be a dietary focus. Try to consume a high-quality protein source at every meal. High-quality protein sources include fish, meat, whey, and casein protein shakes, nuts, etc.
There are also high-calorie weight-gainer protein shakes that pack way more calories, fat, and carbohydrates than the average protein powder. These can be an option if you find that you’re having a hard time eating enough food and need to supplement with more protein and calories.
Example of ectomorph macros: carbs: 55%, protein: 25%, fat: 20%
Mesomorph body type
This body type is essentially in the middle of the spectrum with a medium frame or build, and is often described as muscular or toned. A mesomorph is shaped more like a wedge with wider shoulders and clavicles, narrowing into a smaller waist.
Mesomorphic bodies gain and lose weight easily. However, if you’re not careful the fat gain can creep up on you out of nowhere. So it’s essential to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and training regularly.
As a mesomorph, you’re genetically predisposed to athleticism. With a medium frame, propensity for building lean muscle and maintaining a lower body fat percentage, mesomorphic athletes excel at speed, strength and agility activities. These include sports like soccer, hockey, Olympic weightlifting, and even rugby and bodybuilding.
Typical mesomorph characteristics
- Lean and toned, muscle definition
- Medium frame, with rectangular or wedge shape (wider shoulders and narrow waist)
- Long and round muscle bellies
- Excel in strength and athleticism
- Muscular arms and legs
- Gains and lose weight easily
Am I a mesomorph?
If you answer yes to most of these questions, then you probably are.
- Are your hips and shoulders about the same width?
- Do you build muscle and notice definition easily?
- Are your forearms and calves moderately sized (not very small or large)?
- Do you find it easy to both gain and lose weight?
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Jackie Chan
- Jay Cutler
- Terrell Owens
Mesomorph training and performance
This body type does very well when it comes to strength and endurance sports. The ability to maintain a low body fat percentage, gain muscle and tolerate endurance activities while also being able to get strong makes them ideal athletes. Many high-performance athletes have predominantly mesomorphic characteristics.
If you fit the mesomorph profile, it’s recommended that you find a balance between cardio or aerobic activities and resistance training. While it’s considerably easier for a mesomorph to build muscle compared to an ectomorph, it will still take some effort to put on muscle and keep it.
If you’re a mesomorph you’ll be able to tolerate powerlifting style workouts quite well.
For training and performance you’ll want to focus on:
- Heavy compound exercises
- Traditional powerlifting
- Olympic lifts
- Bodybuilder style workouts
- Moderate cardio (about three to four 30-minute sessions a week)
- Keep your rest times at around 90 seconds or less.
A mesomorph will do well with higher weight and lower reps since they have a good frame for supporting muscle growth, and handle cardio well. It will benefit you to include rep ranges of 1-5 reps in your training if you want to see big strength and size improvements quickly. Mesomorphs also respond exceptionally to a hypertrophy rep range of 8-12.
It isn’t essential for mesomorphs to go overboard on cardio. However, implementing a good balance of cardio with your weightlifting will help to keep body fat levels regulated. Although mesomorphic body types don’t store a lot of fat, it can creep up on you if you’re not training properly and eating right consistently.
Mesomorph diet and nutrition
Mesomorphs thrive when consuming a more balanced macro split. This means that if you’re a mesomorph you tolerate carbs, fats, and proteins equally well. You may not want to consume as many carbs as an ectomorph, as that can contribute to fat storage if not balanced by adequate physical activity. Keep your carbs between 20-50% of your total caloric intake.
Focus on getting the bulk of your calories from protein, since this will help to support your muscle growth and maintenance, and keep your metabolism revved up. Eat a balanced diet full of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and high-quality protein sources to promote your energy levels and maximize your training results.
Example of mesomorph macros: carbs: 40%, protein: 35%, fat: 25%
Endomorph body type
Endomorphic body types tend to be softer with less definition, mostly due to a higher body fat percentage. Building muscle isn’t so much a struggle as fat loss is for endomorphs. If you’re trying to pack on as much muscle as possible, then a larger frame like that of an endomorph is exactly what you want.
Despite holding onto adipose tissue, or fat, more readily than an ectomorph or mesomorph, endomorphs are very well suited for strength activities. The ability to gain weight easily means huge mass gains and phenomenal strength improvements when proper programming is applied.
Many professional strongmen and powerlifters have dominant endomorph traits that make them perfect for putting up ridiculous amounts of weight. They have a good foundation to build upon in that they have thicker, more robust joints and a larger frame that holds muscle well.
Someone with an endomorph body type will usually be shorter in stature, with shorter arms and legs, and a thicker rib cage. They tend to have a boxier shape due to having wide shoulders and a thicker waist. If you tend to store a lot of fat on your body, particularly your upper arms and thighs, then you may be an endomorph.
Typical endomorph characteristics
- Wide hips and shoulders
- More difficult to lose body fat
- Bulky, round, soft
- Large frame with thicker forearms and calves
- Usually shorter in height
- Shorter limbs
Am I an ectomorph?
If you answer yes to most of these questions, then you probably are.
- Are your shoulders wider than your hips?
- Do you have large joints? (if you wrap your index finger and thumb around your wrist can you get them to touch or overlap? if they don’t even touch you probably have larger joints)
- Do you have thick forearms and calves?
- Do you gain weight easily but find it hard to lose fat?
- Chris Pratt
- Marilyn Monroe
- Lee Priest
- Vince Wilfork
- Benedikt Magnusson
Endomorph training and performance
Endomorphs have a great frame to support heavy lifting and do very well in pure strength sports like powerlifting. Endomorphic body types make great rugby athletes and offensive linemen. However, being able to build and maintain muscle mass makes it easy to pack on the pounds and not so easy to lose them.
Endomorphs tend to gain fat along with muscle gains, so it’s important to make sure you’re following a solid training program.
If you’re an endomorph, you’ll benefit from:
- Compound and isolation exercises
- Heavy lifting
- More cardio than the other 2 body types
- Circuit training
Endomorphic athletes have a greater lung capacity than their often smaller framed counterparts, the ectomorphs and mesomorphs. This makes them well suited for rowing and other endurance-strength sports.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or not, cardio should be a staple in your fitness regimen. Regular cardio will strengthen your heart and make you healthier, in addition to preventing excess fat gain as you’re building muscle.
Endomorph diet and nutrition
Endomorphs have a tendency to be more insulin resistant which means that you may not tolerate carbs as well as the other body types. Instead of consuming lots of starchy carbs, focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and consuming adequate protein and healthy fats.
To prevent fat gain, keep your carbohydrates in the low to moderate range at about 10-40% depending on your goals. If you’re trying to lose fat, then you’ll want to aim for about 10-20% carbs. For gaining muscle you’ll want to eat more carbs to support your glycogen stores and protein synthesis. Aim for about 30-40% of carbs as part of your caloric intake if you want to build more mass.
Protein and fat will make up the remainder of your calories. You generally don’t want to let your dietary fats to drop below 15% as you need them for basic life processes like hormone production. If you’re eating fewer carbs then you’ll want to balance it by increasing your fat intake upwards of 40% of your daily calories.
Some good healthy fat options include olive and coconut oil, avocados, various nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans and peanuts, nut butters, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon.
Protein should range between 25-50% of your calories and come from lean sources to prevent fat gain. Some high-quality lean protein sources include wild game meats like venison, rabbit, and bison. Other options for protein are powder supplements like whey, casein and egg protein, whole eggs, tofu and tempeh, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, milk, chicken, turkey, lean beef and fish. If you’re on the go a lot, protein bars are an excellent choice to get your protein in during the day.
Example of endomorph macros: carbs: 30%, protein: 40%, fat: 30%
A combination of body types
The original body type classifications are a bit extreme, so most people don’t fit perfectly into one category. Instead, the majority of people fall somewhere along a spectrum between two of the body types. Most people tend to lean more toward one classification while also sharing characteristics with another, such as an ecto-mesomorph or an endo-mesomorph.
It is possible to look like one body type but respond to training as another body type would. If you are more of an in-between body type, it’s important to focus on your strengths and pay attention to what is and isn’t working.
For example, you could be an endomorph and have a larger frame but mostly store weight in your upper body. This would mean that your legs and glutes are pretty lean and potentially well defined while you tend to carry more fat in your torso and upper arms. If you were to overconsume carbohydrates you’d run the risk of gaining more fat on your upper body.
A more effective approach would be to focus on compound movements for your upper body. This will help you to build more muscle and increase muscle definition while speeding up your metabolism to help burn off some of the fat.
Another example would be an ectomorph who has a small frame but builds muscle easily like a mesomorph. In this case, it’s important to focus on form and gradual strength progressions to prevent injury and potential overload.
Smart training principles, safe technique, and proper nutrient goals will help you to maximize your body’s natural abilities. Regardless of which body type category you fit into, moderation, consistency, and balance are the keys to success.