Understanding Your Body Type: A Guide to Tailoring Your Training and Nutrition
As a fitness enthusiast, you likely have a clear image in mind of your ideal physique. It could be based on the body of a fitness influencer or a professional bodybuilder. However, do you know your body type? If not, you may end up disappointed.
Your body type determines how your body responds to training and nutrition. If your body type does not align with the body you’re chasing, you’ll never achieve your desired physique. In this article, we’ll provide you with the knowledge you need to identify your body type and use that knowledge to tailor your training and nutrition to your body type.
Body Types: Ectomorphs, Mesomorphs, and Endomorphs
The concept of body types is a relatively new phenomenon. William Sheldon, a 1940s psychologist, proposed that every human body can be separated into one of three basic classifications, scientifically called somatypes. These somatotypes are ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs.
Pure ectomorphs are tall, skinny, and generally awkward. They have small joints and narrow hips. Pure mesomorphs are strong, muscular, and lean, with an impressive natural shoulder girdle-to-hip ratio. Pure endomorphs have shorter limbs and carry more body weight. They have narrow shoulders and wide hips.
Very few people are a pure somatotype. Instead, a rating scale between 1 and 7 for each somatotype produces a three-digit somatotype rating. People with a ‘normal’ body type will have a somatotype of 444.
It’s important to note that men and women have different body shapes and somatotypes. Men have been described as apples while women as pears. This relates to the tendency of women to store excess body fat on their hips and buttocks while men collect it around the abdomen.
The key thing to appreciate is that your genetics predetermine your body type. You cannot go from being an ectomorph to a mesomorph, no matter how hard you work out. However, you can maximize your physical development potential within the bounds of your body type.
Famous Examples of Each Body Type
To understand what maximizing your potential means, let’s consider a famous example of each of the three body types.
Frank Zane: The Ultimate Ectomorph
Frank Zane is a hall-of-fame bodybuilder who is recognized as the inspiration for the ‘Classic Physique’ division. Zane has a typical ectomorph body. With a small bone structure and long limbs, he was never going to be mistaken for a mass monster.
In fact, his highest onstage weight was 190 pounds, at a height of 5’9”. Still, he went on to claim three Mr. Olympia titles and was one of only three men ever to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger — who was a classic mesomorph, by the way!
How did he do it? Zane worked with what he had. Rather than focusing on getting bigger and bigger, he developed the most aesthetic, streamlined, and ripped physique of his era.
Ronnie Coleman: A Classic Mesomorph
Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman was built to pack on muscle mass. In fact, when he first walked into the MetroFlex Gym in Arlington, Texas, the gym owner, Brian Dobson, thought Ronnie was already a veteran bodybuilder. However, Ronnie had only been training for a few months in a home gym.
Yet, he had broad shoulders, a narrow waist, low body fat levels, and dense muscle, marking him a classic mesomorph. As a result, he dominated the pro bodybuilding world of the ’90s, claiming eight straight Mr. Olympia victories.
Jay Cutler: A Typical Endomorph
Jay Cutler is remembered as a mass monster — and as the man who put a halt to Coleman’s Olympia reign. Yet, if you look at pictures of Jay in his teens, you’ll see that he has a classic endomorph physique, stocky and broad, lacking the natural shoulder-to-hip differential of a mesomorph. He was also prone to putting on body fat.
Yet Jay learned to work within his body type and, through hard work, grit, and determination, was able to forge the physique that took him to four Olympia titles.
Determining Your Body Type
So, how do you work out what body type you have? Even though no person is 100% one body type, your body will fit into one of the three categories more naturally than the other two. Here are the physical characteristics to check for to identify which body type you are:
– Long, lanky muscles
– Struggles to gain weight, including body fat (even when eating junk food)
– Easy to lose weight
– Small bones (can put your hand around your opposite wrist)
– Looks lean in the mirror but has little to visible muscle mass
– Flat chest
– Bony shoulders
– Wide shoulders
– Narrow hips
– V-shaped upper body
– Able to gain muscle and lose fat easily
– Naturally strong
– Carrying too much body fat, especially around your middle
– Big appetite
– Hard to lose weight
– Very little muscle definition
In addition to the above, here’s a quick multi-choice test to help you determine your body type. Simply answer 1, 2, or 3 to the following:
Question One: When you try on a new pair of jeans, do they feel:
– Snug but not too tight in the butt?
– Loose in the butt?
– Tight in the butt?
Question Two: Clasp your hand around your opposite wrist. Do the middle finger and thumb:
– Barely connect?
– Not touch?
Question Three: Would you say that you have:
– A V-shaped upper body?
– A lean, beanpole torso?
– A pear-shaped frame?
Question Four: Measure your chest with a tape measure. Is it:
– 37-44 inches?
– Less than 37 inches?
– More than 44 inches?
Question Five: Would you say that your metabolism is:
– Fast but…