Your Body Type and How to Train for It
We’ve all been there.
You’re scrolling through Facebook and notice an article posted by one of the fitness groups you are following. The headline declares, “Click here to find out how to get the body you want.” Of course, there is also an accompanying photo of an amazing looking woman with ripped arms, six pack abs, and everything else you envision yourself to have while sweating it out at the gym. So you click. You read.
And you find yourself thinking, “But I DO all these things, so why don’t I look like her already?”
Well first: Because you’re not her. And second: In real life even she probably doesn’t look like her either.
The truth is, this article has it all wrong.
You don’t need workouts for the body you want.
You need workouts for the body you have.
Confused? Read on.
We All Have a Body Type
It should come as no surprise that every person has a “type” of body. Some compare us ladies to fruit (hmmm, is there another message here?) with descriptions like “pear shaped,” or “apple shaped.” Or for a lucky few, the “hourglass figure.”
Seriously though, there are actually official categories for body types. In fact, the scientific word for it is “somatotype,” which is the categorization of the human body based on physical attributes. You may have heard of the three different somatotype categories: “Ectomorph,” “endomorph,” and “mesomorph.” But do you know which one you fit in to?
It’s time to find out.
Here are descriptions of the three different somatotypes:
Ectomorph: This is someone who is very lean and many times taller than average. This person is typically underweight for their height and carries little fat or muscle. Gaining weight – fat or muscle – is usually difficult. For many women, being an ectomorph means having a flatter chest. It also means many women hate you because you can eat as much pizza as you want.
Endomorph: This person is the opposite of the ectomorph, being “round” instead of lean. This body type has a tendency to accumulate fat, resulting in easy weight gain. While an endomorph has a more muscular foundation than the ectomorph, visibility of this muscle definition is often lacking. Losing weight is more difficult with this body type.
Mesomorph: If you haven’t guessed, the mesomorph falls smack dab in between the ectomorph and endomorph body types. This person often has a solid muscular base with broader shoulders and narrower waists. He or she builds muscle and burns fat relatively easily, though they are still prone to weight gain if not careful. The mesomorph is often considered an “athletic” body type – or as I like to call it, the “Daaammmnnn guuurrlll!” body type.
Think You Know Your Body Type? Think Again.
Now that you’ve reviewed the different body types, have you identified your category? I wish it were that easy. As it turns out, these groups aren’t exclusive. In fact, most of us have physical characteristics that fall into two or maybe even all three categories. Very few people fall into only one. Let me explain.
Somatotyping uses a three-digit system of classifying body type. As you can see, there are three different categories, and a person is rated on a scale from 1-7 as far as where they fall within each (one being little to no attributes fitting that category and seven being having all of that category’s attributes).
For example, check out this woman.
On a scale from one to seven, where would you rate her as far as having ectomorph attributes? I don’t know about you, but I think she pretty much has all of them, so I’ll give her a “7.” So her first digit is a 7.
Now comparing her to the endomorph category, how would you rate her for having endomorph characteristics? I’m pretty sure this woman’s body fat is very low and she’s nowhere near “round,” so we’ll give her the lowest number of “1” for her second digit.
Remember, I mentioned that somatotypes are identified using three digits, so we have to place a numeric value on her mesomorph characteristics as well. In her case, I think she again rates pretty low in this category, so we’ll give her a “1.”
This means her somatotype would be “711.” She is heavily leaning towards being an ectomorph (as demonstrated by the number seven) while not really showing characteristics of an endo or mesomorph (demonstrated by the ones in this three digit system).
Now, this model is an extreme example and most people have a better balance of numbers. For example, “444” would indicate that a person is an equal combination of all three body types.
The point is, most people are a blend of different body types. However, it’s likely you find that there is one category you fit in better than the others. And that’s where workouts come in.
Knowing Your Body Type: Why it Matters
As it turns out, identifying your body type can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of your diet and exercise plans. If an ectomorph and endomorph ate the same amount of food and performed the same workouts, they would have two extremely different results. That’s because each body type responds to diet and exercise differently.
Knowing what body type you identify most closely with can help establish the strategies that will benefit you most. Let’s take a look.
Ectomorph: While some of us might consider the ectomorph lucky thanks to her speedy metabolism, the flipside is that she will likely struggle the most with changing her body composition. However, with perseverance and patience, it can be done. Here’s some tips for the ectomorphs among us:
- Because ectomorphs lack muscle mass, they often don’t have a lot of strength and can be prone to injury. So stay away from heavy lifting. Yes, “lift heavy” is a bodybuilding staple, but it doesn’t do any good if you don’t have much of a muscle base to begin with. Focus on developing that foundation first using lighter weights and good form.
- Because ectomorphs have faster metabolisms, they use energy quickly. So keep workouts short to maximize performance. Stick with workouts that are no longer than 30-45 minutes.
- When strength training, use a short, simple routine with compound movements. Compound movements are any exercise that uses multiple muscle groups: Bench press, for example, uses not only the muscles of the chest, but also the shoulder, trapezius, and triceps. Doing compound movements will keep workouts short while still hitting all the essential muscle groups.
- If you are hoping to build muscle or gain weight, you must EAT…a lot! Gains of any kind are the result of one simple strategy: A calorie surplus. Eat a lot and eat often. Aren’t a big eater? Ectomorphs are the only group who might consider drinking some of their calories (not through sodas, but rather nutrient-rich beverages like 100% juice, milk, or supplement drinks). Carbohydrates should represent the largest percentage of your diet (since you are an energy expending powerhouse), with lean proteins close behind. However, healthy fats are also essential, especially since they are more calorie-dense than carbs or protein combined.
- Finally, if you are looking to gain, do NOT do cardio as it will likely eliminate any calorie surplus you may have achieved. Concentrate on strength training as your exercise of choice.
Endomorph: Because the endomorph’s shape is exactly opposite of that of the ectomorph, so is its diet and workout strategies. Indeed, if you look like David Spade and your friend looks like Chris Farley, you definitely would not want to buy a pre-established workout plan together. Rather, an endomorph might want to consider the following:
- While easily gaining fat is a common characteristic of the endomorph, so is gaining muscle. In fact, many endomorphs probably already have a solid muscle base. Because of this, an endomorph can (and should) lift heavy. Of course for beginning lifters it is essential to concentrate on form over weight, but the endomorph’s strength is likely to progress quickly.
- Regardless of body type, if building muscle is your goal you have to be in a calorie surplus (no, there is no such thing as “turning fat to muscle”). Endomorphs have to be careful with this since their body type has a tendency to store fat more than others. They will likely have to cycle “bulk” and “cut” phases to ensure that fat accumulation is limited while maintaining muscle gains.
- Endomorphs benefit more from anaerobic exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when attempting to lean out. This emphasizes fat burning without compromising muscle. Plus, since endomorphs have a heavier body weight, endurance activities aren’t optimal relating to performance.
- Lower carb and sugar intake is suggested for the endomorph since this body type often stores glucose as fat. Depending on an endomorph’s body weight, insulin resistance may also be a risk factor. Incorporate lots of lean proteins and healthy fats, and rely on complex carbs over simple sugars like pasta and bread.
- If losing weight is your primary goal, endomorphs’ will want to concentrate on maintaining a small calorie deficit while focusing on weight training and high-intensity exercise for fat burning.
Mesomorph: Since this body type falls in between the first two, common sense would conclude that its diet and workout strategies should be a combination of them both. And in this case, common sense is correct.
- Because a mesomorph’s athletic physique gives her a jump start compared to everyone else, she has more freedom when choosing a workout plan. If the goal is to build muscle, then using the traditional “lift heavy” strategy is ideal. However, the mesomorph can safely incorporate more advanced exercises like drop sets or supersets to stimulate muscle growth or keep it interesting.
- If the goal is to lose fat, then HIIT, steady state cardio, or a combination of both can be effective for the mesomorph.
- A mesomorph’s diet is simply about balance between carbs/protein/fat. A basic macro breakdown percentage of 40/30/30 or even 35/35/30 is sufficient for the mesomorph looking to maintain her current physique.
- Despite seeming as the ideal body type, mesomorphs aren’t infallible to weight gain (or muscle loss), so, like all of the body types, being aware of your calorie maintenance level goes a long way in being able to maintain or manipulate body composition. Mesomorphs simply have the perk of having a few more options when it comes to effective diet and exercise strategies.
Can You Change Your Body Type?
The answer to this is yes and no. The process of somatotyping is based on how an individual looks at the present moment. The Ricky Lake of yesteryear would likely be considered an endomorph while the Ricky Lake of today is probably more of a mesomorph.
So as it relates to somatotyping: Technically, yes! You can change your body type.
That being said, starting as one body type and becoming another has more to do with changing body composition versus changing what an individual’s body naturally has a tendency to do. My guess is that Ricky Lake has to work harder than most mesomorphs to maintain her body weight since historically – and likely genetically – she is an endomorph. Studies indicate that factors like genetics, childhood dietary and exercise patterns, and even maternal dietary behaviors can affect how an individual’s body distributes or loses body fat as well as how quickly it responds to diet, exercise, and other environmental factors.
So in that way: No. If you’re an ectomorph who’s always struggled with putting on weight, maintaining or putting on weight may likely always be an issue, though perhaps to a lesser degree. But knowing exactly what kind of diet and workout plan to follow can make the process so much less frustrating.
And that’s some advice that can benefit every body.
Be sure to check out my blog for even more tips relating to workouts, diet, contest prep, and more. Questions? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line! I also invite you to join the GF2 Fitness and Contest Prep Forum on Facebook. Here you can ask questions, get inspiration, and receive positive support from people just like you.