What is Your Body Type and Why it Matters?
A discussion of the three somatotypes, how they are defined and what that means for your fitness.
Knowing your somatotype, or body type can be very useful when it comes to fitness.
Research has shown that body type affects athletic performance, propensity to gain or lose weight and your propensity to be afflicted with certain medical conditions.
Somatotypes are widely studied in scientific literature. Studies with regards to somatotype and athleticism, performance in specific sports, mental health, disease propensity and even leadership ability have been performed.
Although not all items studied had a link to body type, some factors do indeed link to body type. Sports performance was one subject of study that is affected somewhat by body type and this article will discuss that link.
There are several different methods to determine somatotype and some are more complicated and accurate than others.
There are the Parnell’s, Sheldon’s and Heath’s method. Newer Methods include the Trunk index method and the photoscopic method.
The most dominant and prevailing method today is the Heath- Carter method. They all involve different measurements and some use photos as well.
There are three somatotypes: Endomorph, Mesomorph and Ectomorph.
The methods used to determine type rate a person using their measurements and grade the person on a scale of 1 through 7 for each type.
Combining these three numbers and plotting these on a Somatograph using X and Y coordinates will give you a visual representation of where you fall on the graph.
The measurements taken are:
- Body weight
- Biepicondylar width of humerus of elbow joint
- Biepicondylar width of femur or knee joint
- Arm/Bicep circumference
- Calf circumference.
Skin fold Measurements using a caliper
- Subscapular skin fold
- Supraspinal skin fold
- Triceps skin fold
- Calf skin fold
- Wrist Circumference
- Photo measurements
If a highly accurate calculation is necessary the details of each method can be found and followed by searching the web.
If you do not have skin calipers or a way to measure bone width, or simply want to get a general idea of where you fall, you are probably searching for a simpler solution.
To get a rough idea of your body type visually take a look at the chart below and read the definition of each type.
- Long and lean, hard to gain weight.
- Slim, smaller bone structure, tends to be more fragile.
- Short Torso, sometimes but not always tall.
- Narrow shoulders, flat chest.
- Narrow through the hips
- Gets full easily, can eat anything without gaining weight.
- Fast Metabolism
- Linear physique
- Propensity to gain fat. Gains weight in the abdomens.
- Larger number of fat cells, tends to be more round.
- Larger face, relatively short limbs.
- Stronger heavier bones.
- Shorter stature or ‘stocky.
- Gains both muscle and fat easily and tends towards a soft body.
- Harder to show defined muscles
- Tends to Tire Easily
- Rounder physique
- Propensity to gain muscle
- Larger upper torso, broad shoulders
- Strong skeleton and bones
- Not tall nor short
- Rectangle shape body
- Gains fat more readily than ectomorph
- Normal metabolism
- Muscular Physique
Most people fall somewhere between two of the definitions and some fall right in the center.
Consider your eating habits, ask yourself how easy it is for you to lose or gain weight, compare your shoulder width to your hip width. These will give you clues to your body type
William Sheldon who began the study of body types and gave the three types their names believe that your body type is a fixed trait that you can not change. Others who studied body type later Disagree.
The creator of the Heath-Carter method for determining body type believes that your type is malleable and can change based on your physical activity and diet.
The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle. Since this is a measure of your body based on all three endomorphic, ectomorphic and mesomorphic scales you are some combination of the three.
Generally, your measurements will favor one profile, however. You can not change your bone structure or height without drastic means, but many people have changed the fat and muscle ratios of their body and exercise or lack of is known to affect metabolism.
What Does Your Body Type Mean Fitness-wise?
Your fitness routine can be tailored to suit your body type and move you towards your desired body type. You may also excel at specific sports based on body type.
The most successful athletes tend to have physique most suitable to their sport.
If your body type tends to be endomorphic you will probably be focused on keeping fat off. Endomorphs possess the greatest risk of becoming obese.
To move away from the endomorph profile you must reduce body fat. High body fat and skin fold measurements are what move a person toward the endomorph spectrum on the somatography chart.
If you rate high on endomorph you will want to gain muscle, lose fat, or both in order to move closer to a healthier mesomorph or ectomorph profile.
The ectomorph will want to use both strength training and cardio in their routine. Lifting weights will give the endomorph the muscle definition they lack.
An endomorph does not need to use the heaviest weight they can lift, but it should be heavy enough to challenge the muscle and light enough so they can make it to the 15 plus rep range.
Completing more reps will burn calories and the high number of reps fatigues the muscle enough to trigger muscle building.
An endomorph should include cardio in their routine, not as the only exercise but as a significant portion of their workout. Cardio focuses on burning calories. A HIIT workout of CrossFit workout is great for those who lean towards endomorph.
Scoring high on endomorph is not generally an athletic advantage, although extra bulk may help rugby or football players during a tackle.
Those with the mesomorph profile are athletically blessed. The focus here should be on maintaining muscle mass and preventing fat gain. A small amount of cardio will be beneficial as a preventative measure against fat gain and a solid weight lifting regimen will maintain or enhance muscle definition and size.
Eat moderate carbohydrates and only eat to satiation and maintaining your weight should not be too much of a challenge.
Remember it is easier for a mesomorph to gain fat than an ectomorph and once the training stops the risk of gaining fat goes up.
Don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security and don’t completely forsake calorie-burning workouts in favor of muscle-building ones.
Activities and sports that require a lot of strength tend to be performed best by Mesomorphs. Mesomorphs excel at bodybuilding, weight lifting, the shot putt and much more.
The Mesomorph is strong and athletic and has the advantage for a wide range of sports.
The ectomorph will need to manage their weight to maintain muscle and prevent loss. Building and bulking supplements like protein powders can be used to bump up the diet.
The ectomorph looking to gain muscle needs to eat a lot of high-quality calories to make the muscle. Eat calorie-dense foods and be sure to include sufficient carbs.
If you are an ectomorph and your goal is to prevent loss of muscle and fat you should avoid exercises that only burn calories but do little to build muscle.
This means cardio workouts should be minimized. If you are a runner or are involved in a sport where being slender is ideal this does not apply.
If you are looking to gain muscle you want to focus your routine on strength training and lifting with heavyweights. CrossFit with heavier weights and time spent in the weight room are good options.
Sports that require running, especially distance running tend to work out well for ectomorphs. Ectomorphs make great marathon runners, horse jockeys and cyclists.
Volleyball players who did best were more often tall ectomorphs. Tall ectomorphs also make good tennis players and power of center forward in basketball.
Remember, if you are dissatisfied with your physique there are always measures you can take to change the balance of the fat to muscle ratio in your body. And if your body type does not fit the stereotype for a specific sport do not lose heart.
Bruce Lee, a fighter who appeared slim and had a short stature could knock an opponent against the wall with his ‘one-inch punch’. And in the words of this awesome fighter: