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Welcome to Somatotype 101! In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about Somatotypes, including: what they are, the defining characteristics of each, and why they are important to any gym-goer and competitor.
Somatotype is a taxonomy (the science of defining and naming groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics.) system used to assess/categorize the human physique. Ironically, it was founded by a psychologist – Dr. William H. Sheldon, back in the 1940s, as a potential tool to predict human temperament, based on an individual’s inherited body type.
In discussing somatotypes, the three categories any given body can fall into are Ectomorphic, Mesomorphic, and Endomorphic. More on all that shortly.
An ectomorph is probably someone you’d generally call “genetically gifted”, from a weight perspective. They are long and lean, with little body fat or muscle. Another term for an ectomorph in the bodybuilding community is a hardgainer, because an ectomorphs body will fight him/her for any weight (including muscle!) gains. Other traits of the ectomorph include:
Ectomorphs are very well suited to endurance sports, thanks to their smaller builds. An ectomorph may also do well in the bikini or physique division, thanks to their overall lean, hard look.
A mesomorph is middle-of-the-road, in most physical aspects. They are neither underweight nor overweight, and can be classified as athletic, solid, and strong. This might be one of the most desirable somatotypes to have, from a bodybuilding perspective. Other traits of the mesomorph include:
Thanks to their middle-of-the-road physical traits, Mesomorphs are ideal athletes, able to excel in both cardio and weight training activities. A mesomorph can essentially excel in any bodybuilding division they choose to compete in, as they can get both lean and hard, or strong and muscular.
An endomorph is someone with excess body fat, who gains both muscle and fat fairly easily. They tend to be heavier, stronger, and rounder than the other two somatotypes. Other traits of the endomorph include:
Arguably the least palatable of the three somatotypes, endomorphs nevertheless excel when it comes to gaining both size and strength quickly. Being an endomorph is conducive for sports like powerlifting (where weight and size don’t matter as much), and rowing, where an endomorphs strength and lung capacity can go the distance.
It may seem as simple as looking at defining characteristics to put yourself into a category, it’s actually a bit more scientific than that. While Dr Sheldon introduced the extreme concept of somatotypes, it was Heath and Carter that refined classification by creating the formulaic approach known as the Heath-Carter Method. In this, an individual is measured for their: weight, height, upper arm circumference, maximal calf circumference, femur breadth, humerus breadth, triceps skinfold, subscapular skinfold, supraspinal skinfold, and medial calf skinfold. That person’s numbers are then plugged into specific equations, for assessment against each somatotype. The person is then rated (with a number 1 to 7) on how endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic they are, in that order. Ratings on each component of ½ to 2½ are considered low, 3 to 5 are moderate, 5½ to 7 are high, and 7½ and above are very high. For example, a strong mesomorph may have a Heath-Carter rating of 1-7-1.
Almost no one will fall neatly into a particular category, since each category has so many defining characteristics. Knowing where you fall on each somatotype spectrum can only serve as a helpful tool in custom-tailoring your nutrition and training, to suit your goals.
More than just your body type, your somatotype does everything from determining your physique to dictating your goals. Once you know where you fall on the spectrum, you can plan accordingly, to work smarter, and not harder. More on that later!