In my quest for success in fitness I have kept trying to hammer home the idea of “personalised fitness”- with the individual deciding what is best for them. What this achieves is it means you do not have to pay an expensive personal trainer every month and it also allows you to find out how you work and what specifically benefits you. Ever since I started training, nearly two years ago, I have developed my knowledge of not only fitness but also myself- both physically and mentally. But today we will be looking at the physical side of you and namely your body type or your somatotype.
For a bit of back story or context to this, in 1940 a man named William Sheldon published a book. This was called “The Varieties of Human Physique” and split people into three different groups based upon their body composition. These three groups are known as; endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectomorphs. These three carry a main meaning with the first being fatness, the second muscularity and the third thinness. He came to this conclusion after studying the bodies of over four thousand people at the University of Chicago and rating them from one to seven within the three groups they were a part of. However, the focus of this study was about training or diet- instead it was about trying to measure a relationship between body composition and psychological characteristics. The results of his study are as following; the fat endomorphs were seen to be kind, cuddly and happy, the muscular mesomorphs were seen to be your classic alpha male- with tough traits and the various thin ectomorphs were observed to be introverts and anxious. This does sound like stereotyping and since then much of his psychological work has gone neglected, but the physical work he did, although not the intended focus, has created a whole new area of sports science. Putting the eugenics aside it is this area of sports science that we will be looking into- what is it and how can you relate it.
I am sure that just be reading the history that chances are you have already decided what somatotype you are, but if not then let me give you a helping hand. If you have a blocky build with wide joints and generally struggle to lose weight then you most likely are an endomorph. If you find that you are have thin hips and are quite lanky in appearance then come and join the ectomorph club. But if you have found that muscular sweet spot with a large muscle belly and wide shoulders then a mesomorph is for you.
Now that you have figured out which one suits you best- it is time to ask the question… Which one is best? Well, if you look at performance in the gym then most likely the endomorphs and mesomorphs will take the winnings here. Obviously looking at the different disciplines in muscle building then strength sports will most likely be dominated by endomorphs with the aesthetic side of things belonging with the mesomorphs. But do not look down in the mouth ectomorphs- sports like long distance running, cricket and long distance cycling will be best suited to your general characteristics. To back up these claims a Russian research article published in 2015 looked at the exact same topic and found that for jumping a mesomorph was best- and came to the conclusion that the characteristics present in a mesomorph were favourable for the sport of basketball. But for your sake we will just talk about there usefulness in the gym as opposed to sport as a whole.
Focusing on the gym then- how would the knowledge of certain characteristics that may let a person play basketball to a better standard than another- as displayed in the above study, impact training or diet. The answer is, it would not. At least not majorly. Although certain limitations created by the length of limbs may affect your ability to squat, it does not mean you cannot complete the movement. As mentioned in this article here there are a number of ways you can squat safely regardless of your body composition. Looking at dieting the same fundamentals still apply to gaining weight and losing weight but with a few changes. If you are an ectomorph then consider bulking more than you cut, the inverse applies to an endomorph. Another issue with the somatotype system is that it places you in a little box and makes it seem like things will never change. They can and they will, I have met people in my own personal fitness circles who started out looking like pure ectomorphs but with a few years of training in the books now look like mesomorphs.
It seems like the answer is no- there is no such thing as body types or somatotypes but there are genetics. It seems that these are the things we should be focusing our energy on. So as the study on body types proves their must be different genes for different body structures, and there are. As promising as this looks it does not grant you any particular advantage over others- only in the types of activities listed above.
Going back to the title- can you use them to your advantage- well yes you can, but only if your perspective is right. The gene that endomorphs may have that means they struggle to lose weight, allows you to gain weight easily. So couple this gene with a continuous cut and you will find that the fat will be replaced by muscle. The inverse applies to those who fall under the ectomorph category- a continuous bulk will provide you with a steady stream of lean muscle. Mesomorphs, and their godlike genes, can just sit in maintenance and put on muscle.
So the answer is really no- body types do not exist and you can, kind of, use them to your advantage. This has been a much longer article today and well done for reaching the bottom.