An American psychologist, William Sheldon (1898-1979) spent a lifetime observing the human body. From his observations, he developed three major categories into which the human body fits, based upon physical body types.
These three body types are: Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph. These three major classifications are based upon skeletal structure, musculature and how the body produces and stores fatty tissue. All people fall into one category or a combination of them.
People who are Ectomorph have small, narrow frames, are slender and are classified by the bodybuilding world as “Hard Gainers.”
They are lightly muscled by nature and have trouble developing muscle tissue. Their metabolism is usually pumped up and they do not store much fat in the usual places.
Many ectomorphs appear fragile and this can be quite deceptive as physical strength often does not equate to muscle size.
Their limbs are long in proportion to their body height, giving them an appearance of being thinner than they actually are. Generally their hands, fingers, feet, toes and necks are long and slender.
Ectomorphs have well defined, often sharp, facial features and their faces tend to be narrow or triangular shaped. Their hair is generally fine, is often unruly and grows quickly.
Because of their thin skin, the lack of body fat and their body area versus muscle mass, ecotmorphs are often more affected by temperatures than their more endowed brethren; they suffer from extreme heat or cold.
Some ectomorphs have been able to gain muscle size and strength, but it is a struggle for them to make big gains without a lot of hard work and high-protein dieting. Success can be achieved though; think of Brad Pitt in “Troy.”
Those athletic looking men and women with wedge-shaped bodies (men) or hourglass figures (women) are most likely Mesomorphs. These body types have larger bones with prominent muscles. Their facial features are defined and muscular with noticeable cheek bones and heavy jaws.
Mesomorphs have thicker skin and their hair is heavy in texture. Their arms and legs are well-developed and even their hands and fingers are muscular. Most of the major bodybuilding champions are mesomorphs. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a pure mesomorph.
Good posture, muscle mass and ease of muscle gaining are common traits of mesomorphs. They also gain fat much more easily than an ectomorph.
Soft, round bodies, underdeveloped muscles and difficulty losing weight are traits of the extreme Endomorph.
They do gain muscle easily and their upper arms and thighs are more heavily muscled than their forearms or lower legs. They are often high-waisted, but their limbs are short in comparison to their overall body height.
Endomorphs often have small hands and feet in relation to their overall size. Their heads are large and faces broad. The late John Belushi (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) appears to have been a typical endomorph.
Good workout and diet programs will produce results for an endomorph, with the diet being critical to getting rid of body fat. They are best served eating five or six small (3-400 calories) meals per day to keep their metabolism in a “digesting mode.”
Combined Body Types
Very few people can be categorized so easily. While most of us fall into one of the general categories, very few people are purely in one type entirely. We often evidence traits of the other body types, and would be categorized as ecto-mesomorphs or endo-mesomorphs.
People of all body types can be successful bodybuilders, though most of us lack the dedication and devotion (let alone the money) to become a professional bodybuilder, we can all achieve a high degree of health, fitness and musculature from a good exercise program and a proper diet.
Our fitness programs must, however, be tailored to our body types and how we grow muscles and store body fat.