August 15, 2020 10 min read

Did you know your body type has a huge impact on how effective your training will be?

Given that as individuals we all respond differently to certain diets and exercise, it makes sense to evaluate what we’re working with before starting a new regime.

To put it bluntly, if you want to bulk up like the Hulk but have the willowy body constitution of Wiz Khalifa, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get the same results. By knowing your body type, you can set yourself expectations that are more realistic and avoid going down the wrong path.

Admire Chris Hemsworth’s mighty Thor stature but athletically-built like Ryan Gosling? Not impossible to achieve, but not the most optimal way of training. It’s going to take tons of work, and probably your body weight in supplements too.

As influenced as we are by the media, it’s important first of all to not compare ourselves to those we admire. Even if we have similar body types, there are other factors that influence our body’s response to training, such as hormones, age, medication, lifestyle habits, calories, muscle mass, and other areas that affect metabolism.

With this information, it is easy to see that what may work for one person may not necessarily work for you. That said, getting to know your body type even in the most basic sense will help you train more effectively. Of course, you’ll need to address other areas of your health in order to optimize your bio-individuality as best as possible.

Getting To Know Your Body Type 

So how do you know what your body type is? According to the original body type theorist, American psychologist Dr.William Sheldon who drew out the human body types into three somatotypes (body-types), we all fall into one or a combination of the following categories: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.

Each type has a specific set of physical and metabolic attributes, which can be used to identify where our strengths and talents lie in our particular body structure.

For example, ectomorphs are typically slim with high metabolisms. They can have a tough time putting on body fat and muscle, but in terms of athleticism can excel in gymnastics or endurance activities such as marathon running.

Mesomorphs tend to have symmetrical, athletic figures and generally can gain or lose muscle and body fat easily. In terms of exercise or athleticism, no activity is too out of reach.

Endomorphs are characterized by their large, broad frames and typically struggle with a slow metabolism, meaning that they generally have a higher fat percentage and a harder time with weight loss. Fit endomorphs have the potential to excel in powerful, weight-bearing activities and exercises.

Some people may find they fit into a combination of two body types, and this is normal considering lifestyle fluctuations that affect us all. In this case, you can assess where you are now and work towards the body type that feels most comfortable and natural for you.

The best way to evaluate your body type is to take a close look at yourself in the mirror and in pictures. You may want to ask your close friends and family their thoughts too, in order to get some objectivity. If you’re lucky enough to have a personal trainer or another fitness professional at hand, their opinion is likely to be the most correct.

Now that you have some idea of what your specific body type is, skip to the relevant section in this article to find out what you need to do for maximum return on your training investment.

A man working out with barbells.

Ectomorphs

Ectomorphs have the slimmest frame of the three body types. The appearance of an ectomorph is lean and narrow with a small bone structure. They can often find it challenging to gain weight with such a fast metabolism, especially muscle. Some will also want to gain fat, which can be achieved with a calorie-rich diet of healthy foods.

With this in mind, ectomorphs must be aware that gains will take time and a lot of effort. They especially need to be mindful of not overtraining, as high-intensity workouts could cause muscle catabolism (burning-off muscle) and a feeling of being drained.

For this reason, the ectomorph needs to keep their exercise program simple and not longer than one hour. This avoids overtraining and helps the body enter its recovery quickly, so that muscle can be built on minimal stress and maximum input, via a caloric surplus that includes healthy carbs.

To promote muscle hypertrophy (growth), it is important to keep workouts short and intense, meaning less sets and heavier weights. Another key to efficiency is to switch up the exercises every month or two to challenge the body further and avoid a plateau. Keeping the training consistent over time will ensure a greater likelihood of gaining muscle.

The ectomorph body type also needs to take care of technique when exercising to ensure precise movement of the joint and muscle, while also avoiding injury. The goal is to progressively increase the ectomorph’s tolerance to weight training in a way that makes it easy for the body to recover and increase workout frequency.

An example workout for an ectomorph could look like this:

  • X3 workouts a week lasting 30-45 mins: Increasing in intensity and frequency each month. Shorter workouts equal better muscle growth.
  • Divide the workouts to target different muscle groups: Mondays can be chest and upper back, Wednesdays shoulders and abs, and Saturdays legs and lower back. Since arms have less than 5% muscle of the whole body, there is no need to focus too much on this area — it is enough to work the shoulder and chest for best form.
  • Hit maximum intensity during the short workouts: Ectomorphs should only rest 30-40 seconds between sets. The aim is to fatigue the muscles and perform to failure on occasional sets, not all. Until the tolerance for weight-lifting has been built, it is easy to fall into overtraining if this is done each time.

Mesomorph

Mesomorphs are thought to be the most desirable body type due to their high metabolism and ease of maintaining the form that they desire. People that are mesomorphs tend to be naturally athletic and often seen to participate in sports and generally lead very active lifestyles. In evolutionary terms, the mesomorph body type is considered to be the most resilient due to the metabolic flexibility of being able to lose and put on muscle or fat with ease. 

This body type can handle strength and endurance training very well, giving them the advantage of trying out advanced programs. With good recovery systems, they are able to tackle high-intensity workouts and weight lifting stresses. This is because their bodies are already physically stronger and more flexible than other body types, making them ready to take on a number of demanding activities.

So, if you’re a mesomorph, there are countless ways to take advantage of such a powerful head start. In terms of exercise, the world is your oyster, depending on the parts of your physical fitness that you would like to optimize.

Here are just some ideas you can try according to your fitness goals:

  • Circuit Training: Builds strength and muscular endurance 
  • HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training): Heart-conditioning and fat-burning with compound movements
  • Weight Lifting: Encourages muscular hypertrophy (growth)

Whatever you decide to do, it is worth bearing the following things in mind for getting the most out of your workout programs:

Training to failure: While this doesn’t have to be a requirement for every training, the idea is to get your muscles as fatigued as possible.  Aiming for reps to failure is a great way of pushing yourself and ensuring your time isn’t wasted on ‘easy’ exercises that won’t do much for building muscles or resilience.

Varied weight-lifting techniques: The more you can switch things up in the gym with various weight-lifting techniques, the more your muscles will respond to your training.  As a response to the extra stress caused by techniques such as forced reps, burns, drop sets, and supersets, your muscles will become stronger and grow.

Exerting your body in different ways: To increase your fitness progression, it’s a good idea to change your workout programs periodically. Exerting your body in different ways will ensure it doesn’t adapt to certain exercises and get used to stressors that it knows. Sometimes, simply changing the speed, weight, and quantity of reps is enough to keep your body guessing. Changing your workout style and including compound exercises also helps to target different muscle groups, and promote higher muscular fiber growth.

Training to failure: While this doesn’t have to be a requirement for every training, the idea is to get your muscles as fatigued as possible.  Aiming for reps to failure is a great way of pushing yourself and ensuring your time isn’t wasted on ‘easy’ exercises that won’t do much for building muscles or resilience.

Varied weight-lifting techniques: The more you can switch things up in the gym with various weight-lifting techniques, the more your muscles will respond to your training.  As a response to the extra stress caused by techniques such as forced reps, burns, drop sets, and supersets, your muscles will become stronger and grow.

Exerting your body in different ways: To increase your fitness progression, it’s a good idea to change your workout programs periodically. Exerting your body in different ways will ensure it doesn’t adapt to certain exercises and get used to stressors that it knows. Sometimes, simply changing the speed, weight, and quantity of reps is enough to keep your body guessing. Changing your workout style also helps to target different muscle groups and fibers to promote higher muscular growth.

Endomorph

The advantages of being an endomorph are that the body has been weight-training for most of its life! Due to the fact that endomorphs put on muscle and store fat easier than other body types, they are already accustomed to carrying greater weight and have stronger bones as a result. This also means that weight training for an endomorph will also be easier than aerobic endurance training because of their underlying muscle mass.

Due to the anaerobic nature of weight lifting, the endomorph body type will find it easier to find their feet in exercises that focus on strength. The common misconception, especially for female endomorphs, is that strength training will result in greater body mass. This isn’t necessarily the case, as the energy for the body to store muscle is greater than fat, resulting in faster fat burn then aerobic, cardio training alone.

If you’re an endomorph, here are some ways you can get the best out of your training regime:

Don't Be Afraid of Heavier Weights

Starting off at a stronger standpoint than other body types, endomorphs can usually begin their weight training with heavy weights, without the risk of overstraining their muscles.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can jump in at bodybuilding level. It is still important to find the right starting weight for your individual needs and slowly work up to a level where you can train your body’s recovery systems to take on more.

Experimenting with weight training techniques such as drop sets, supersets, and reps to failure, you can increase the intensity of your workouts without having to go heavier on the weights — until you’re ready to.

Preserving Muscle is Key to Losing Fat

As explained earlier, endomorphs have the advantage of a good muscle baseline — but, this is often covered by a layer of fat that is just as easily gained, usually due to a slower metabolism. Most endomorphs want to reduce their body fat to achieve a better physique and for general health reasons.

A few ways to do this is to try HIIT or high-intensity interval training.  While this does include some form of cardio element, bursts of high-intensity activity last for about half a minute in intervals until about 20 minutes maximum. This means that fat burning is increased without the risk of muscle catabolization, which would be the case if the cardiovascular activity was long and intense.

Combining weights with HIIT is a great way of burning more calories, helping you get through the fat-burning phase a lot quicker than doing either alone. It’s important to remember that you want to maintain and grow your muscle mass so that your body effectively uses its closest stored fat reserves to do so.

For best results, implement HIIT at least 3-4 times per week inclusive of your strength training programs. It might look something like this:

  • Monday: HIIT cardio, e.g. sprints, burpees, stationary bike
  • Tuesday: Abs, chest, arms (weights), followed by 15 mins HIIT
  • Wednesday: Rest 
  • Thursday: Shoulders, back, legs (weights), followed by 20 mins HIIT
  • Friday: Lower back, arms (weights), followed by 15 mins HIIT
  • Saturday: Abs, legs, chest, followed by 20 mins HIIT
  • Sunday: Rest

Once you are out of the fat loss stage, you can start phasing reducing HIIT workouts and focus on a higher intensity weightlifting program for maintenance. 

A man working out with a tire.

Don't Do Cardio Before Lifting Weights

This is a bad idea. You’ll never want to do any kind of cardio before weights unless it’s 5 steady minutes on the treadmill as part of your warmup and stretch. The reason why cardio shouldn’t be done before is that it uses up all your glycogen stores, which you need to build muscle.  If depleted before weight training, there is a greater risk of catabolizing muscle, which you want to avoid at all costs. Not just that, but there won’t be any strength left for what needs to be done!

One great hack is to space your cardio and weight sessions separately from each other. Some people prefer to do weights in the morning, and then a long walk or jog in the evening to increase their heart rate. This allows your muscles to recoup in between and allows you to target exercise to meet different purposes. Build muscles in the morning, condition your heart, and improve circulation in the evening.

Another idea is to leave cardio straight after your weight sessions. Since your body has depleted your glycogen stores to create muscle, it will need to access its fat stores to power the last stage of your workout.

Being Aware Of Your Body Type

Understanding your body type and adjusting your training and diet accordingly, is a common-sense step to make when starting a proper fitness routine.

We all have different goals, however, sometimes they may be unrealistic for who we are. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is highly unlikely that an endomorph could train themselves into an ectomorph and vice versa.

Having different body types is an evolutionary trait. The world needs variety in order to thrive, so with this in mind, it is up to us to discover where our strengths lie.

Are you a slim ectomorph, can’t gain weight easily, and are light on your feet? Perhaps you’re built for going long distances that require endurance. Hiking, mountain climbing, cycling, marathons, and even gymnastics could be activities you may enjoy.

If you’re a mesomorph, sports are where your strengths are at: Surfing, triathlons, sprinting, athletics, you can pretty much have your pick of anything and be good at it.

Endomorphs, you know you are built for power. While you may not be able to outrun the other body types, your body has enough energy and robustness to move mountains. Take advantage of it with activities such as boxing, martial art wrestling, shot put, and powerlifting.

Of course, you may find that you enjoy activities typically suited better for other body types, which doesn’t matter at all. The point is, to be aware of yourself so that you can align better with your fitness goals and actually reach them.

Knowing your body type is just that, an awareness. What you decide to do from here on out, is entirely up to you.


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