Know your body type (somatotype)
June 7, 2017 by
John Quinn - Product Owner - mPort
There’s no body like you. Before you start your training and nutrition regimen, it’s a good idea to know your body type so you can get results faster.
Understanding your individual bone structure, fat and muscle distribution, will help you better tailor your diet and exercise plan. If you know your body type you can set realistic, attainable goals that pave the way to your success. You’ll also be able to look your best by dressing for your body type.
The 3 basic body types (somatotypes)
People are born with an inherited body type based on their skeletal frame and body composition. Most people are unique combinations of the three body types: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. Nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and even doctors use this classification system to help design effective, individualized fitness plans. Most people have combinations of traits from each body type.
Physical traits of the Ectomorph
- Hard to gain muscle (known as a “hardgainer”)
- Slender frame
- Narrow shoulders and hips
- Narrow chest and abdomen
- Small bone structure
- Very fast metabolism
Read more about the ectomorph body type here (including exercise and nutrition tips).
Physical traits of the Mesomorph
- Medium build, rectangular/wedge body shape
- Wide broad shoulders
- Fairly lean with a hard body
- Can gain muscle easily
- Are usually strong
- Muscled arms and legs
Read more about the mesomorph body type here (including exercise and nutrition tips).
Physical traits of the Endomorph
- Usually short in height or stature
- Difficult to lose body fat
- Bulky physique, round body
- Can gain both fat and muscle easily
- Wide shoulders and hips
Read more about the endomorph body type here (including exercise and nutrition tips).
Some background: Dr Sheldon and the Heath-Carter method
William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD, introduced the concept of body types, or somatotypes, in the 1940s. He proposed that people are born with an inherited body type based on skeletal frame and body composition. Sheldon theorised that you could predict human temperament by visually assessing someone’s body type. This has has since been rubbished by the scientific community, but his initial research was developed further by his assistant, Barbara Heath (and later Lindsay Carter), to create a more formulaic approach that has academic merit today. This measurement system became known as the Heath-Carter method and one of its applications is to track the development of college athletes.
Dr Sheldon evaluated the degree a body type was present on a 1 to 7 scale where 1 is the minimum and 7 is the maximum. An individual is scored by each body type to give 3 numbers represented as “endomorph rating – mesomorph rating – ectomorph rating”.
A rating of 7-1-1 is a pure endomorph, 1-7-1 a pure mesomorph, and 1-1-7 a pure ectomorph.
Most people have combinations of the three body types.
For example, some have an upper body that is ectomorphic and a lower body that is endomorphic, resulting in a slim upper body and a more fat-prone lower body, creating a pear shape. Sometimes the variation is not as clear-cut as having one body type for the upper body and another for the lower.
Applying body types (somatotypes) to athletics
The “perfect” bodybuilder would perhaps be a 1-7-3, while 4-7-5 might be better suited for football, and 1-4-7 a basketball player. Having scores in multiple body types, for instance the football player’s 4-7-5, does not mean he has all of the traits of each body type mixed together. It may mean he has the heavy thick build of the endomorph combined with superior musculature and strength of the mesomorph, with the above average height of the ectomorph.
Applying body types (somatotypes) to fashion
Understanding your body type has applications beyond the fitness world. It’s all about the illusion your body type structure creates. An ectomorph will naturally look skinnier than he or she is, an endomorph will look heavier even when ripped, and a mesomorph will look well proportioned even with a little added weight. The aim is usually to make yourself look like a mesomorph even if you’re not.
Height has little to do with body type, despite the fact that people tend to think of skinny people (ectomorphs) as tall and heavy-set people (endomorphs) as short.
2 schools of thought
The main difference between the Heath-Carter method and Sheldon’s has to do with a philosophical perspective about somatotypes. Sheldon believed the somatotype is relatively constant throughout an adult’s life. This view fit into Sheldon’s intent of determining a causal relationship between somatotype and temperament or personality. His classification system was not trying to measure fat or muscle mass but the propensity to gain fat or muscle mass. Conversely, the Heath-Carter method abandons that idea, preferring instead to describe the somatotype as a structure that can have wide variation over time.
The Heath-Carter method is preferred for tracking the development of athletes because it perceives a person’s physique as changeable.
Sheldon’s visual assessment technique is more formally recognised as the Trunk Index method today. The Trunk Index is the ratio of the upper and lower torso areas. This measurement remains very constant throughout a person’s adult life, even with weight gain or loss.
The Heath-Carter method uses various anthropometric measurements, including skinfolds: weight, height, upper arm circumference, maximal calf circumference, femur breadth, humerus breadth, triceps skinfold, subscapular skinfold, supraspinal skinfold, and medial calf skinfold.
A coarse approach to estimating your body type
Knowing whether a person has a small, medium, or large frame can indicate which of the body types is a close fit.
Small frames tend to be primarily ectomorphs.
Medium frames tend to be primarily mesomorphs.
Large frames tend to be primarily endomorphs.
Measuring the circumference of your wrist in relation to your height is a simple and straight forward way to estimate your frame size. This is a coarse approach to get to know your body type.
Female Wrist Measurements:
- If your height is less than 5’2″ (157 cms):
Small frame = wrist size less than 5.5″ (14 cms)
Medium frame = wrist size 5.5″ to 5.75″ (14 to 14.6 cms)
Large frame = wrist size over 5.75″ (14.6 cms)
- If your height is 5’2″ to 5’5″ (157 to 165 cms):
Small frame = wrist size less than 6″ (15.2 cms)
Medium frame = wrist size 6″ to 6.25″ (15.2 to 15.9 cms)
Large frame = wrist size over 6.25″ (15.9 cms)
- If your height is more than 5’5″ (165 cms):
Small frame = wrist size less than 6.25″ (15.9 cms)
Medium frame = wrist size 6.25″ to 6.5″ (15.9 to 16.5 cms)
Large frame = wrist size over 6.5″ (16.5 cms)
Male Wrist Measurements:
- If your height is less than 5’5″ (165 cms):
Small frame = wrist size less than 6.25″ (15.9 cms)
Medium frame = wrist size 6.25″ to 6.75″ (15.9 cms to 17.1 cms)
Large frame = wrist size more than 6.75″ (17.1 cms)
- If your height is more than 5’5″ (165 cms):
Small frame = wrist size 5.5″ to 6.5″ (14 to 16.5 cms)
Medium frame = wrist size 6.5″ to 7.5″ (16.5 cms to 19 cms)
Large frame = wrist size more than 7.5″ (19 cms)
Don’t have a tape measure handy? Wrap your thumb and middle finger around your wrist, just above the wrist bone.
If your fingers overlap, you have a small frame and lean towards the ectomorph body type; if they just meet, you have a medium frame and are probably a mesomorph; but if they don’t meet, you have a large frame and are more likely to be an endomorph. If you are unsure, assume you have a medium frame size.
Limitations of somatotype classifications
It’s extremely rare to find someone who is a pure version of one of the three primary somatotypes. Most individuals exhibit characteristics of two or even all three somatotypes. Dr Sheldon’s original research was heavily criticised after it attempted to label people with personality traits based upon their body type. The Heath-Carter method has academic credit and can be used to classify someone’s body type at a given point in their life, but it’s by no means a final assessment. Diet and physical activity can result in someone changing their classification over time.
It’s not all about weight
Relying on weight as a factor for assessing body type is also flawed on numerous levels. It can change throughout the day, and can be affected by medication, injuries, depression, or other health issues. Quite often a person will be underweight at the point their body has stopped growing. The early twenties can be a stressful time due to the adjustments of college. Also, it can be a time of intense social activities that distract a person from a regular eating routine. A significant number of people in their thirties and forties choose a life style of healthy dieting and regular exercise. These individuals are not going to show the usual weight increase that comes with middle age. Instead they level off at a weight you would normally see in their late twenties.
Don’t let your body type hold you back
Don’t let your body type be the deciding factor in choosing which types of activities to pursue, or decide the limitations of what you can physically achieve. Some people have to work harder than others to gain muscle or lose body fat. Empower yourself by setting realistic, attainable goals, and track your progress to see what’s working for you. Regardless of your body type, with a solid training program and nutrition plan in place, you can actually change your health status as well as your body composition.
Track your health with mPort
Get to know your body with an mPort 3D body map. It’s the easiest way to see your measurements and track your health. Find your nearest body mapping pod at mPort.com.
Read more on:
For more information on the physical traits of each body type, including exercise and nutrition tips.
The “Know Your Body Type” Series:
- MedilinePlus – A service of the US National Library of Medicine: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/17182.htm
- MySomatotype.com: http://www.mysomatotype.com/
- BodyBuilding.com: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/becker3.htm
- Sheldon, William Herbert (1954). Atlas of Men: A Guide for Somatotyping the Adult Male at All Ages. New York: Harper.
- THE 3 SOMATOTYPES University of Houston: http://www.uh.edu/fitness/comm_educators/3_somatotypesNEW.htm
- ShapeFit: http://www.shapefit.com/fitness/how-to-determine-your-body-type.html
- Heath Carter: http://www.somatotype.org/Heath-CarterManual.pdf