Bodybuilders are typically classified into three different body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Each body type has its own characteristics, which can affect how you respond to bodybuilding training and nutrition.
- Ectomorphs are naturally thin and have difficulty gaining muscle mass. They have a long, lean build and a fast metabolism.
- Mesomorphs have a muscular build and a naturally athletic body type. They respond well to bodybuilding training and can gain muscle mass relatively easily.
- Endomorphs are naturally heavier with a thicker build and a slower metabolism. They don’t struggle to build muscle but have a hard time losing fat.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the three bodybuilder body types and how you can maximize your results with a training and nutrition plan that is right for you.
The Origin of Body Typing
The theory of body types, or “somatotypes” as they are called in the scientific community, was developed in the 1940s by American psychologist William Sheldon. Sheldon classified the human body into three basic categories: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs.
Sheldon also believed that each somatotype was associated with a unique set of personality traits.
For example, he believed endomorphs were typically relaxed, friendly, and extroverted, while mesomorphs were more assertive, competitive, and dominant. Ectomorphs, on the other hand, were supposed to be more intelligent, introverted, and sensitive.
Sheldon’s theory of somatotypes was widely accepted in psychology and physical education for several decades. However, scientists have since criticized it for being too simplistic and lacking scientific evidence.
For example, there is no clear consensus on the link between somatotype and personality. Additionally, people can change their somatotype over time through diet and exercise.
However, the terms “ectomorph,” “mesomorph,” and “endomorph” are still commonly used today to describe different body types, and it is still a highly active field of research.
Despite its limitations, Sheldon’s theory of somatotypes can still help us understand the different ways human bodies are built.
For example, endomorphs may find gaining muscle mass and body fat relatively easy, while ectomorphs may find it more difficult. Mesomorphs, on the other hand, often have a naturally athletic build and find it easier to excel in sports that require a combination of strength, speed, and agility.
Does Your Body Type Even Matter?
There is some validity to the concept of somatotypes, but they are not a perfect measure of body composition or your bodybuilding potential.
Your body type can give you some general insights into your strengths and weaknesses as a bodybuilder.
For example, if you are an ectomorph, you may need to eat more calories and focus on compound exercises to gain muscle mass. If you are an endomorph, you may need to focus on calorie control to keep your body fat levels in check.
However, your body type does not mean success or failure in bodybuilding.
There are many successful bodybuilders of all somatotypes.
It can give you some general insights into your initial strengths and weaknesses as a bodybuilder. However, your training and diet play a much more significant role in determining your body composition and, ultimately, bodybuilding success.
That being said, let’s take a closer look at the three bodybuilder body types and their advantages and disadvantages.
Ectomorph Body Type
Ectomorphs are people who have a thin and lean body type. They find gaining weight or muscle mass difficult, even when they eat a lot of food.
Ectomorphs are the essence of what you would call “hard gainers.”
Here are some of the physical characteristics of an ectomorphic body type:
- Thin and lean body with little body fat
- Narrow shoulders and hips
- Small joints
- Long limbs
- High metabolic rate
- Difficulty gaining weight or muscle mass
Ectomorphs are often tall and have a slender frame. They may have a flat chest and little muscle definition.
Ectomorphs may also have difficulty gaining weight, even if they eat a lot of food because they have a fast metabolism and burn calories quickly.
However, that’s not true for everyone who looks like an ectomorph. Many simply don’t have an appetite that lets them put on weight if they eat how it tells them to. They might think they eat a lot because it feels like it to them, but in reality, they take in fewer calories than most other people.
Advantages of the Ectomorph Body Type
- Easier to get in shape during a cut.
- Won’t put on too much excess body fat during the off-season.
- Naturally lean physique with low body fat. You look good year-round, not just when you’re getting close to the end of a cut.
Disadvantages of the Ectomorph Body Type
Here are some of the challenges that ectomorphs may face:
- Difficulty gaining weight or muscle mass
- May feel weak or tired
- May be more susceptible to illness and injuries
- May have difficulty sleeping
Tips for Ectomorph Bodybuilders
If you are an ectomorph, there are several things you can do to gain weight or muscle mass.
For example, you can eat a calorie-rich diet high in protein, carbs, and healthy fats. You should also strength train regularly to build muscle.
Here are some basic tips for ectomorphs who want to gain weight or muscle mass:
- Eat a calorie-rich diet high in protein and healthy fats.
- Lift weights regularly to build muscle.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage stress.
Building muscle as an ectomorph can be challenging, but with the right approach to training and nutrition, you can achieve significant muscle growth.
Follow these fundamental principles when structuring your training for muscle growth as an ectomorph:
Focus on Compound Exercises
Compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. They promote muscle growth and stimulate a more significant hormonal muscle-building response.
You can’t jump into a pro bodybuilder’s workout routine as an ectomorph. You’ll likely get overtrained and burnt out.
Lift Heavy Weights
You must challenge your muscles with sufficient intensity to stimulate muscle growth.
Of all the factors that contribute to muscle growth, mechanical tension is number one. The heavier the weight, the more mechanical tension you create in your muscles.
Aim for a weight that allows you to perform 6-12 repetitions with proper form before reaching muscle failure.
Train Each Muscle Group 2-3 Times Per Week
To maximize muscle growth, you need to provide your muscles with adequate training frequency.
Aim to train each major muscle group at least twice per week, with a maximum of three times per week, to allow for sufficient recovery.
Emphasize Progressive Overload
Progressive overload involves gradually using heavier weights and increasing your reps or sets to continually challenge your muscles and promote muscle growth.
Track your progress in a workout log like StrengthLog and try to beat your last workout when you hit the gym.
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Get Sufficient Rest and Recovery
Muscle growth happens when you rest, so prioritize adequate sleep and recovery between workouts.
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and avoid training the same muscle group on consecutive days.
Consume a Calorie Surplus
Ectomorphs typically have a high metabolism, making it difficult to gain weight.
Ensure you consume more calories than you burn to provide the energy and nutrients needed for muscle growth.
Eat High-Calorie, Nutrient-Dense Foods
Ectomorphs benefit from calorie- and nutrient-dense foods instead of loading up on bodybuilding staples like brown rice and a chicken breast.
Eat foods high in calories but relatively low in volume. Doing so makes consuming the calories you need to gain weight easier.
Calorie-dense foods include nuts, seeds, avocados, granola, peanut butter, olive oil, and fatty meats.
Avoiding liquid calories on a weight-loss diet is a good idea, but they can be a significant boon if you’re struggling to put on weight. They boost your calorie intake without making you feel too full.
Good sources of liquid calories to get the calories you need to grow include milk or milk alternatives like soy and almond milk and calorie-rich smoothies.
Don’t be afraid to use supplements. Supplements can be a helpful way to reach your macronutrient goals and support muscle growth.
Convenient supplements for hard-gainers include a protein shake or mass gainers one or two times per day.
Mesomorph Body Type
Mesomorphs are people who have an athletic and muscular body type. They have a moderate frame with a relatively narrow waist and broad shoulders.
Mesomorphs have a naturally high muscle-to-fat ratio and can easily gain and lose body weight. In addition, much of the weight they gain is lean muscle mass.
Here are some of the physical characteristics of a mesomorphic body type:
- Athletic and muscular look and build
- Moderate frame with wide shoulders and a narrow waist
- Well-defined muscles
- An even distribution of body fat
- Relatively fast metabolism
- Easy to gain and lose weight
Mesomorphs are often described as having a “V-shaped” body type because their shoulders are wider than their hips. A mesomorph bodybuilder accentuates this desirable ratio even more by adding mass to their delts while keeping their waist under control.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a prime example of a mesomorphic bodybuilder.
Advantages of the Mesomorph Body Type
Here are some of the bodybuilding advantages of having a mesomorphic body type:
- Muscle gain is more effortless, and fat loss isn’t that challenging
- Naturally athletic
- Fast metabolism
- Well-defined muscles
Disadvantages of the Mesomorph Body Type
There aren’t really any disadvantages of being a mesomorph for bodybuilders.
Mesomorphs are often successful in bodybuilding and other sports requiring strength and power.
However, a mesomorph who doesn’t exercise and eats junk food all day will also look like crap. An advantageous body type category does not guarantee an athletic physique.
Being a mesomorph does not mean you get anything for free. Building a bodybuilder physique still takes hard work, and even mesomorphs need to eat a healthy diet and lift regularly to maintain their gains.
Most of the ectomorph guidelines for improving body composition apply to mesomorphs, too.
- Eat a balanced diet that is high in protein and healthy fats.
- Engage in strength training regularly to build and maintain muscle mass.
- Do cardio exercise to improve cardiovascular health and burn excess calories.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage stress.
The main difference is that a mesomorph will find it easier to gain quality muscle mass.
The mesomorph can pick any bodybuilding split, go with it, and thrive.
Endomorph Body Type
Endomorphs have a body type that is characterized by:
- Soft, round body shape with thick arms and legs
- Wide waist and hips
- Higher body fat percentage
- Slower metabolism
- Easy weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Fat deposits in the lower abdomen, hips, and thighs
Endomorphs are often described as having a “pear-shaped” or “apple-shaped” figure. Pear-shaped endomorphs have wider hips and thighs, while apple-shaped endomorphs have more weight in the midsection.
They are often described as having a large bone structure, and while accurate to some extent, being “big-boned” is something of a myth. Our skeletal weight doesn’t differ much from person to person of equal height.
Endomorphs tend to have a slower metabolism than other body types, meaning their bodies burn calories more slowly. That makes it easier for them to gain weight and more weight loss more challenging.
However, endomorphs also respond well to a bodybuilding weight training plan and can build muscle mass relatively easily.
Advantages of the Endomorph Body Type
- Strong and powerful
- Good at sports that require strength and power, such as football, powerlifting, wrestling, and other power sports.
- Ability to build muscle mass easily
Disadvantages of the Endomorph Body Type
- Slower metabolism making it more difficult to lose weight and body fat
- Higher natural body fat percentage
- Greater tendency to store fat
How to Eat and Exercise for an Endomorph Body Type
Endomorphs must be careful about their diet and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight.
Here are some tips for eating and exercising for an endomorph body type:
- Eat a healthy diet low in processed foods and high in whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Limit your intake of sugary drinks and unhealthy fats.
- Keep an eye on your caloric intake. A small to moderate surplus optimizes muscle growth, but a massive bulk is more detrimental than beneficial for an endomorph. The extra calories will likely build fat, not muscle.
- Make sure to get enough protein in your diet to support muscle growth and repair. Protein also helps prevent overeating by making you feel full. Protein sources like lean meats, fish, eggs, poultry, low-fat dairy, and plant-based options like beans and other legumes should be a mainstay in your bodybuilding diet.
- Exercise regularly, at least 3-4 times per week.
- Focus on a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise.
- Strength training will help you to build muscle, boosting your metabolism to burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.
As an endomorph, you should focus on the same things as an ectomorph and mesomorph in the gym: getting strong, practicing progressive overload, and focusing on compound movements.
Forget the old myth about endomorphs being better suited for light weights and high reps. Build muscle in the gym, and control your body fat levels with a healthy diet and some cardio workouts.
Combination of Body Types
Rarely does someone fit perfectly within the confines of a single body type category.
It’s more common to encounter combinations, such as ecto-mesomorphs or endo-mesomorphs.
These blended types incorporate characteristics from two primary categories.
Ecto-mesomorphs are a combination of the ectomorph and mesomorph somatotypes.
They tend to be lean and have a fast metabolism. At the same time, they usually have a good amount of muscle mass.
Ecto-mesomorphs can be considered the ideal body type for bodybuilding, as they can gain muscle mass relatively easily without gaining a lot of body fat. They add mostly quality lean mass during the off-season and have no trouble getting lean for a show.
Endo-mesomorphs are a combination of the endomorph and mesomorph somatotypes.
They tend to have a naturally muscular build and gain weight easily but are also prone to gaining body fat.
Endo-mesomorph bodybuilders have no issues gaining muscle mass and size, but they may need to work harder to manage their body fat percentage and get ripped during a cut.
Myths and Misconceptions About Bodybuilder Body Types
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding bodybuilder body types. Some of the most common ones include:
Myth: Ectomorphs Can’t Build Muscle
Truth: If you are an ectomorph, you may have a more challenging time building muscle than other body types, but it is definitely possible for you to reach your fitness goals and achieve a great physique.
You may need to eat more calories and train harder than other body types, but with consistency and dedication, you will pack on the muscle.
Best of all, the weight you gain will likely be quality muscle mass, meaning you won’t have to struggle to get rid of a lot of body fat from an excessive bulk.
Myth: Mesomorphs Are the Only Body Type Suited for Bodybuilding
Truth: Mesomorphs have a natural advantage for building muscle and losing fat, but any body type can be successful in bodybuilding.
If you are not genetically blessed for bodybuilding (and let’s face it: most of us are not), focus on your strengths and weaknesses and develop a training and nutrition plan that works for you. The results will come, even if you are as far from a mesomorph body type as can be.
Myth: Endomorphs Can’t Get Ripped
Truth: Endomorphs may have a harder time losing fat than other body types, but it is far from impossible for them to get shredded.
You might need to follow a stricter diet and include more cardio than other body types, but the classic “calories in vs calories out” equation is still valid regardless of body type. Control your food intake, eat fewer calories than you take in, and you’ll lose fat.
Another common misconception is that body types are fixed and unchangeable. That is not true.
While your body type may give you a natural predisposition towards building muscle or losing fat, your lifestyle choices have an even more significant impact on your body composition.
Following a healthy diet and exercise routine can change your body type over time. Or rather, you might not change your natural body type, but your bodybuilding lifestyle will have made you look like you have.
Summary and Final Words
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about bodybuilder body types!
- Ectomorphs are typically tall and thin, with a small frame and low muscle mass. They tend to have a hard time gaining weight and muscle, but they also have a hard time gaining fat.
- Mesomorphs have a more athletic build, broad chest and shoulders, and a narrow waist. They tend to gain muscle and lose fat easily.
- Endomorphs have a rounder build with shorter limbs, a higher body fat percentage, and a larger waistline. They tend to gain weight and muscle easily but have a harder time losing fat.
The concept of somatotypes has been around for many years, but it is important to note that it is not a scientifically rigorous classification system.
Bodybuilders are often told that they need to have a mesomorphic body type to be successful. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. Many of the most successful bodybuilders in the world have different body types or a mix of several.
Remember that somatotypes are based on subjective assessments of body composition rather than on objective measurements. Additionally, there is evidence that people can change their somatotype over time.
How Much Should You Care About Your Body Type As A Bodybuilder?
As a bodybuilder, it’s a good idea to care about your body type to some extent. It can help you optimize your nutrition and exercise plan for better results.
For example, if you are an ectomorph who struggles to gain weight and muscle, you may need to focus more on simply getting enough calories than someone who is an endomorph or a mesomorph. You may also benefit from focusing on compound exercises that work large muscles and avoiding excessive cardio sessions that burn calories.
However! Your body type is not a fixed category that determines your destiny. It can be a starting point that indicates what you want to focus on in your bodybuilding plan, but in the long term, your body type can be influenced by your diet and training.
If you label yourself as an ectomorph and believe you can’t gain muscle, this mindset might limit your potential. Sure, genetic factors play a role in muscle building and fat storage, but consistent training and proper nutrition will give you a muscular physique regardless of body type.
With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your bodybuilding goals, regardless of your somatotype.
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