Which Body Type Are You? Part 1

Learn how body typing works, which body type are you, and how to find an exercise and eating plan for your unique shape.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #93

Which Body Type Are You? Part 1

As you can probably imagine, especially if you’ve ever spent much time in a locker room or at the beach, your body type and body shape is relatively unique. And no single fitness program, workout, exercise machine, number of sets, cardio class, diet or any other method of attaining a dream body will work ideally for every body type. That magazine workout program or generic gym routine may not be optimized for you. In fact, it might be hindering your fitness goals!

So in this two-part series, you’re going to learn how body typing works, how to figure out your body type, and how to create an exercise and eating plan for your unique body type.

The History of Body Typing

Back in 460BC, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates proposed that there are 2 basic body types, and the slightly awkward Latin phrases he used to describe them can be basically translated to a “long thin body” or a “short thick body.”

But body types weren’t quantified or described more fully until 1919, when an Italian anthropometrist named Viola took 10 measurements of the bodies of a large group of people, compared the individuals to a group average, and came up with 3 different and difficult-to-pronounce body types, which he quantified and described as:

  • Microsplanchnic – 24% of the population, small trunk and long limbs

  • Macrosplanchnic – 28% of the population, large body and short limbs

  • Normosplanchnic – 48% of the population, an intermediate group

A few years later, a German psychiatrist named Ernst Kretschmer described 3 body types as:

  • Pyknic – broad, round, and sturdy

  • Leptosome – long and thin, a linear body

  • Athletic – large and muscular thorax and shoulders

Later, in the 1940’s, American psychologist William Sheldon defined his take on the 3 basic physiques – using language with which you may be slightly more familiar:

  • Endomorphy – spherical body

  • Mesomorphy – muscular body

  • Ectomorphy – linear, spindly limbs

But Sheldon took his definitions one step further and devised a method of body typing called “somatotyping,” which was eventually turned into a mathematical model in the late 1960’s. In this model, bone length, height-to-weight ratios, fat percentage, photographic analysis, and other measurements were used to develop what is called the Heath-Carter Anthropometric Somatotype.

This model, although very complicated and a real head scratcher if you don’t have a math degree, still serves as the basis for scientifically identifying body types. But it can be extremely difficult and time consuming to try and determine your body type mathematically, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t have the hours of time necessary, the many tools of measurement, or even the mathematical prowess required to determine your body type using the method described above.

Body Type Examples

Before I let you know about an easier way to determine your body type, let’s delve into a better description of what each body type actually is, since all these “morphisms” can seem confusing.

Here is a brief description of each of the body types:

Male Body Types

Ectomorph - Male ectomorphs have skinny arms and legs, thin waists, wrists and ankles, low muscle mass and “twig” shapes. When they do gain weight due to lack of fitness, they put the weight on their stomach and waist. Ectomorphs are often described in the fitness industry as “hard-gainers,” because they have a tough time building and maintaining muscle mass. However, they usually have a great deal of physical endurance. Clint Eastwood, Ethan Hawke, Billy Bob Thornton, and Chris Rock are ectomorphs.

Ecto-Mesomorph - Male ecto-mesomorphs can easily fluctuate between being incredibly lean or very muscular. They tend to have broad shoulders, narrow waists, ankles, and wrists, and a “V” shape of the torso. Like ectomorphs, when they do gain weight, the fat tends to be on the stomach, but can also be on the buttocks. Ecto-mesomorphs can quickly build muscle and tend to be fairly athletic, but not as powerful or explosive as mesomorphs (think of a swimmer vs. a linebacker). Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Dwayne Wade are ecto-mesomorphs.

Mesomorph - Male mesomorphs are naturally muscular and have a thick, athletic build. They tend to have round, jutting chests, rectangular waists, large arms, thick thighs and calves, and a “square” shape. Male mesomorphs tend to gain weight easily, especially in the hips, buttocks, upper back, and stomach. Because of their athleticism, mesomorphs respond well to fitness routines and perform well at most physical activities, but must constantly stay active to maintain a fit physique. Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, and LL Cool J are mesomorphs.

Endomorph - Male endomorphs are round, and typically shorter (although tall examples, such as Alec Baldwin, do occur). They tend to be curvaceous males with short necks, narrow shoulders, thick waists, calves, and ankles, and an “apple” shape. Although they tend to have great cardiovascular endurance, endomorphs also have the most difficulty losing weight, and require frequent variations in volume and intensity to maintain fat loss. Seth Rogen, Danny Devito, Jonah Hill, and Jon Favreau are endomorphs.

Female Body Types

Ectomorph - Female ectomorphs are waif-like and slim, with thin necks, shoulders, hips, wrists, calves, and ankles – a “ruler” shape.  Ectomorphs usually put on weight in their stomach and upper hips, while maintaining slender arms and legs. Ectomorphs are often skilled at endurance sports, but lack the ability to develop curves without the proper exercise program. Gwyneth Paltrow, Thandie Newton, Kylie Minogue, and Cameron Diaz are ectomorphs.

Mesomorph – Female mesomorphs tend to have a classic “hourglass” shape, with wider shoulders and hips, and a distinctively narrow waist. They tend to both gain weight and lose weight proportionally in the hips and buttocks, upper back and chest, and have curvy bodies that balance out a bikini top and bottom. A slight weight gain can appear sizeable because the mesomorph’s body fat easily hides muscle. This type tends to be very athletic and good at a variety of sports and activities. Jessica Simpson, Beyonce Knowles, Scarlett Johannson, and Jessica Biel are mesomorphs.

Meso-Endomorph - Female meso-endomorphs tend to have mid-thickness waists and ankles, small to medium size shoulders and chests, and wider hips – a “pear” shape. Although out-of-shape meso-endomorphs appear to have a frail upper body with a disproportionately large lower body, they can easily create balance with a proper exercise program. Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Hurley, Kim Kardashian, and Minnie Driver are meso-endomorphs.

Endomorph - Female endomorphs are generally bigger on the top half of their bodies than on the bottom. They commonly have narrow hips and a large chest and stomach, with a curvaceous “apple” shape. Endomorphs tend to gain weight above the waist or along the buttocks. They are typically good at cardiovascular endurance, but can easily put on weight without a customized exercise and nutrition program.  Queen Latifah, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Coolidge, and Kate Winslet are examples of endomorphs.

What is Your Body Type?

Since the body types I’ve just described are all unique, it makes sense that no single fitness program can work ideally for every body type.

For example, if you’re a male mesomorph, you’re going to be pretty dissatisfied with your fat loss progress if you engage in a heavy weightlifting routine. In fact, you might bulk up even more!

On the other hand, that very same heavy weight training routine would give a female ectomorph the toned curvaceous body she hopes for.

Meanwhile, say you’re a female endomorph married to a male endomorph. You’ll notice that the long slow cardio sessions which allow your husband to rapidly shed weight are instead leaving your body frustratingly tired, swollen, and certainly no lighter.

As you can see, this body typing stuff can get pretty complex. But I’ve spent the past year trying to make it palatable, practical, and easily applicable for anyone.

The result is my new book Get Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal BodyThe book contains a simple body typing questionnaire to figure out your unique shape, and a customized fitness and nutrition program for your body. It’s also jam-packed with my top body sculpting tips and tricks and over 200 images of exercises.

Get the book now at GetFitGuy.com and work with your body, rather than against it.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.