Today, I want to talk to you about somatotypes.
You’ve got the ectomorph (thin and tall), the mesomorph (athletic and muscular), and the endomorph (usually characterized as short and fat).
There are plenty of training programs out there to hang their hat on the idea that somatotyping can help you “train smarter to maximize your potential.”
The theory is that knowing your somatotype will tell you what your ideal training and diet program should look like.
If you look like this, then your body type is this, and here’s how you should eat and train.
Personally, I think it’s nonsense. I’ll explain why in a moment.
First, a little background.
History of Somatotypes
The terms ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph were coined in the 1940s by a guy called William Sheldon, who believed that the size and shape of a person’s body were indicators of intelligence, temperament, moral worth, and even future achievement .
Here’s a video of the man himself talking about body types, if you’d like to watch.
Sheldon went on to describe three distinct somatotypes. Here are the definitions:
Ectomorph: Characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are not predisposed to store fat nor build muscle.
Mesomorph: Characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorphs are predisposed to build muscle but not store fat.
Endomorph: Characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat, or chunky. Endomorphs are predisposed to storing fat.
Somatotypes Can Describe but Not Prescribe
While somatotyping works fine as a way of describing the way someone looks, it starts to fall apart when it comes to prescribing how they should train and eat.
That’s because somatotypes weren’t meant to help people decide what their diet and training program should look like.
Nor were they supposed to be used as a way to estimate your potential for muscle growth or fat loss.
What somatotyping was designed for and what some people are now using it for are two completely different things.
As trainer Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes points out in Digging Deeper into the Science of Somatotypes:
“Somatotyping relies upon subjective assessments of anatomy to infer subjective assessments of psychiatry. These assessments were never validated by any controlled experiments. They were purely the observations of Sheldon himself and his personal beliefs on body type for determining personality.”
The big problem with somatotypes is that they’re just a description of your body at one point in time. And your body can change.
Take the example of a guy who looks like a typical ectomorph – skinny and weak. He starts lifting weights, and over a period of time puts on 20 or 30 pounds of muscle.
So what is he now? A mesomorph? Or is he still an ectomorph? Because he sure as hell doesn’t look like one.
What’s more, you can’t always tell just by looking at someone how well their muscles will respond to training.
In one study, a group of untrained men lifted weights three times a week for 12 weeks. Muscle thickness was measured at the start of the study, and once again at the end.
When the researchers analyzed the results, they found that individuals who started out with less muscle posted the biggest gains in muscle size after 12 weeks of training.
In other words, the fact that you’re naturally skinny doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll struggle to gain muscle when you start lifting weights.
There are people with a low baseline level of muscle mass, but with the potential for rapid growth. Likewise, there are also people with a high baseline level of muscle mass who won’t see the same level of growth when they start lifting weights.
Starting out with an ectomorph body type – tall and skinny – doesn’t mean that you have less potential for growth than someone who was already muscular before they started training.
Some people build muscle very quickly when they start lifting weights, and see impressive results after only a few months. Others tend to progress a lot more slowly.
However, there’s no evidence to show that knowing your somatotype has any value when it comes to predicting who will be the fast and slow responders.
Somatotypes and Training
Chances are you’ve come across some sort of “train right for your body type” article, which explains how the three different somatotypes should train.
For example, this article advises that endomorphs should do more than 15 repetitions, and take only 30-45 seconds of rest between sets.
Mesomorphs, on the other hand, should do 8-12 repetitions, and rest for 30-60 seconds between sets. Ectomorphs should train with lower reps (5-10) and heavier weights, and take longer between sets.
But what evidence are these recommendations based on?
Where is the research to show that mesomorphs benefit to a greater extent than endomorphs by doing 12 reps per set, rather than 15 or 5? Or that ectomorphs benefit to a greater extent than mesomorphs by resting for longer between sets?
There’s a reason nobody cites any studies or evidence to support these recommendations.
And that reason is very simple:
There isn’t any.
It’s all nonsense.
Recommendations that ectomorphs should limit themselves “to three workouts a week,” that mesomorphs “respond well to low reps and power moves,” or that endomorphs should “steer clear of white bread and rice” aren’t just useless.
They’re actually worse than useless, because they distract you from the things that really matter and mislead people into thinking they’ve discovered something important.
There’s no evidence to support the idea that having one body type means that you’re better off following a specific type of training program. In fact, most of these somatotype articles are perfect examples of Barnum statements: the advice is so vague and general that it could apply to anyone.
None of this means that individual differences don’t exist, that everyone will see results at the same speed, or that training shouldn’t be tailored to the needs of the individual.
They do, they don’t and it does.
However, knowing your somatotype tells you very little about what your diet and training program should look like.
Somatotypes can’t predict how you should train and eat any more than astrology can predict your future, and it’s a subject you can happily file away in the “I don’t need to know anything about this” drawer.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
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