There are three distinctly different body types, each one requiring a slightly different approach to training and nutrition. But body type doesn’t just describe how someone responds to training or what kind of a diet provides them the best results. Body type can also tell things about your nervous system, how your body regulates hormones and what kind of metabolism you’re dealing with.
Matching your muscle building habits closer your body type can help you to be more effective in the gym, recover quicker, get more gains out of your eating plan, and possibly even reduce the chances of you getting injured. In other words, training and eating in a way that matches closest to your body type will give you a learner, stronger and more muscular body.
The three body types – do you recognise yourself?
Endomorphs often have a rounder physique and they tend to carry more body fat than the other body types. Their nervous system is often a parasympathetically dominant, meaning that (in simple terms) they tend to be more relaxed and chilled compared to their ectomorph friends. They also have a slower metabolism and can go longer without food meaning that one of the many upsides for an endomorph is that they are build for survival.
Endomorphs often make great power athletes. Just think of the track and field throwing sports or powerlifting. This means that they have a tendency to build muscle and strength relative easy.
At the same time, endomorphs often struggle with fat loss and they need to pay a great deal of attention to their eating habits when working towards a body composition goal.
Ectomorphs tend to have thinner wrists, forearms and calves, as well as a longer neck. A pure ectomorph often has the build closer to a long distance runner than a 100 meter sprinter. And this is often emphasised by ectomorphs tendency to gravitate towards aerobic sports. Ectomorphs are often highly strung, easily stressed and driven by a sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system.
The upside of being an ectomorph is that they stay lean relatively easily, especially when compared to endomorphs. The downside for a true ectomorphs is that they often struggle to put on weight, both muscle and fat. When muscle gain is the goal ectomorphs, just like endomorphs, have to be on top of their diet. Since ectomorph’s metabolism is a furnace they often struggle to eat enough food.
People with this body type often have the most build and athletic physique: thick joints and a thick muscular body with wide shoulders and narrow waist and hips. A true mesomorph can look quite built without ever stepping into the gym. Provided that they are active in other ways.
The downside is that some mesomorphs take their body for granted and follow poor training routines and eating habits. Having less than optimal diet and training habits can keep them from truly reaching their genetic potential.
At the same time, following poor eating habits can also lead to poorer overall health long-term. A mesomorph can get away with a lot in his/her late teens and early 20s, but rarely gets away with same habits in his late 30s and 40s.
The rough training guidelines for different body types
For a typical endomorph the key is to add on muscle with as little fat as possible. The fat can be a pain to get rid of if they put on too much while eating a calorie surplus for muscle gain. First and foremost, to achieve these goals the nutrition has to be on point. See more on that below.
In training, focus on big lifts, total body workouts and keep the rest periods on the shorter side. This doesn’t necessarily need to mean a ultra high intensity circuit training. But you’ll probably react well to higher volume training with a moderate to high intensity.
As you progress and get close to your ideal weight or shape you can start implementing more isolation exercises. But unless you purposefully need to build up a certain area that’s definitely not necessary. Whatever you do don’t add isolation exercises in expense of removing your big compound lifts such as squats, deadlift, rows and presses. Just like with any other body type, they are your money lifts.
With cardio, you don’t want to burn yourself out by only doing high intensity training all the time. Sure, once a week, maybe even twice a week is ok, as long as you are looking after your recovery.
Implementing some low level aerobic conditioning at a pace where you can keep a conversation going is a great way to keep active without taxing your nervous systems too hard. And if you are carrying extra weight choose conditioning that is more joint friendly than running. Swimming and cycling are just some examples of low impact cardio.
Outside of the weight room, stay active and add incidental exercise throughout your day. Go for a stroll, park the car further from the destination, take the stairs when possible.
Most ectomorphs respond better to low volume, moderate intensity training that happens around the 8-12 rep range while keeping the true worksets to 1-2 per exercise. True workset is where you get close to your max but avoid lifting to technical failure. Although avoiding technical failure is great advice for all body types it’s especially true for ectomorphs whose smaller joints and highly strung nervous systems can’t take as much banging around as other body types do.
In weight room less is more for ectomorphs. Keep your weight training sessions short (around 30-45 minutes) and avoid grinding heavy, low reps sets. Focus on full body workouts and leave plenty of recovery between sessions.
Sometimes as few as two sessions a week is plenty. Keep adjusting based on how you feel and what your results are.
If you’re an ectomorph following an intelligent training program, lifting weights 2-3 times a week and struggling to put on size, it’s often not your training that you need to change. It’s your diet.
Since ectomorph body is a calorie burning furnace keep cardio to a minimum to conserve your energy as much as possible. This is of course only true when pure muscle gain is your goal as cardio still has a ton of other long-term health benefits.
Just because you put on muscle by looking at a barbell doesn’t mean that you should get lazy and complacent. Many mesomorphs never truly reach their potential as they don’t take their training seriously.
You respond to a variety of training styles and react especially well to muscle building. But don’t get stuck on just pure bodybuilding and ignore the other aspects of your body and health. Be cyclical with your training to build a balanced physique. High intensity cardio, weight training, aerobic condition all allow you to have a healthy, lean and muscular body.
Try different training approached and see which one delivers you the physique you desire.
The diet guidelines for your body type
These are general guidelines and should only be used as a starting point. Be willing to alter your approach based on your results. You’ll also notice that as you age the nutrition has to be more and more dialled in.
A typical endomorph tends to have a slower metabolism compared to other body types. This combined with the fact that most endomorphs are often less naturally active (outside of sports) can lead to a lower calorie and carbohydrate tolerance. Ditch the sugary drinks and snacks and focus on wholefood. This is true for any body type but especially so for an endomorph who wants to keep his body fat low.
For an endomorph a good starting point is to focus on having majority of the carbohydrates around training sessions. Then mainly focusing on proteins, fats and large serves of vegetables outside of the training.
A true ectomorph will often get the looks of “carbohydrate envy” from others. Their metabolism thrives on a high carb diet as they tend to be highly active and on the move outside of training sessions as well. A good starting diet for an ectomorph involves a high carbohydrate approach, not just immediately before or after training, but throughout the day. Keeping protein moderate and fats low will support this approach.
Because ectomorphs often struggle to put on muscle it might be worth to include few extra liquid, high calorie meals in the day, along with the usual meals. For a short term it might even be beneficial to drop down few serves of vegetables each day just to fit in the extra calories from more high calorie density foods.
Yet this is not a hall pass to eat junk. An ectomorph might get away with poor quality diet (body composition wise) when younger but poor eating habits never age well. So if you decide to drop down your vegetables, do so only for the short term.
These guys tend to be naturally high in testosterone and growth hormone. When they are active this hormone profile is ideal for building an athletic and muscular body.
Mesomorphs often do well with a mixed diet with a somewhat equal macronutrient split. But only use that as the starting point since some mesomorph react and feel better with a higher carbohydrate diet, whereas some do better with a high fat approach.
The bottom line for mesomorphs is that they probably have the most flexibility when it comes to choosing a muscle building diet.
Is it always this black and white?
It’s rare (impossible even) to be 100% of one body type. Most of us are a various mix between any of the three. And just because you might be an ectomorph or endomorph doesn’t mean that you can’t build an amazing physique. It will just take more time and effort than it does for a mesomorph.
Using science based approach for nutrition and training is the best starting point, regardless of your body type. Once you get going base your actions on how your body responds and feels. Just because someone tells you that something worked for them doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for you.
I am not a mesomorph, do I even bother?
Dwayne Johnson is an endomorph. Hugh Jackman is an ectomorph.
Avoid falling into thinking that ectomorphs can’t build muscle and endomorphs will always be overweight. That kind of mindset blocks your further development and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where you accept that there is only one way for you to look.
Whether you are an ectomorph, endomorph or mesomorph don’t compare your results to other people around you. Constant comparison to other people, whether it’s famous people or just that big guy at the gym, can leave you disappointed.
You can only be you. So you might as well be the best possible version of yourself. Instead of others, compare your current self to your past-self. Are you getting better?