Everyone should know their body!
Want to better know yours? Then this guide should prove helpful in you getting to know your body more intimately.
If you’re religious or something, don’t you fret! I’m not talking about knowing your body in the carnal sense, ya pervert!! This isn’t Madonna’s live performance of “Like A Virgin” on her Blonde Ambition Tour (better get that Google running)! Were you to get your mind out of the gutter long enough, you’d see that this guide is a means to learning about yourself for the purpose of making your training and nutrition more beneficial to you.
Everyone is different. Take a looksy around — some people have broad or slender shoulders, long or small torsos, wide or narrow hips, and long or stubby legs. Some are tall or short. Some carry more or less fat and/or muscle. Responsible for these and other differences in body shape and structure are environmental factors (e.g. daily activity, eating habits) and, primarily, genetics.
One method by which the varying physiques are classified is W.H. Sheldon’s system of “somatotypes,” the organization of people into three categories: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.
Identifying and understanding your body type is important because a person’s somatotype predisposes them to major hormonal and sympathetic nervous system traits, many of which have proven related to metabolic differences between people and how they turn body fat into energy or protein into muscle — meaning that an exercise regimen and diet that does wonders for your friend may not do shit for you. Total bummer!
- flat chest
- narrow shoulders
- long limbs
- long and narrow feet and hands
- small joints and bones
- very little body fat
- lean muscle mass
The ectomorphic male is the classic “hardgainer”. He’s the skinny guy who’s always yapping about how he can’t seem to put on any size no matter how much he eats (even though he’s really fooling himself and truly isn’t eating nearly as much as he thinks he is — but that’s a separate topic for a colorful rant!).
The ectomorphic female has a ruler body shape and is the prototypical “skinny bitch” that women give dirty looks to and whisper about under their breath. She’s the woman that other women hate because she can eat disturbing quantities of the most disgusting junk food…and not gain even a pound of weight, all without even doing a second of exercise!
Because the thyroid function of ectomorphs is very active, they have fast metabolisms and a higher tolerance for carbohydrates. To combat this ability to burn up calories with little effort, a diet concerned with the development of muscle mass, and its continued growth, should consist of moderate protein, low fat and high carbs. Workouts should be short and intense, with the training program geared towards compound movements using heavy weight and low reps. Activity other than weight training (cardio, running, swimming, sports) should be limited in order to reduce the amount of calories expended and preserve them for the task of muscle building.
- large chest
- broad shoulders
- narrow waist
- medium-sized joints and bones
- hard, rectangular frame
- naturally strong
- lean muscle mass
The mesomorphic male is the hunk of beefcake who kicked sand in the face of Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakling. Average Joes hate him and wish they were him because of his V-taper (i.e. wide shoulders, lats that flare out like a cobra, and slim midsection). Oh yeah, they’re also envious of the fact that he began packing muscle onto his frame the very first moment he walked through the doors of a gym — fuck actually picking up a weight!!! All he had to do was step foot inside a weight room, and ta-da!
The mesomorphic female has an apple, pear or, most usually, an hourglass figure. Like an ectomorph, she can eat whatever she wants — however, as a mesomorph, she can use those excess calories to build muscle, which comes easily to her. But because there’s always a curse associated with every gift, mesomorphs can gain fat easier than their ectomorphic counterparts. So the mesomorphic female is prone to fluctuate in weight; but good for her is that she can lose those excess pounds and get into shape with almost no work, as well as remain lean and fit with relative ease were she inclined to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Mesomorphic individuals have efficient metabolisms and tend to have high levels of testosterone and growth hormone. This allows them to be ultra-effective at utilizing protein and burning fat stores. Moreover, it enables them to respond to weight training almost effortlessly and pack on muscle. As we all know, muscle has natural thermogenic properties that help burn fat even when the body is in a state of rest, which explains the general leanness of mesomorphs. A balanced diet that’s slightly higher in carbs or protein works well for these people. Training programs can be high in volume and should incorporate both compound and isolation movements, with reps in the hypertrophy range, and — if necessary — occasional cardio should be scheduled to keep their body fat down.
- small shoulders
- thick rib cage
- wide hips
- short limbs
- medium/large-sized joints and bones
- soft, round frame
- heavy, unevenly distributed body fat storage
The endomorphic male is typified by the likes of Chris Farley, John Goodman and Danny DeVito. Or, more closely to home, he’s the kid who usually served as the class clown in grade school. You see him now in your memories, don’t ya? He’s short, has a circular face, and his belly looks like he’s in the third trimester of a twin pregnancy. And to more easily blend in with everybody and overcome his unathleticism and lack of physical appeal, he would crack jokes, maybe beatbox, and do other stupid human tricks. But despite his court jester routine, no one magically forgot that he was fat. And when someone did make fun of him because of his weight (and someone always would), he’d respond by saying without fail that he was just husky, NOT FAT!!! Remember him? Yeah, that’s the endomorphic male.
The endomorphic female has a circular body shape, with the concentration of her fat in her abdominal area, just like her male counterpart. If not, she has a pear shaped body, as in most of her weight settles in her buttocks, hips and thighs. Much like the endomorphic male who’s told that he’s fat, the endomorphic female also often says otherwise. You know her as the gal who blames her weight on her simply being “big boned” — never on her food choices or lack of exercise.
Endomorphs tend to have underactive thyroids, making their body resistant to the use of insulin, the hormone responsible for fat storage. As a result of their body producing more insulin than it can process and the hormone having no effect on how the cells use glucose (i.e. sugar) from food as energy, fats circulate in their blood more freely. These free floating fats left unused by the body for its immediate fuel needs and not stored in the proper places for later use due to the signal malfunctioning for them to do so are instead stored in and around both lean and fat compartments of the body — with the bulk of energy mostly directed towards the lower body by the abdominal organs and haunch, explaining why fat isn’t evenly distributed throughout the entire body, as it is with other body types.
Fat gain comes easy to endomorphs. Losing it is often more difficult than it is with others, but not impossible because endomorphs have the natural ability to quickly pack on muscle. With them, it just takes more determination and discipline because their bodies are more unforgiving of bad choices. So when it comes to diet, one with a high protein, high fat and low carb macronutrient profile is recommended to deal with their low carbohydrate tolerance. In the gym, they should train for hypertrophy and, in order to burn as much calories as possible, focus on compound movements and keep their rest breaks short. Besides just reducing rest periods, one method they can employ to increase intensity is super or giant sets. Aerobic activity and cardio should also be a staple of their program as a means of burning more calories and accelerating their metabolisms.
As I’ve said before and will probably say many more times: There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. No one is 100% of any given somatotype. Most individuals display a dominant body type and the characteristics of the other two to varying degrees. And whether by natural means or via chemical enhancement (e.g. anabolic steroids, super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America), that one dominant body type can be changed — at least on the surface. See, while you can change your body fat and hormone levels and the amount of muscle on your frame, thus completely remodeling your physique, you’ll remain the same somatotype due to physical structure of the body itself not being altered on account of genetics fixing that in place.
Nevertheless, the point is to remember that these physiological templates and their guidelines are nothing more than an accessory piece in your fitness toolbox. They are not the be-all and end-all of how you can achieve gym success. Why? Probably because of this wee little fact that Sheldon, a psychologist (NOT a geneticist), originally came up with the somatotypes in an attempt to base a subject’s personality on their physical appearance. Yup, somatotypes had nothing to do with physical improvement. And yup, Sheldon’s “constitutional psychology” is quackery of the finest order. How then did his theory find its way into the fitness world? Well, since when have bodybuilders ever been confused with being the brightest bulbs in the room?!
With all that said, view the somatotypes as nothing more than simple assistance if you’re starting out. From there, determine exactly if what you’re doing is adding muscle mass and keeping your body fat percentage within desirable levels. And if it isn’t, make adjustments or seek help accordingly.
Now go do stuff!