In the late 1940s, William Herbert Sheldon (American constitutive psychologist; 1898 – 1877) proposed that human body types could be classified according to the primary types of tissue in the body: ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm (Somatotype 1). This theory has given rise to three dominant classifications of body type: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. In general, endomorphs are tall, thin, and have very little body fat and muscular tissue; mesomorphs are characterized by low fat-to-lean tissue ratios, broad shoulders, strong upper bodies with narrow waists, and above average muscular strength; endomorphs have very “rotund” shapes, high fat-to-lean tissue ratios, large bone structures, and wide waists.
(Refer to Fig. 1) Each of the three body types has distinct advantages. While ectomorphic individuals have the lowest genetic potential for muscle strength and/or size gain, they have the greatest potential for muscle definition (synonymous with low fat-to-lean tissue ratios; the appearance of muscular tissue through fatty tissue). Mesomorphs have high potential for muscle gain and muscle definition.
Endomorphs have the greatest potential for muscular strength, but generally the lowest potential for weight loss and, therefore, muscle definition. Once people determine which somatotype they are, they can begin to tailor a specific dietary and/or workout plan to best suit them, combining crucial elements like essential nutrition (vitamins and minerals; balanced meals consisting of a proper amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein) and well-balanced workouts.
There is considerable confusion over the difference between muscular strength and muscular endurance. Strength is primarily vested in the power of the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which exert force rapidly but for a short time only; ergo, strength can be equated with the amount lifted (Quinn 6). Endurance is controlled by slow-twitch muscle fibers, which exert force slowly but can maintain pace for quite some time; endurance equals how long a weight was lifted (5).
Muscle gain and weight loss are not always easily understood. HL Mencken once said: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” Contrary to popular belief, no-fat diets and no-carbohydrate diets actually cause more harm than help to the body. Several types of fats do not increase the risk for cardiovascular disease or obesity but are excised by low- or no-fat diets; many are crucial to the body in digestive processes; also, a mammoth study by the federal government in 2006 revealed that “those [test subjects] assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased. . .” (Lowfat 2). Low-carbohydrate diets rob the body of necessary sources of energy, and cut out two crucial food groups: fruits and grains-which may lead to nutritional disorders.
One of the worst myths that are in existence is the tale that high-protein diets alone are the best way to help muscle growth. This has led many an aspiring athlete to attempt to live off meal-replacement shakes and/or “energy” bars, frequently with negative consequences. According to Mr. Ronald Alexander, resident teacher of Advanced Placement Biology at Crest Senior High School, the most conducive diet for safe weight loss and maximum muscle gain is a mid-fat, mid-carbohydrate, high protein diet; intake of processed foods and sodas should be minimized.
Optimizing Techniques for Ectomorphic Individuals
Ectomorphs have the greatest difficulties gaining muscle mass. Confronted with these difficulties, it may be hard to make initial gains. But how does the old idiom go? “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” With proper technique, even the average ectomorph may outdo his or her genetic potential.
Ectomorphs cannot train or eat like the majority of people. . . . respond to training with heavy, low rep sets with a minimal number of total sets per workout” (Sullivan 11). This is due to the fact that a high repetition set, for example, could only qualify as a cardio workout to an ectomorph, to whom endurance as a rule comes naturally; by keeping the weight heavy and reps low, ectomorphs can increase their strength. However, cardio routines should not be neglected! They are integral in keep body fat low, and (along with the unusually high metabolic rate most are gifted with) are one of the main reasons that an ectomorph ordinarily “looks ripped” (4).
Eating several (greater than three) meals a day consisting of a healthy array of high-protein, high-carbohydrate, and mid-fat foods is the best diet for an ectomorph. The high carbohydrate intake is a necessity due to the fact that calories are burned off very quickly and the glycogen stores in the body need to be replenished often. Greasy, high-fat foods should be avoided due to the fact that even though ectomorphs have a tendency to lose weight, they have the same risk for cardiovascular disease as mesomorphs and endomorphs.
For an ectomorph, a source of high-quality carbohydrates and protein is a must. Most protein supplements-protein shakes, bars, et cetera-are widely available, and endorsed by the USDA. . . “Whey proteins score a 1.14 on the ‘Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score’, but the reported score is 1.00-the max value allowed by the USDA” (Sisco 6).
Creatine supplements are touted for their abilities at prolonging fast-twitch muscle performance (extending the pre-exhaustion time greatly), as well as helping the muscles recover faster from an exercise.
Nitric oxide boosters are fairly new to the scene but have promising characteristics: they are vasodilators-expanding “the internal diameter of blood vessels, which in turn leads to increased blood flow, oxygen transport, delivery of nutrients to skeletal muscles and a reduction in blood pressure” (Ku-Lea 1).
Optimizing Techniques for Mesomorphic Individuals
While only about two percent of people are true mesomorphs, there are many people who exhibit mesomorphic characteristics. Although not having the same leanness of ectomorphs, mesomorphs generally are far thinner than endomorphs and sometimes even stronger than their obese counterparts.
[Male] mesomorphs should strive to work with moderate to heavy loads with low repetitions in order to capitalize on their already abundant genetic potential. Also, “many experts recommend a combination of high-intensity cardio workouts. . .” (BodyMatters 12). This is to help maintain the fairly lean body that most mesomorphs possess.
Most male mesomorphs have distinct traits, such as a tapered V-shaped back and broad shoulders. Bent-over rows and pull-ups will increase the V, while pushups and shoulder presses will make sure that the shoulders always stand out.
Many female mesomorphs have an hourglass figure; of course, a wide range of cardiovascular workouts and endurance-based weight exercises (focused on high reps, not high weight) will ensure that this feature is prevalent.
A high-protein diet is a must for mesomorphs. Foods such as fish (salmon, tuna, et cetera), low-fat dairy products (skim or one-percent milk), and lean poultry (skinless chicken breast, et cetera) are good sources of protein that may not contain high amounts of fats or sodium. It also beneficial to exceed the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, though this should not be taken to mean that one can go “carbohydrate crazy”. The focus should be on high-fiber foods, not sugary ones; i.e., whole wheat bread is customarily always a better choice than white bread.
As with ectomorphs, protein supplements are a must, though the buyer should check to make sure it is a low-carbohydrate option (there is a difference between “protein” and “candy”). Creatine-enhanced products may help; however, many creatine “drinks” have been found to contain caffeine, which reduces the effect of creatine in the muscles. Make sure to steer clear of any caffeinated beverages starting a few hours before a workout. Also, a good multivitamin should be ingested daily. The usage of other products is up to the discretion of the consumer.
Optimizing Techniques for Endomorphic Individuals
As mentioned before, endomorphs have a large amount of body fat, which in time overshadows the immense strength that endomorphs commonly have no difficulty obtaining and maintaining. Muscle definition is found to be at bare minimums; however, most experts agree that diet alone will cause no significant increase in muscle tone (definition) and general appearance.
Cardio, cardio, CARDIO! This should be the rallying cry for endomorphs. Studies have shown that light aerobic exercise mixed with general weight-lifting (medium weights at mid- to high-level repetitions) is the best option for an endomorph; “aim for 50-60% of [the reader’s] maximum heart rate. . . . Try to do aerobic exercise in the morning, to get your metabolism ticking over for the day.” (BodyMatters 5).
High-fat, high-carbohydrates (excluding high-fiber foods), and processed foods in general should be shunned. No-fat, low-carbohydrate alternatives should be utilized to the maximum. This means skim instead of one- or two-percent milk; fruit and vegetables in place of salty chips or candy. Sodas should be cut out all together.
As with mesomorphs and endomorphs, protein equals more opportunity for muscle growth, so a high-quality whey or soy protein supplement is always a good thing. Creatine will bring no harm either. For those worried about the possibility that increasing creatine will lead to liver or kidney damage, Mark Jenkins, M.D. had this to say: “Short term (less than 2 weeks) exercise studies have not reported any adverse events associated with creatine supplementation.” In a 1992 study, an upper limit of a 20 gram daily increase in creatine (due to supplementation) was found, with “a progressively increasing percentage of supplemented creatine [ending] up in the urine” (Harris 73). As noted before, a multivitamin is advantageous.
There are several factors to be taken into account when placing one’s self into a somatotype:
1) the human body changes over time-therefore a pre-puberty ectomorphic teenager may become a mesomorph during or after the onset of puberty;
2) genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy or myopathy may make body types change as well; and
3) not everyone is suited to similar conditions-what worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger will not work for the average “man-on-the-street”.
Dynamic Social Perception
These notions, however, have seemed to “fall to the wayside” in the past few decades. While endomorphs may have outstanding muscular strength, and ectomorphs very little body fat, those possessing mesomorphic bodytypes garner the most social admiration and have high genetic potential for weight loss and muscle gain. “. . . one study found that endomorphs are likely to be perceived as slow, sloppy, and lazy. Mesomorphs, in contrast, are typically stereotyped as popular and hardworking, whereas ectomorphs are often viewed as intelligent but fearful.”(Ryckman)
This observation forms the crux of Sheldon’s arguments: over time the population has become prejudiced, inundated with “bigger is better”-after centuries of the concerns for the welfare of the “little man”, humanity has turned its roving eye to the giants, and has liked the heights it has seen.