In the 1940s, a professor at the University of Houston named William Sheldon proposed that there are three kinds of people (or more specifically, body types) in the world. Ectomorphs are lean, lanky, and have difficulty gaining weight (think: Bruce Lee and Michael Phelps). Endomorphs (Chris Pratt, Hafthor Bjornsson) naturally have lots of fat and muscle, and gain weight easily. And mesomorphs like Chris Evans are athletic and strong with the ability to build muscle and lose fat almost effortlessly.
Sheldon’s body type classifications (or as he called them, “somatotypes”) are simple, clear, and convenient, which is why they’re still batted around weight rooms 80 years later. They’re also based on pseudoscience and personal observation and broad categorisation, so they’re not exactly the most reliable method to use to determine how you’re going to approach your training.
To be fair, Sheldon didn’t intend his somatotypes to be used for fitness purposes. He was a psychologist who theorised (incorrectly) that people with certain body types tend to exhibit specific personality traits. But that has never stopped people from using Sheldon’s classifications to guide their workouts and create body-type specific exercise programs, all of which suffer from the same inherent flaw: Body type – at least in this broad, inexact manner – doesn’t predict training response.
If it did, Chris Pratt would never have been able to transform from the pudgy Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation to the chiselled Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. Ultimately, your genetics and anthropometry are larger determinants than your somatotype when it comes to assessing how easily you gain or lose weight, how much strength you can build, how ripped you can get, and how fast and far you can run, bike, swim, or row. There are also other lifestyle factors that come into play (like the resources you have at your disposal), but the good news is that no matter what your genetics are, they likely leave plenty of room to go for whatever fitness goal inspires you.
Your move: Focus your workouts on your fitness goals, not your body type. It doesn’t matter whether you resemble an ectomorph, endomorph, mesomorph, or a mishmash of all three (like most people do). As long as your training program is tailored to your fitness level, time constraints, and athletic objective in a way that challenges and motivates you, you can craft a program that helps you reach your fitness goals.
So if you’re an endomorph who wants to run a marathon, lace up and hit the road. If you’re an ectomorph that wants to pack on 20 pounds of muscle, go for it. There are some limits to what you might be able to accomplish—but you’ll learn more about yourself by actually trying than by assigning your potential to one of three broad categories of person.
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