Your Shape: Understanding Body Types

You’ve probably heard countless times about the importance of setting proper goals when it comes to fitness and weight loss. But what is a proper goal?

Essentially, you want to set your sights on something that is both challenging and attainable. Trying to do something extremely difficult like losing eight pounds of fat in a week will probably only discourage you and, therefore, be counterproductive. It’s vital to understand what is attainable for you — and knowing your body type, the shape that you’re naturally inclined towards, can be an invaluable help.


The modern theory of “somatotypes” was first introduced in the 1940s by psychologist Dr. William H. Sheldon, whose model was based on the dosha principle found in ancient Hindu ayurvedic medicine. These systems classify people into one of three mind-body types, with variant mixes of those basic categories. Although the psychological component of Sheldon’s model has been largely discredited, his description of the three basic body types effectively defines why certain people can easily gain muscle or lose weight while others struggle with the same goals. This system can also help you to design an exercise and diet routine that is best suited for your body type.

Sheldon’s system was originally designed for the male body. The basic principles can still apply to a woman’s body, but more detailed systems specifically for the female form have also been developed. (For example, a woman may be mesomorphic in the way that she gains weight, but have an “A-frame shape” based on where the weight naturally collects). A combination of both Sheldon’s system and these female body shapes can help women acheive a more thorough understanding of their fitness needs.


The ectomorph is a naturally slender and lean body type. A faster metabolism will make it difficult for the ectomorph to gain weight, even in the form of muscle, prompting the nickname “hardgainers.” If you are an ectomorph, don’t be afraid to eat a fairly high-calorie diet to help you gain weight, but focus on healthy food instead of junk. At least until you reach your goal weight, keep cardio to a minimum, and concentrate on strength training with heavy weights and lots of rest between sets.


Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic build and find it easy to gain muscle. Unfortunately, they also gain fat more easily than ectomorphs. Balance is the key for this body type. Strength training can be more intense, lifting heavier weights with less rest. Moderate cardio should also be worked into your routine to help maintain your weight. Your diet should be balanced, but you can adjust your total caloric intake to help you gain or lose weight based on your needs.


Endomorphshave naturally stocky bodies, and although it’s easy for them to gain weight, most of it is generally from fat. Concentrate on losing weight with fast-paced strength training, such as circuit workouts, that will help you build muscle and speed up your metabolism. Start out slow with frequent(preferably daily) cardio and try to increase the amount of time you can keep it up gradually each week. Maintain a low caloric intake, with six small meals spread throughout the day. Totally eliminate simple sugars and junk food from your diet to improve weight loss, and eat lots of protein to encourage muscle growth. You can have complex carbs, like whole wheat, but keep it to a moderate level and limit your fat intake.

Remember, these are just the three basic body types— combinations are not only possible, they are extremely likely. Get a feel for your body type and adjust your fitness and nutrition routine accordingly. Online quizzes like this one can help you figure out where you fit on the spectrum. Even better, a personal trainer can usually help you understand your body type and design a program tailored to your needs. This personalized approach will help you to set attainable goals and get better results from all that time at the gym.

Have you been able to adapt your routine around your body type? Please tell us about it in the comments!