The three male body types are the endomorph, the mesomorph, and the ectomorph. Endomorphs are stockier and chubbier, mesomorphs are broader and more muscular, and ectomorphs are thinner and leaner.
Or that’s what people say, anyway. Men do have varying heights and bone structures. But do these traits combine together to form the three male body types?
And do different body types benefit from different diets and workouts? For example, is there such a thing as an ectomorph workout or an ectomorph diet? Or do all body types benefit from the same types of exercise and diets?
- The History & Controversy of Male Body Types
- What Makes the 3 Male Body Types Distinct?
- The Endomorph Body Type
- The Mesomorph Body Type
- Exercise and Diet for the Ectomorph Body Type
- Common Questions
- Key Takeaways
The History & Controversy of Male Body Types
In the 1940s a psychologist named William Herbert Sheldon sorted men into three distinct body types. He called these male body types somatotypes:
- Endomorphs: Men with a sturdy, rounder bone structure: wider hips, stocky limbs, and a barrel-shaped ribcage.
- Mesomorphs: Men with a broader, more triangular bone structure: narrower hips and broader shoulders.
- Ectomorphs: Men with a slighter, more rectangular bone structure: longer limbs, thinner bones, and a flatter ribcage.
So far, these body types aren’t too radical. You’ve surely noticed that different people are, well, different. People come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. That’s not in dispute.
However, Sheldon went far beyond analyzing physical traits. He organized men into these three body types so that he could then make assumptions about their personality types. For example, he thought that:
- An athletic mesomorph body type made men more adventurous.
- A skinny ectomorph body type made men more intellectual.
- A stocky endomorphic body type made men more affectionate.
Not surprisingly, Sheldon was then accused of just rattling off common stereotypes. A 1989 study by Ryckman et al found that we tend to assume that fat people spend too much time eating and too little time moving, that fit people are more confident and capable, and that skinny people must be intellectuals who forget to eat.
Or perhaps Sheldon was just noticing the differing fitness levels are associated with different interests. It’s not that farfetched to think that people who get lost in deep intellectual activities may sometimes forget to eat, giving them a thin ectomorph body type. That’s not why most ectomorphs are skinny, but I can see how someone might think that.
Regardless of his reasoning, though, the psychology side of his somatotypes didn’t pan out. His theory was refuted. Nowadays, somatotypes are just used to describe someone’s physical characteristics—especially those that are genetic.
In that sense, the three body types make sense.
Certain clusters of characteristics do go together.
For example, ectomorphs will often be told to “just eat more” if they want to bulk up, but they struggle with it. Endomorphs, on the other hand, tend to be overweight. They’ll often be told to “just eat less” if they want to lose weight, but they find it incredibly difficult. If you tried to put those same body types on the same diet, they’d both hate you. The interesting thing, though, is that they’d hate you for the opposite reasons.
The next question is why? Why do these characteristics so often cluster together?
What Makes the 3 Male Body Types Distinct?
Imagine a man with a stockier torso. That roomier torso allows for a bigger stomach. That bigger stomach mean that they can eat more food before becoming full. This describes the thicker endomorph body type, and it explains why endomorphs tend to be overweight. The characteristics cluster together.
Now imagine a man with a thinner torso. That thinner torso still needs to house all the same vital organs, which leaves less room for his stomach, making it harder to eat big meals. Their thinner torso also radiates more body heat, giving him a higher metabolism. This makes him naturally leaner, meaning that he gets less insulation from body fat, which raises his metabolism even higher. This guy’s thinner build is going to mean that he has a harder time eating enough to gain weight. This cluster of characteristics describes the stereotypical ectomorph body type.
The clusters of body-type characteristics go deeper, too.
For example, as someone grows taller, you would expect our mass to scale with the cube of our height, but Adolphe Quetelet, a renowned statistician, defined our body mass index (BMI) as our weight divided by the square of our height. This reflected his observation that taller guys are often more slim than average, whereas shorter guys are often stockier. We’ve since discovered that neither the cube nor the square of our height predicts how our mass changes as we grow taller. It’s probably something in the middle (study).
This means that shorter guys tend to be stockier and with proportionally larger heads. This describes the short and stocky endomorph body type. Taller guys, on the other hand, tend to get their extra height from their lanky arms and legs, and their long torsos. This describes the long and lanky ectomorph body type.
You can see how proportions can differ here, comparing 5’6 endomorph Ed Coan with the 6’6 ectomorph Michael Jordan:
As you can imagine, both of these guys have very different strengths and weaknesses due to their opposite body types. Ed Coan’s stocky body type helped him become one of the best powerlifters in the history of powerlifting. Michael Jordan’s lankier body type helped him become one of the best basketball players of all time.
The Heath-Carter version of Sheldon’s somatotypes, which just uses someone’s physical characteristics, is now the most respected way of classifying body shape. Moreover, it’s been 70 years since Sheldon coined the terms endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph, and they’re still widely regarded as one of the key things every guy needs to know before attempting to build muscle or lose fat.
The better we understand our differences and similarities, the easier it will be for us to become strong, fit, and healthy.
Going through these categories, keep in mind that most people are a combination of a couple of different body types, if not all three. 7,1,1 refers to a pure endomorph. 1,7,1 refers to a pure mesomorph. 1,1,7 refers to a pure ectomorph.
I was especially skinny, though, so I like to think that I was a 0,0,7 ectomorph.
The Endomorph Body Type
Endomorphs are stocky, heavy guys with wider hips, shorter limbs, thicker bones and rounder body shapes.
Their shorter limbs often put them on the shorter side, but not always. It also seems like being proportionally heavier causes the body to develop thicker bones in order to support the extra weight, especially in the lower body (study). This is a possible explanation for why endomorphs have stockier, more bottom-heavy physiques.
What’s the Best Workout for an Endomorph?
Cardio is popular for a reason. It’s an effective way to burn calories, and calories are the mortal enemy of endomorphs. But being proportionally heavier can make many cardio activities rougher on endomorphs. If an endomorph goes out for a jog, there’s a lot of weight landing on their joints with every footfall. Moreover, when measuring their fitness levels (VO2 max), the endomorph’s heavier bodyweight lowers their scores, perhaps unfairly (study).
However, being sturdily built allows endomorphs to excel at strength sports, such as powerlifting. Their crocodile-like proportions make for great lifting leverages and reduce the range of motion of most lifts, such as the bench press and squat. Their thicker, denser bones are also able to safely support heavy loads.
An endomorph’s muscles respond well to lifting too. According to the research of Dr. Casey Butts, guys with thicker bones are able to build muscle far more easily than those with narrower bones, and ultimately become far more muscular.
You could argue that having naturally thicker, denser bones and larger muscles removes the need for lifting weights. After all, some of the main benefits of weight training have to do with improving bone density and muscle strength—something that endomorphs don’t tend to struggle with.
However, lifting helps with the endomorph’s calorie problem as well. Even a pound of fat burns around 2 calories per day, so with every pound lost, their metabolism slows, and their diet must become more strict. This can lead to yo-yoing in and out of leanness.
This is where weight training comes in. A pound of muscle burns approximately 6 calories per day, giving a muscular endomorph the opportunity to keep his metabolism high by building a pound of muscle for every pound of fat loss.
Moreover, endomorphs are often able to build muscle even while losing weight because of their great muscle-building genetics and higher body fat percentage. If they can do that, there’s another benefit they can take advantage of. It takes over 2,000 calories to build a pound of muscle, speeding up fat loss or giving their diet some wiggle room.
Lifting is also good for the brain and is associated with a host of other benefits. Same with cardio.
A combined lifting and cardio approach to exercise is often effective (study, study).
To be clear, weight loss is possible just through diet alone. However, dieting without doing exercise will result in quite a bit of muscle loss.
What’s the Best Diet for an Endomorph?
If they have a higher body-fat percentage, endomorphs will tend to have lower insulin sensitivity and slower metabolisms, meaning they won’t handle high-carb or high-calorie diets very well.
The endomorph’s lower insulin sensitivity might be due to their naturally higher fat mass, meaning that becoming leaner could help a great deal. Building muscle could help as well. Still, there may be a genetic component that can’t be changed via lifestyle.
A possible reason for their slower metabolisms is how efficient this body type can be. It takes less energy to move a shorter limb than a longer one, even if the shorter limb is proportionally heavier.
It seems like endomorphs have proportionally larger stomachs as well, since their stockiness comes from shorter limbs, not narrower torsos. If a 5’7 guy has the stomach size of the average 5’10 guy, this can create challenges.
To make things easier, endomorphs may want to primarily eat foods that are filling, rich in micronutrients and low in calories. Minimally processed foods that are higher in protein, fibre and water are good for that. Chicken breast is an example of a food that’s filling because it’s rich in protein and water. Broccoli is an example of a food that’s filling because it’s rich in fibre and water. Sugar is an example of a food that isn’t filling because all the fibre and water is processed out. But a fruit, with it’s sugar bundled up in plant cells alongside fibre and water, is just perfect (study).
And here lies the secret to every pop-culture diet. Cupcakes, french fries, and chips are very high in calories for how filling they are, so they’re shunned. Apples, carrots, and white fish, on the other hand, all contain a lot of micronutrients and hardly any calories at all—far better.
This allows endomorphs to feel fuller on fewer calories while still getting all the vitamins, minerals and fibre that they need.
There are also a few popular diets that are quite effective at helping people eat fewer calories. None of them are magical, but all of them are viable.
Intermittent fasting (or time-restricted feeding) is a diet where instead of limiting what you eat, you limit when you eat. Instead of eating foods that are more filling per calorie, you choose a meal schedule that leaves you feeling fuller on fewer calories.
For example, 16:8 intermittent fasting is a type of intermittent fasting where you fast for 16 hours, and then have an 8-hour feeding window. Most people do this by skipping breakfast. A pound of fat contains around 3,500 calories, so if an endomorph typically eats 500 calories for breakfast, this allows him to lose up to a pound of fat per week simply by skipping breakfast.
Because it helps people eat less, intermittent fasting tends to be bad for guys who are trying to gain weight, but great for guys who are trying to lose it. In fact, a systematic review of 40 studies found that people who start intermitting fasting typically lose 7–11 pounds during their first ten weeks.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is an extremely low carb diet. Our bodies normally default to using carbohydrates for fuel, but if we remove carbs from our diets, it forces our bodies to switch over to using fatty acids for fuel. This process is called ketosis.
The idea of being able to efficiently burn your body fat for energy sounds exciting. However, since the ketogenic diet involves consuming more fat as well, you’ll also be storing more body fat. The extra fat loss is cancelled out by the extra fat storage.
Where the ketogenic diet truly shines is in its ability to suppress appetite (meta-analysis). If you’re an endomorph with a naturally larger appetite and stomach, this can make it easier to get into a calorie deficit, and thus help you lose weight. Since the ketogenic diet also tends to have a higher-than-average protein intake, this can also help with muscle retention. (Although to be clear, the ketogenic diet isn’t ideal for building muscle.)
To make the most of the appetite-suppressing effects of the ketogenic diet, shy away from processed foods, eat tons of salads and veggies, consume plenty of nuts (such as almonds), and, of course, eat plenty of avocados (which seem to be the official mascot of the ketogenic diet).
Just to illustrate how many different ways to lose weight there are, let’s talk about the opposite of the ketogenic diet: a vegan diet. Just like ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting, vegan diets are associated with weight loss (study). Again, it’s not that animal products cause weight gain or that plant-based diets are superior for burning fat, it’s that restricting food groups can often suppress appetite, causing you to eat fewer calories, and thus causing weight loss. This is why so many different restrictive diets cause weight loss (study, study).
Unlike intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet, though, many people are able to successfully bulk up on a vegan diet. If you want to emphasize weight loss, then, it becomes important to choose foods that are filling, such as fibrous veggies, legumes, whole grains. It also helps to consume plenty of protein, which will help with muscle retention, and to supplement as needed to avoid nutrient deficiencies (as explained in our vegan bulking guide).
The Mesomorph Body Type
Mesomorphs are athletically built men with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and triangular body shapes, perhaps from having more testosterone shaping them as they go through puberty.
Mesomorphs are known for being naturally leaner and more muscular than the other body types, again possibly due to having naturally higher testosterone levels shaping them.
The mesomorph is also defined by being neither as stocky as an endomorph nor as slender as an ectomorph. This gives them some of the strengths and weaknesses of both body types.
However, there may be benefits to being a man of middling height and proportions. For example, a 2015 study by Li Xiaoxin found that men of average height (5’9–5’11) had better coordination than guys who were shorter or taller (study).
What’s the Best Workout for Mesomorphs?
Mesomorphs are known for having thick enough bones to support quite a lot of muscle growth, but another advantage comes from having a good balance between muscle bellies and tendons. This can make them well suited for a variety of different types of exercise. They may particularly excel at Olympic weightlifting, where having a huge shoulder-to-waist ratio was found to be a strong predictor of success (study).
However, if a mesomorph is trying to build a lean and muscular body, they’ll still want to choose a program that’s designed for muscle growth. Strength training can work decently well for building muscle, especially if you’re already starting out with a decent amount of muscle mass. Bodyweight training can also be effective, especially if you aren’t trying to bulk up your lower body. However, hypertrophy training tends to be even better.
What’s the Best Diet for Mesomorphs?
A variety of different diets can be effective, but if we had to generalize, mesomorphs respond best to a fairly balanced diet with fairly balanced macros: around 40% of calories coming from carbs, 30% from protein, 30% from fat. No need for precision there, though. So long as you consume enough protein (around 0.8 grams per pound body weight per day) then you don’t need to worry too much about macros at all.
If a mesomorph is interested in getting leaner, they’ll want to eat a fat-loss diet like an endomorph. If a mesomorph is interested in building muscle, they’ll want to eat a bulking diet like an ectomorph.
Exercise and Diet for the Ectomorph Body Type
Ectomorphs are taller and lighter with proportionally thinner bone structures and rectangular body shapes.
Most skinny guys are ectomorphs, but not all ectomorphs are skinny. Being an ectomorph has more to do with our bone structures and proportions than our muscularity. (If you’re curious about how much of an ectomorph you are, here’s how to measure your bone structure.)
It seems that as people grow taller, our limbs grow in length a little more quickly than they grow in circumference (study). This could at least partially explain why taller ectomorphs have proportionally longer and thinner bones.
For example, I’m 6’2 but have the wrist size of a 5’4 man. A less extreme ectomorph might be 6′ and have the wrist size of a 5’8 man. Or a short ectomorph might be 5’6 but have the wrist size of a 5’2 man.
Having narrower bones limits how muscular we can become, so this will often get us pegged as “hardgainers.” However, that’s a misnomer. The rate that people can build muscle is mostly determined by how far away from our genetic muscular potential we are. Since ectomorphs tend to start out thinner, that puts us further away from our genetic ceiling. As a result, when we first start training and dieting for muscle growth, we tend to build muscle more quickly (and leanly) than the other body types.
The same is true with strength. Ectomorphs will often start off with less muscle mass, and they’ll often have longer spines to stabilize. That means that we tend to start off weaker. However, since we’re able to gain muscle more quickly, we’re also able to gain strength more quickly. This acts as a sort of catch-up mechanic, and we can often catch up to the other body types within a year or two. (Here’s how strong an ectomorph can expect to be after a year of lifting weights.)
What’s the Best Workout for Ectomorphs?
Ectomorphs excel at cardio. Not because of our height—most marathon runners are actually pretty short—but because our frames are proportionally lighter. It takes little energy for a light person to travel long distances.
Our cardiovascular health is often better than average as well, given our lower body-fat percentages. Our metabolisms are usually quite high, helping us resist fat gains and ward off heart disease, and we’re often more active than the other body types, even when we aren’t trying to be, because of something called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). More colloquially, you could say that we’re often fidgety or restless, causing us to burn a startling amount of calories without even realizing.
However, while our hearts are strong, our bones and muscles are not.
While we can quite literally run a wildebeest into the ground, we may have quite a lot of trouble picking it up afterwards.
Fortunately, this can be remedied with some time under the bar, some time under the sun, and some time under the sheets. Lifting will make our muscles far bigger and our bones far denser. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid cardio. Cardio is still important for ectomorphs, and keeping ourselves fit can help us to build muscle more leanly, especially if you’re skinny-fat. However, it does mean that ectomorphs should put most of their emphasis on weight training.
That isn’t to say that weight training will be easy, though. Lifting is a type of exercise that’s often designed with stockier guys in mind, even though thin guys are the ones who benefit from it the most. (Overweight guys have the same problem with cardio, mind you. Most cardio programs are designed for us, but they’re the ones who need it the most.) Our narrower, hardgainer bone structures don’t start us off with as much muscle mass as the other body types, and our postures often crumble if we don’t take the time to strengthen the muscles that hold us in a proper position.
Some lifts will be harder because of our proportions, too. Having long limbs makes it harder to squat and bench competitively, and while the larger range of motion stimulates greater muscle growth, it can make it harder for a beginner to do the lifts safely—especially if we haven’t strengthened our postural muscles yet. This makes progression more important. It also makes loaded carries important, which are one of the best things for improving an ectomorph’s posture and strength. (A few years after we wrote this, AthleanX started recommending the same thing for skinny guys, which is kind of cool.)
But we also have other lifts, like the deadlift (especially the sumo variant), that favour our longer reach and relative lightness. There are even lifting techniques, like the hook grip, that work especially well for guys with longer and thinner fingers.
- Here’s our article about which workouts are best for the ectomorph body type
- Here’s our article about how to lift weights with ectomorph proportions
What’s the Best Diet for Ectomorphs?
Ectomorphs will often have higher metabolisms and better insulin sensitivity than the other body types, often allowing us to eat more calories and carbs. We can often benefit from getting as much as 50–60% of our daily calories from carbs.
Having a higher metabolism doesn’t just mean that we can eat more food, it also means that even while eating more food, we’re more likely to remain lean (study). Being able to eat more calories also means that we can often eat foods that are proportionally lower in micronutrients while still getting enough to be optimally healthy.
For example, consider an endomorph who burns 2,000 calories per day and needs 10 grams of vitamin X for optimal health. He needs 1 gram of vitamin X in every 200 calories that he eats. Then consider an ectomorph who burns 3,000 calories per day and needs 10 grams of vitamin X for optimal health. He only needs 1 gram of vitamin X in every 300 calories that he eats.
Because of our smaller appetites, rampaging metabolisms, higher carb tolerance, and higher calorie tolerance, we don’t need to focus as much on restricting junk food as the other body types. It helps to think about eating more good stuff, not less bad stuff. Otherwise, it’s going to be too hard eat enough to grow bigger, stronger muscles and denser, sturdier bones.
The ectomorph’s problem is that eating enough food to be strong and healthy can be incredibly hard, especially if we try to eat like an endomorph. After all, it seems like our stomachs don’t scale up proportionally along with our height.
While a lot of endomorphs have success with skipping breakfast, we often benefit from taking the opposite approach. Instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner, ectomorphs may want to eat more like a hobbit—breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, second lunch, etc. These in-betweener meals don’t need to be fancy or schedule-breaking, though. A handful of trail mix, a protein shake, or a pint of milk is perfectly fine.
On that note, while the other body types might benefit from foods that are low in calories, we tend to thrive on higher-calorie foods such as dried fruit, nuts, bananas, rice, cheese, dark chocolate, muesli, and trail mix.
We do well with liquid calories too, which aren’t as filling as solid foods, and are more quickly digested. Smoothies, milk and even juice are great when trying to bulk up leanly.
Here are some articles you might like:
- Why it’s so hard to gain weight as an ectomorph
- How to eat a good ectomorph bulking diet
- The Best Bulking Supplements for Ectomorphs
- The Best Chest Exercises for Building a Stubborn Chest
- How to Build Broader Shoulders
- How to Get Abs as a Skinny Guy
Bony to Beastly Plug: If you want a full workout routine and bulking diet for ectomorphs, this just so happens to be our specialty. Check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program.
Does Being Skinny-fat Mean That I’m Part Endomorph?
Probably not. While it’s easier for some men than others, any body type can gain fat. Endomorphs, with their shorter, thicker bones, wouldn’t be calling themselves skinny-fat, just fat. If you’re describing yourself as skinny-fat, it doesn’t sound like you have a naturally thicker, endomorph body. Sounds more like you’re an out-of-shape ectomorph.
Speaking of which, we’ve got a guide for skinny-fat guys here.
Are Some Ectomorphs Short?
In the Bony to Beastly community, we noticed that a lot of our members seemed fairly tall. One of our members started up a poll, and it turns out that the average height of a b2B member is around 6′ tall. Still, though, that’s just an average. We have ectomorphs who are 5’2 all the way up to 6’10.
For another example, most elite marathon runners are short ectomorphs, averaging 5’7 or so. It’s just that their bone thickness might be similar to men who are even shorter. They’re taller than their bone size would have you think, you could say.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (The Mountain on Game of Thrones) is an incredibly strong 6’9 endomorph. Here he is next to Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martel), who is of fairly average ectomorph height—5’11.
You can see how Björnsson, even though he’s incredibly tall, still has proportionally thicker bones, longer muscle bellies, a thicker neck, and even a proportionally bigger head. He’s like a giant Ed Coan.
Is it Possible to Increase Our Wrist Thickess?
There are no muscle bellies around your wrists, just tendons. They have no muscular growth potential. In fact, looking at your wrists is a great way to tell what body type you are because they cannot be changed with exercise—at least not in any significant way. This is why wrist circumference is often used to determine our body type.
The more interesting question is whether you can make your bones thicker by progressively lifting heavier weights. Unfortunately, assuming you’re past puberty, the main way your bones will respond to weightlifting is by growing denser, not thicker.
Some research shows that our wrist bones can grow a little bit thicker from lifting weights, but it’s a small change that isn’t likely to be noticeable.
Are Ectomorphs and Hardgainers the same Thing?
Technically, no. But in practice, usually yes. The word “hardgainer” is typically used to describe someone who has a hard time gaining weight. This describes most ectomorphs, as most of us will struggle to eat enough calories to gain weight.
The word “ectomorph,” on the other hand, usually refers to bone structure. So you could imagine a guy with thin bones who has a large appetite. He’d be an ectomorph but not a hardgainer. They’re rare, but they exist.
Calling ourselves hardgainers is a little misleading, though. Having a hard time eating enough calories to gain weight doesn’t mean that we’re bad at building muscle. In fact, we can often gain muscle more quickly than other body types.
Ectomorphs are often able to gain weight so quickly because we have an exaggerated newbie gains stage. Everyone’s results will vary, and not all weight gain is muscle, but some ectomorphs are able to gain up to forty pounds within just their first year of lifting. (You can see examples of ectomorph transformations here.)
Whichever body you happen to have been born with, all of them can be perfectly strong, healthy, and attractive. The path there is just a little different for everyone.
While trying to transform themselves, endomorphs will have to fight to become fitter while trying to curb their appetite. Ectomorphs will need to focus on getting stronger while scheming up ways to eat more, which means bulking. Mesomorphs tend to have more freedom with their diet and workouts, but they still need to exercise and eat well, just like the other body types.
Most of all, keep in mind that everyone’s body type is a bit different. These are still just generalizations. This article might give you hints about your body type, but you’ll still need personal experimentation.