Illustration showing the three somatotype body types: endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs.

The Male Body Types: Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph

In bodybuilding and fitness communities, people commonly use the terms endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph when talking about male body types. Endomorphs are purportedly stockier and chubbier, mesomorphs are said to be broader and more muscular, and ectomorphs are supposedly thinner and leaner.

Or that’s what people say, anyway. Men do have varying heights and bone structures, and have different propensities for being overweight or underweight, but do these traits really combine together to form three distinct body types? Is it correct to call a naturally skinny guy an ectomorph?

And even if we do use these slang terms to sort people into different body types, do the different body types benefit from different diets and workouts? For example, is there such a thing as an ectomorph workout or an ectomorph bulking diet? Or do all body types benefit from the same workouts, diets, and lifestyles?

Video Version

If you prefer watching a video to reading an article, we’ve got you covered. I go over the history of the somatotypes while debunking the common complaints you’ll hear from other YouTube hypertrophy experts, such as Jeff Nippard, Dr. Mike Israetel, and Natural Hypertrophy.

For the record, those channels are totally rad. Jeff Nippard has my favourite YouTube channel of all time, Mike Israetel puts out great content, and Natural Hypertrophy is the philosopher king of YouTube. But disagreeing with good arguments is far more interesting than disagreeing with bad ones, and there’s far more to be learned that way.

If you’d prefer to read, read on!

Are the Male Body Types Real?

As we’ve alluded to above, there’s a lot of skepticism about sorting people into the three body types. And rightly so. The terms originated in discredited research. They aren’t scientific terms.

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.
How to Tell If You're an Ectomorph, Mesomorph or Endomorph Body Type (Somatotypes)

Nothing too radical so far. You’ve surely noticed that different people are, well, different. You may struggle to gain weight while your friend struggles to lose it. Going deeper, you may have smaller wrists, shorter collarbones, or a thinner ribcage. People come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. That’s not in dispute.

But that’s not all Sheldon did. He went far beyond analyzing physical traits. He organized men into these three body types so that he could link them to 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 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. For instance, 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.

Illustration of the skinny ectomorph hardgainer body type.

Regardless of his reasoning, though, the psychological side of his somatotype research didn’t pan out. His hypothesis was refuted. Nowadays, somatotypes are just used to describe someone’s physical characteristics—especially those that are genetic. And in that sense, the three body types make sense. Certain clusters of characteristics do go together.

As a result, you’ll never hear the somatotypes mentioned in psychology research. However, you’ll often hear them mentioned in bodybuilding research. For instance, the leading hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, says that “those who are endomorphs typically do better with slightly lower calories, while those who are ectomorphic usually need a higher energy intake; as much as 25 calories per pound for extreme hardgainers.”

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer eating a feast in his attempt to bulk up, gain weight. and build muscle.

This kind of advice is fairly common, too. Ectomorphs will often be told to “just eat more” if they want to bulk up, but us so-called “hardgainers” often struggle to gain weight. Endomorphs, on the other hand, tend to be overweight. They’ll be told to “eat less, move more” if they want to lose weight, often finding that advice equally difficult to follow. 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.

Now, does this mean that endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph are scientific terms? No, but it does mean that body types are often used in bodybuilding and fitness communities as a way to talk about people with differing genetics, struggles, and goals. What’s interesting is that these traits really can cluster together. There really are “ectomorphs” with thinner bones, less muscle mass, less fat, and who are eager to bulk up but struggling to eat enough. I know this because I am one. When I read the description of an ectomorph, I felt like I finally had a word to describe myself.

The next question is why? Why do these characteristics so often cluster together?

What Defines Our Body Types?

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.

Illustration of the stomach size variation between skinny and overweight people.

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:

Comparing the Proportions of Tall Ectomorph Michael Jordan with Short Endomorph Ed Coan

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 seventy 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. After all, the better we understand our differences and similarities, the easier it will be for us to adjust our workouts, diets, and lifestyles in a way that helps us accomplish our distinct goals.

Even so, as we go through the three body types, 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 so I like to think that I was a 0,0,7 ectomorph, but any combination of numbers is possible.

The Endomorph Body Type

How to Tell If You're an Endomorph Body Type (Somatotype)

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.

The Endomorph Workout

Should Endomorphs Do Cardio?

Cardio is popular for a reason. It’s an effective way to burn calories, and calories are the mortal enemy of many 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. If the stress of running is hurting your joints, oftentimes lower-impact forms of cardio, such as biking, ellipticals, or going on long walks, can make for a better choice, at least until your joints are tough enough to handle more running.

Most health experts recommend doing around 150 minutes of cardio per week, but keep in mind that this can include casual forms of cardio, such as going on brisk walks, as well as weight training.

Should Endomorphs Do Strength Training?

Endomorphs often excel at strength sports. Having a sturdy and stocky build tends to make endomorphs quite good at strength training and 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.

Body Type Question: Ectomorph and Endomorph Lifting Proportions

Endomorphs tend to be defined by having thicker, denser bones, too, allowing them to more safely support heavy loads. Lifting weights only makes their bones even harder and tougher, furthering that genetic advantage.

Now, is heavy strength training the best way to build muscle, lose fat, or improve our general health? Not necessarily. Most strength training routines are rooted in powerlifting, emphasizing training in lower rep ranges (<6 reps per set) to make us stronger for our size. That’s a less efficient way of stimulating muscle growth, it burns fewer calories, and it doesn’t tax our cardiovascular systems as much. When training for general health, muscle size, and aesthetics, it’s often better to favour moderate rep ranges, doing hypertrophy training instead of strength training.

Should Endomorphs Do Bodybuilding?

Endomorphs seem to have an easier time building and maintaining muscle mass than other body types. According to the research of Dr. Casey Butts, guys with thicker bones are able to build muscle more easily and ultimately become more muscular than people with narrower bones. For instance, having thicker wrists tends to make it easier to build bigger arms, and having thicker ankles tends to make it easier to build bigger legs. Overall, he found that thick-boned men were able to build around 10% more muscle mass than the average man.

Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

You could argue that having naturally thicker, denser bones and larger muscles removes the need for weight training. 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. But just like everyone benefits from doing cardio, the same is true with weight training. It reduces our risk of heart disease, cancer, and dying for any reason whatsoever (studystudystudy). As a result, both the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend weight training at least twice per week.

Plus, following a rigorous weight training program causes much better improvements in body composition than doing just cardio. For instance, in this six-month study, the participants doing only cardio lost quite a lot of fat, yes, but much of their weight loss was muscle loss:

Graph showing weight loss when eating in a calorie deficit and doing cardio.

But if we look at the participants who were also weight training, we see that they were losing fat three times as fast and were gaining muscle while doing it. Most impressively of all, they got these results without even improving their diets or incorporating any lifestyle changes.

Graph showing body recomposition from cutting.

Perhaps best of all, building muscle can also help people maintain their fat loss in the longer term. A pound of fat burns around two calories per day, so with every pound of fat that we lose, our metabolisms slow, and so our diets must become more strict. This can lead to yo-yoing in and out of leanness.

If we can build muscle, though, we can offset this drop in our metabolisms. A pound of muscle burns approximately six calories per day, meaning that we can prevent our metabolism from dropping if we build a pound of muscle for every three pounds of fat that we lose. Depending on how overweight a person is, that might not be realistic, but even so, it’s usually helpful to build as much muscle as possible while losing weight.

Finally, it takes around 2,000 calories to build a pound of muscle, so for every pound of muscle we can build while losing fat, our calorie deficit is driven deeper, meaning 0.5–1 pound of extra fat loss. As a result, most studies show that people lose fat far faster if they train for muscle growth while dieting.

Endomorph Workout Recommendations

The best way for an endomorph to improve their general health, build muscle, lose fat, and improve their appearance is to do 2–3 cardio workouts per week in addition to 2–3 weight training workouts.

When choosing your form of cardio, go with your preferences. Keep in mind that low-impact cardio, such as biking and walking, can be easier on our joints. When choosing your weight training program, keep in mind that hypertrophy training (aka bodybuilding) tends to be better than strength training for improving muscle size, body composition, and general health.

The Endomorph Diet

It’s common for endomorphs to feel like they have slower metabolisms, insatiable appetites, and a lower tolerance for carbohydrates. Is that true? Maybe.

In terms of our metabolisms, there’s research showing that some people gain more fat when eating in a calorie surplus than others. For instance, in this study, the participants were overfed by a thousand calories per day for eight straight weeks and instructed not to exercise. Eight weeks later, the participants had gained anywhere between 0.79 pounds up to 9.3 pounds. This shows that there’s quite a lot of genetic variance in how our metabolisms respond to calorie surpluses.

It also seems like endomorphs have proportionally larger stomachs, meaning that they might be more inclined to eat larger meals, making it easier to get into that calorie surplus in the first place.

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. Processed sugar isn’t filling because all the fibre and water is processed out, whereas a fruit, with its sugar bundled up in plant cells alongside fibre and water, is quite satiating (study).

Illustration of how much space various foods take up in the stomach.

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, green veggies, 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.

That means that most pop-culture diets are at least somewhat effective for helping people lose weight. None of them are magical, and most of them aren’t particularly evidence-based, but many of them are viable for people who prefer them.

Intermittent Fasting

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. Mind you, you’ll still want to combine intermittent fasting with a diet that’s rich in protein and low in processed foods.

Illustration showing the benefits of intermittent fasting.

For example, 16:8 intermittent fasting is a type of intermittent fasting where you fast for sixteen hours, and then have an eight-hour feeding window. Most people do this by having just coffee or tea instead of 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.

Intermittent fasting isn’t magical. It’s not the only effective way to lose fat. It’s not even the most effective way to lose fat. But some people find that it makes dieting easier and more pleasant. 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

Ketogenic “keto” diets are extremely low-carb diets. 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, and it’s often thought to be good for losing fat.

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, leaving a largely neutral effect on overall fat loss.

But where the ketogenic diet truly shines is in its ability to suppress our appetites (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.)

Ketogaining: can keto be used for and bodybuilding and bulking?

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).

Plant-Based Diets

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 also 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 us to eat fewer calories, and thus causing weight loss. This is why so many seemingly contradictory diets all cause weight loss (studystudy).

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 plant-based muscle-building guide).

The Importance of Protein

Regardless of which diet we follow, it’s important to eat enough protein. For example, in this study, all of the participants were put on a workout program and instructed to eat in a calorie deficit. Half of them ate 0.5 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day (an average amount of protein) whereas the other half were instructed to eat a gram of protein per pound bodyweight. For a 200-pound man, that’s the difference between eating 100 grams versus 200 grams of protein per day.

Graph showing simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss when training is combined with sufficient protein intake.

A month later, the participants who were eating less protein lose quite a bit of fat but failed to gain any muscle. The group who was eating plenty of protein, though, lost 40% more fat while gaining 2.6 pounds of lean mass. Eating more protein allowed for simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain—body recomposition.

Another advantage to eating more protein is that protein tends to be quite filling, especially when it’s chewy. For instance, chicken breast and lean cuts of steak are some of the most filling foods per calorie.

Finally, protein causes us to burn more calories than the other macronutrients due to a phenomenon called the thermic effect of food (study, study).

  • If we eat 1000 calories of fat, our bodies burn off 15 calories as heat.
  • If we eat 1000 calories of carbs, our bodies burn off 75 calories as heat.
  • If we eat 1000 calories of protein, our bodies burn off 250 calories as heat.

This means that diets that are higher in protein cause us to burn more calories, lose more fat, build more muscle, and feel more full. For an endomorph that’s struggling to lose weight and improve their body composition, eating more protein can be a real help.

Endomorph Macros

What are the best macros for an endomorph who’s trying to lose weight? There’s no single best answer to that question. When trying to lose weight, the most important macronutrient is protein. As we covered above, it’s incredibly important to eat enough protein. But beyond that, our ratio of carbs and fat is much less important.

We don’t really need to worry about our macros, per se, we just need to make sure that we’re eating a gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day, we’re eating in a calorie deficit, and we’re losing weight on the scale each week. If you prefer carbs, eat more carbs. If you prefer fat, eat more fat. Both approaches can work.

When in doubt, try to eat a fairly balanced amount of both carbs and fat. Getting a minimum of around 20–30% of our calories from fats is important for nutrient absorption and hormone production, but going higher is fine. Getting as much as 50–60% of our calories from carbs can help with workout performance, muscle fullness, and muscle growth, but that’s mainly done when bulking. Another over around 1 gram of carbohydrates per pound bodyweight per day is great. So for a 200-pound man, that would be 200 grams of carbohydrates, which works out to around 800 calories from carbohydrates per day. But these are very loose recommendations. Feel free to adjust your macros to your personal preferences.

Endomorph Diet Recommendations

Most endomorphs struggle with being overweight. Exercise can help tremendously, especially when cardio and weight training are combined together, but losing weight ultimately comes down to getting into a calorie deficit.

Unfortunately, getting into a calorie deficit is easier said than done. It’s easy to say “just move more and eat less,” but that makes it sound as if it’s easy, and it’s not. That’s why there are so many diets designed to help people lose weight, ranging from intermittent fasting to keto to plant-based diets. All of those diets can work, but regardless of which diet you choose, try to:

  • Eat enough protein overall, and preferably some protein in every meal. For building muscle and losing fat, eating one gram of protein per pound of your target bodyweight per day tends to be best. For example, if you’re trying to get down to 190 pounds, you should try to eat 190 grams of protein every day. You don’t need to split that protein evenly between meals, but getting at least 20 grams in each meal can increase muscle growth and help you feel more full.
  • Get most of your calories from minimally processed whole foods. There’s no need to totally avoid sugar or treats, but it’s still wise to get around 80% of your calories from whole foods. That will keep your diet rich in nutrients and fibre, and it will make your diet more filling.

The Endomorph Lifestyle

As with all body types, it’s important to combine a clever workout routine and diet with a good lifestyle. There are a number of things that can help, ranging from avoiding stress to spending more time on your feet or outside. One of the most important things, though, is to get proper sleep.

Graph showing fat loss from improved sleep.

For instance, in this study, the researchers put all of the participants onto a weight training workout routine. All of them built quite a lot of muscle, but the people who were taught how to improve their sleep managed to lose fat at the same time. Plus, not only does improving our sleep help us lose fat, but it also gives us more energy to invest in exercising and more willpower to invest in improving our diets. For more, we’ve got a full article on improving sleep.

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).


As with endomorphs, it’s a good idea for everyone to do a mix of cardio and weight training. Not everyone needs to choose their workout program based on what builds the most muscle or burns the most fat. For naturally leaner and more muscular men, it may not be needed. It might be better to choose a form of exercise that’s enjoyable and sustainable.

That can include high-intensity cardio-oriented programs like CrossFit or strength-oriented approaches like powerlifting. But, as with the other body types, 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. Hypertrophy training is best for that.

What’s the Best Diet for Mesomorphs?

There’s no single best diet for a mesomorph. The most important thing is eating a diet that’s rich in protein and made up mostly of minimally processed whole foods. Different people prefer different approaches, ranging from the Mediterranean diet to keto to Paleo. And, of course, most diets don’t have names.

However, different diets can help us accomplish different goals. If you’re interested in building muscle, you might want to eat a traditional bulking diet. If you’re interested in losing fat, you might want to experiment with calorie-restriction techniques like intermittent fasting.

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.

Mesomorph Macros

A variety of different macronutrient intakes 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 0.8–1 grams per pound bodyweight per day—then you don’t need to worry too much about balancing your carb and fat macros.

Mesomorph Diet Recommendations

Mesomorphs have a variety of different preferences and goals. To build muscle, a bulking diet is best. To lose fat, a cutting diet is best. And there are different variations of each diet. And, of course, nothing says that you need to bulk or cut.

If you want to build muscle, lose fat, and be generally healthy, there are two factors that generally produce the best results:

  • Eat enough protein overall, and preferably some protein in every meal. For building muscle and losing fat, eating 0.8–1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day is usually best. For example, if you weigh 190 pounds, you should try to eat 190 grams of protein every day. You don’t need to split that protein evenly between meals, but getting at least 20 grams in each meal can increase muscle growth and help you feel more full.
  • Get most of your calories from minimally processed whole foods. There’s no need to totally avoid sugar or treats, but it’s still wise to get around 80% of your calories from whole foods. That will keep your diet rich in nutrients and fibre, and it will make your diet more filling.

The Ectomorph Body Type

How to Tell If You're an Ectomorph Body Type (Somatotype)

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.

Body Type Question: Wrist Thickness in Ectomorphs and Endomorphs

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.

Graph showing the rate of muscle growth for a skinny ectomorph who is new to lifting weights.

For instance, the average man starts off with around eighty pounds of muscle mass. Ectomorphs often start off with far less. If we’re only starting off with, say, forty pounds of muscle mass, then we’re starting behind the starting line and can expect to build muscle quite fast until we get closer to our genetic muscular potential. This period of rapid growth is often called “newbie gains.”

The same is true with strength. Ectomorphs tend to have longer limbs, lankier arms, and thinner torsos, giving us bodies that are harder to control and harder to stabilize. But that also gives us more room for muscle growth on our frames. We aren’t weak because we’re ectomorphs, we’re just starting off weak because we haven’t built much muscle yet. Fortunately, since we’re able to gain muscle quite quickly, we’re also able to gain strength quite quickly. In fact, we can often catch up to the other body types within a year or two.

What’s the Best Workout for Ectomorphs?

Ectomorphs tend to excel at cardio. Not because of our height—most marathon runners are actually pretty short—but because of a few other reasons:

  • Our frames are proportionally lighter.
  • Our limbs are proportionally longer.
  • We have less fat to insulate us, allowing us to do cardio without overheating as easily.
  • We have more surface area per unit of face, allowing us to radiate more heat outwards, again allowing us to avoid overheating during our training.
  • We aren’t carrying around (as much) extra body fat.

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 it.

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 weight training, eating a bulking diet, and getting enough quality sleep. That doesn’t mean that we should avoid cardio or anything. Cardio is still important for ectomorphs, and keeping ourselves fit can help us to build muscle more leanly, especially if you’re skinny-fat. It’s just that it’s also important to train for muscle size and strength. And if we only have enough time to do one type of training, it might make sense to start with weight training.

Illustration of a skinny guy becoming muscular from doing biceps curls.

That isn’t to say that weight training will be easy, though. Most strength training programs are rooted in powerlifting, and most of those lifts are designed with stockier men in mind. That isn’t to say that we can’t squat, bench, and deadlift, it’s just that our anthropometrics might make those lifts look a little bit different.

Illustration of an ectomorph with long lanky arms and a thin ribcage having trouble doing the bench press.

Some lifts will be harder because of our proportions, too. For instance, having lanky arms and a thin ribcage can make it much harder to learn how to do the bench press properly. But we also have other lifts, such as the deadlift, 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.

What’s the Best Diet for Ectomorphs?

Keep in mind that the body types are just loose approximations and that there’s no single best diet for any particular body type. Even so, ectomorphs often have higher metabolisms (from NEAT), better insulin sensitivity (due to lower body-fat percentages), and we’re often eager to lift weights, build muscle, and gain weight. As a result, we often benefit from higher carbohydrate intakes, getting 50–60% of our calories from carbs, given that carbs help with muscle growth and getting into a calorie surplus.

Because of our smaller appetites, rampaging metabolisms, and higher calorie goals, we don’t need to focus as much on choosing nutrient-dense foods as the other body types. It’s often better to think about eating more good food, not eating less bad food. Otherwise, it can become too hard to eat enough calories to build muscle and gain weight.

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 lower 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:

And, of course, if you want a full workout routine and bulking diet for ectomorphs, that’s our specialty. Check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program.

Common Questions

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.

Body Type Question: Skinny-Fat Ectomorph or Chubby Endomorph?

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.

Example of Tall Endomorph alongside an Ectomorph

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.)

Key Takeaways

Endomorphs, Mesomorphs and Ectomorphs can all become strong, healthy and attractive

The male body types are rooted in disproven psychology research. Nowadays, endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs are terms that are mainly used in bodybuilding. They aren’t scientific terms, just colloquial terms used to describe people with different genetics, struggles, and goals.

Whichever body type 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. Endomorphs often have to fight to become fitter while trying to curb their appetites—cutting. Ectomorphs often need to focus on gaining muscle size while scheming up ways to eat more—bulking. Mesomorphs who aren’t overweight or underweight 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 is a bit different. The body types are just loose generalizations. This article might give you hints about your body type, but you’ll still need personal experimentation.

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's gained seventy pounds and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in design, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.