Knowing your body type will help keep your fitness goals realistic


Which of these body types fits you? — 123rf.com

Every other person I’ve met since 2021 arrived has been telling me they’re on a diet or have begun an exercise regime – part of their new year’s resolution for better health and body.

While the minority is realistic about attaining their ideal body, the majority still hold onto lofty dreams that they can contour their body to look like that of their screen (or nowadays, TikTok) idols.

I was once like the majority, convinced that if I worked hard enough, my body would miraculously transform to the shape and size I desired.

In my teens, I aspired to have a body like Tatiana Thumbzten.

You may not have heard of her, but she was the female star in Michael Jackson’s iconic The Way You Make Me Feel music video.

I drooled over her slim, sculpted arms, and thought a two-pound (0.9kg) dumbbell would be enough to build mine.

Obviously, I miscalculated and saw no results.

It was only in university that I discovered no two bodies are alike and that your parents’ body types dictate your body type, i.e. somatotype.

Psychologist William H. Sheldon first coined the word “somatotypes” in the early 1940s, referring to the idea that there are three generalised body compositions people are predetermined to have.

He categorised them as endomorph (large), mesomorph (medium) and ectomorph (small).

However, most people rarely fit into one ideal type and will usually be a combination of two types.

He also believed that physical characteristics could influence personality.

A simple way to assess which body type you have is to measure your wrist at your ulna bone (feel for the bump it forms at the wrist below the little finger) by wrapping your thumb and index finger around it.

If the thumb and index finger overlap, you have a small frame (ectomorph).

If they touch, you have a medium frame (mesomorph), and if they don’t meet, you have a large frame (endomorph).

The slim ones

Ballet dancers typically fall into the long and lean ectomorph category. — FilepicBallet dancers typically fall into the long and lean ectomorph category. — Filepic

Ectomorphs are generally long and lean, and have slender waists, small joints and long limbs.

They find it difficult to build muscle mass, but lose weight very quickly.

Their metabolism is fast and they burn calories quickly, so ectomorphs may frequently find themselves hungry throughout the day.

Yet, despite what, how often and how much they consume, and how much they exercise, they don’t gain weight or muscle easily.

However, if they let themselves go, they can accumulate a significant amount of body fat – the so-called skinny fat.

They tend to remain the same weight throughout their lives.

Due to their inability to put on mass and keep it on, ectomorphs should focus on exercises for hypertrophy (muscle growth) and maximal strength, while cutting back on cardiorespiratory training to reduce overall energy utilisation.

Strength or weight training is highly recommended, with longer rest periods in between sets to reduce the calorie burn.

Considered lucky by their fatter counterparts, they can eat whatever they want.

However, they should consume a high-protein diet, balanced with healthy carbohydrates and fats, that maintains a positive energy balance.

According to Sheldon, the ectomorph personality is anxious, self-conscious, artistic, thoughtful, quiet and private.

They enjoy intellectual stimulation and feel uncomfortable in social situations.

Most dancers and models fall into this category.

The muscular build

Most athletes have a mesomorph body type as they can easily build muscles required for power and speed. — FilepicMost athletes have a mesomorph body type as they can easily build muscles required for power and speed. — Filepic

People in this category are naturally muscular and typically have moderate-size frames, with wider shoulders, a narrow waist, strong arms and legs, and modest amounts of body fat.

They are genetically predisposed to build muscle, so mesomorphs often require a slightly higher calorie intake (since muscle requires more calories to maintain) and more protein than other body types for muscle maintenance.

Generally, mesomorphs are able to lose or gain weight easily.

When they gain weight, it’s always distributed evenly.

Likewise, when they shed the kilos, it melts equally all over instead of just from one body part, so they should eat a balanced diet.

On average, most athletes have mesomorph body types as they excel in explosive sports that call for power and speed.

In terms of seeing gains quickly, mesomorphs have an edge.

Their metabolism is relatively efficient, they carry functional, if not athletic, muscle mass and are essentially ready to take on whatever fitness goal they please with minimal foundation work.

Strength training is a great choice for this body type, along with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to stay lean.

The American Council on Exercise recommends 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic training three to five times per week.

Ideally, mesomorphs should choose HIIT over steady-state cardio to boost their metabolism and get better results in less time.

Sheldon portrays them as being adventurous, assertive, competitive and fearless.

They are curious and enjoy trying new things, but can also be obnoxious and aggressive.

The better endowed

If you want to be a sumo wrestler, you need an endomorph body type. — AFPIf you want to be a sumo wrestler, you need an endomorph body type. — AFP

These people have a larger bone structure and more body fat than the other types.

Female endomorphs such as Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé are often described as curvaceous or full-figured, while endomorphic men might be considered stocky, doughy or round.

Endomorphs usually have a pear-shaped body, i.e. wider hips, and carry any excess weight in the lower abdomen, hips and thighs.

Often, they have a weakness for food, and while they’re not necessarily obese, they have difficulty losing fat and have to work extremely hard to stay trim.

As one endomorph says, she can put on weight just by one whiff of a slice of cheesecake!

This group has to commit to a lifelong programme of diet and exercise, but without overtraining.

Like their mesomorph counterparts, building muscle comes easily for endomorphs.

However, a slower metabolism and extra body fat make it much harder for endomorphs to stay lean.

Endomorphs should predominantly focus on fat-loss techniques until a desirable body composition and functional cardiorespiratory efficiency have been achieved.

That means any steady-state cardio activity is best, e.g. swimming, running or cycling.

Resistance training with shorter rest periods should be utilised to strengthen muscles and stabilise joints to support the excess weight.

A combination of these two training methods will help endomorphic bodies increase their metabolic efficiency and boost the body’s daily energy requirement.

Diet-wise, limit your intake of simple carbohydrates as these foods are high in sugar and calories, which can cause fat storage and make you more sluggish.

Opt for more vegetables and proteins.

The characteristics of this somatotype include being relaxed, tolerant, comfortable and sociable.

Psychologically, Sheldon says they are also fun-loving, good-humoured, even-tempered and affectionate – that’s why endomorphs are like cuddly teddy bears.

Given a chance, they’d rather be couch entertainers instead of avid exercisers, so they have to fight the urge to just chill out.

Combined types

Knowing your body type may be the key in formulating a diet and exercise routine that works.

Most of us have a combination of two body types, e.g. ecto-meso and meso-endo.

However, the ecto-endo combination is not common unless it is behaviourally-acquired, i.e. an ectomorph has added significant body fat from poor eating habits, sedentary ways or a combination of these less-than-stellar habits.

With long limbs and a smaller bone structure, ecto-endos often have soft midsections, droopy chests, and flabby upper arms and legs, from sheer neglect.

To improve fitness, body composition and health, the most efficient exercise plan for this type involves resistance training and high-intensity cardio, both of which promote muscle growth and stimulate metabolism.

Thumbzten is probably an ecto-meso and I’m closer to being an ecto, which explains why I can only dream of having ripped arms.

And some dreams will never come true, I’m afraid.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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