Have you ever wondered why it’s harder for you to build muscle as quickly as your friend does? Or worried that you’re just not built to run? Here’s how knowing your body type can help you move smarter.
There’s nothing more dispiriting than exercising with a mate who seems to build muscle quicker or change body composition easier than you do. You match them mile for mile, kilogram for kilogram but they achieve their goals faster or more noticeably. Why is that?
Well, that’s because most of us fall into one of the three main body types. They describe the way in which we build muscle, store fat and use fuel. And though quite crude, they can be useful for getting the most from your workouts and removing yourself from unrealistic beauty and body standards.
Which is your body type?
The three body types are:
Ectomorphs tend to be tall and slim. They find it harder to build muscle and tend to be better at endurance running.
Most women are endomorphs or have endomorphic traits. They tend to be designed to store fat for fuel (usually on our hips, thighs and bums) and are better at resistance training and slower forms of cardio, like jogging and walking.
Mesomorphs find it easier to put on muscle than most people. Because of that propensity for power, sprinting and weight training is going to be your forte. Most sportspeople are mesomorphs because they’ve got that natural aptitude, which is then enhanced by training hard.
It’s worth highlighting that most of us will straddle more than one of these types. Some of us might be endo/mesomorphs who find that when we commit to strength training, we make gains quickly and look and feel noticeably stronger. When we allow our exercise regime to slide, however, that muscle reverts to fat – ready to be used again. You also have naturally slim people who still have a kind of pear shape; they’ll be your ecto/endomorphs.
For me, finding out that I was more of a mesomorph helped me to come to terms with how I looked (it’s only in recent years that muscular women have been deemed as attractive or feminine). It was also freeing to know that my body isn’t naturally predisposed to long-distance running so, although I enjoy running and have spent hours training myself to be fairly good at it, I’m probably never going to be a person who runs a 3hr 30min marathon.
Knowing your body type can help you to move smarter
Knowing that your body type isn’t naturally primed to build muscle can be comforting. It means that you’re able to work to your body’s own needs without having to subscribe to a more common goal. “There is no reason why, regardless of your body type, you shouldn’t be training and practising basic movement patterns like your push, pull, hinges and presses,” says Gymbox PT Martena David.
Ellie Crawley, founder and strength coach at Feel Fit says that while body type can be important, understanding what each body type needs both in training and nutrition is crucial to being able to design individual programmes to suit her clients. “Each person and their body is different, and over time will need different styles of training and diet too,” she says.
She explains that endomorphs “need resistance training with more of a focus around functional plyometrics and steady state cardio”. Ectomorphs who find it hard to bulk or put on muscle mass and keep it are better off focusing on hypertrophy training if they want to increase their strength. Mesomorphs, Crawley says, “have things a little easier but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t focus on anything”. She flags that they’re more likely to be more sports-focused or very into their training. “As with anything in fitness, though, it all depends on the goals and lifestyle of the individual.”
In other words, body type is important… but not that important. In fact, Crawley believes that we can change our body type over time. “Most people who are mesomorphic will have developed this over time, and it can take a lifetime to get there,” she explains.
And the reverse is true, David explains: “Mesomorphs are naturally athletic, but their build can be reversed. If you don’t use those muscles, you lose them. If a meso neglects their nutrition and exercise regime, they’ll become less active and weaker. And an ectomorph is still able to gain muscle and strength via nutrition and training. Endos might naturally carry more body fat but they still get strong.”
Why we shouldn’t aim to out-train our body types
David warns against trying to out-train your body type. It’s better to concentrate on progress and building a healthy, mobile and functioning body, she says. The main genetic difference between the three is in how we carry mass in different areas.
In a world obsessed with comparison, Crawley believes that “fitness can help you come to terms with the fact that we are all different. It can help you feel empowered in what you can do, help you feel strong in ways you didn’t realise you could be, can help you get through life and enjoy other activities.
“Finding what works for you and your body is the key. We’re all different – if we moved and ate the same, we would all still look very different.”
David agrees: “We can’t change genetics – that’s one element that’s out of our control, and rather than focus on what we can’t control, it’s better to focus on what we can, like our training and nutrition.
“Rather than focusing solely on what our bodies look like and only working towards aesthetic goals, shift your energy and celebrate what your body can do. How are you progressing? Are you getting fitter? Stronger? Can you notice changes not just physically but also mentally and emotionally?”
Do you have more energy when you eat better and train? Do you sleep better? Are you less stressed? These are all the benefits, David says, that come with being consistent in your fitness journey. “And that’s all personal to you,” she stresses.
For more fitness tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.