Two months ago, as I was walking down the famous white sand beach of Boracay, I played a little game to pass the time. From behind the anonymity of my sunglasses, I was categorizing every person that I saw into three basic body types. The reason I was playing the body type game was because someone had recently asked me why he wasn't getting the same results as his friend who had started lifting weights at the same time. One of the answers I gave him was that he did not have the same body type as his friend.
The concept that all bodies are a combination or variation of three basic body types is called somatotyping. The three body types are endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. A male endomorph is heavy set, stocky, and naturally strong (picture an ox). This type of male body will easily put on muscle but will just as easily put on fat so it tends to be bulky rather than chiseled. A female endomorph is rounded, soft, voluptuous, and also easily gains weight. Male and female mesomorphs have athletic looking bodies. They don't have to try too hard to look like they are in shape because they are naturally muscular and they tend to maintain their weight easily. Ectomorphs are the long, lean, and lanky type. They have a high metabolic rate and can usually eat whatever they want without gaining weight. They have very little fat but they also don't have much muscle. They are small boned with slim arms and legs.
Most of us are variations of the three body types. Some people have an upper body that is ectomorphic and a lower body that is endomorphic. In other words, a slim upper body and a more fat- prone lower body. This is also called a pear shape. Other people are the opposite. They are apple-shaped with endomorphic upper bodies and ectomorphic lower bodies. They are the ones who store fat easily in the upper body while their lower bodies remain slim. Sometimes the variation is not as clear-cut as having one body type for the upper body and another for the lower. There are ecto-meso's who have all-around wiry bodies (slim but muscular) and there are also ecto-endo's who have slender but soft and rounded bodies. Height has nothing to do with body type even though we tend to think of skinny people (ectomorphs) as being tall and heavy-set people (endomorphs) as being short. For instance, my sister and I are both the same height and size but she is a mesomorph while I am an ecto-endo.
Genetics and body type
We inherit our body types from our parents who, in turn, inherited theirs from their parents. That's why our bodies tend to be combinations of body types. Since families customarily take their summer vacations together, I saw examples of this in the living flesh in Boracay. For example, I saw a family where the first son had an ectomorphic body (like the mother) and the second son had an endomorphic body (like the father). The daughter was clearly of the mesomorph persuasion so I figured she must look like one of the grandparents. Body type aside, one of my other observations was that slim parents tended to have slim children while overweight parents more often than not had overweight children. The slim families were usually involved in doing something physical like playing volleyball, riding a bike, or swimming while the overweight families were invariably eating something fattening (ice cream, soft drinks, potato chips) as they sat or lay on the sand. If they were walking, they were generally munching their food. While genetics plays a role in whether we will be overweight or not, one has to ask whether family exercise and eating habits is as big a factor, if not bigger.
Sports and body type
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes though certain body types tend to excel in specific sports. Ectomorphs do well in endurance sports like long-distance running. Mesomorphs shine in sports that require power and speed like sprinting. And endomorphs stand out in sports or team positions that require bulk. The next time you watch a basketball game, see if you can identify the three body types from among the team players.
Can you change your body type?
You cannot change your body type in the sense that an endomorph will always have a greater propensity to put on weight compared to a mesomorph or ectomorph. But you can change it in the sense that the endomorph is not doomed to being overweight as long as he or she takes extra effort to watch calorie and fat intake and exercise regularly unlike the other two body types that have a greater caloric and exercise leeway.
The guy who asked me the question that inspired this column is an ectomorph while his friend is a mesomorph. It doesn't take a whole lot of analysis to figure out that his friend will see faster results in terms of more muscle bulk and definition. The ectomorphic guy will have to be more patient, work twice as hard, and be realistic about the results because he cannot compare himself to his mesomorphic friend.
All body types can gain or lose weight but the degree and rate at which they do varies. For example, all body types will become shadows of their former selves after spending a year at a World War II Holocaust-type concentration camp but the ecto's will get to the skeletal state much more rapidly. The endo's and meso's may survive longer because they have greater fat and muscle mass. Upon return to a normal environment, all body types will gain weight but the endo's will do so faster than the other two.
Body type vs. body shape
Body type and body shape are different things. All three body types can come in four body shapes. Borrowing the definition of Edward Jackowski, author of "Escape Your Shape", the four shapes are the cone, spoon, ruler and hourglass. The cone has wider shoulders than hips and is commonly found in men. The spoon has narrower shoulders than hips and is usually found in women though I personally know about three men with this shape. The ruler is straight up-and-down. Shoulders and hips are proportioned but there is hardly an indentation for the waist. The hourglass is strictly a female shape. Shoulders and hips have the same measurement but there is a dramatic indentation in the waistline.
The terms "apples and pears" are usually used to describe fat distribution patterns. Apples have fat-prone upper bodies while pears have fat-prone lower bodies. The four shapes mentioned above describe skeletal structure. You cannot change skeletal structure but you can manipulate the muscles on top of your bones to look like you have changed your shape.