The Influence of Somatypes
I know a guy who eats whatever he wants and never gains a pound. His body looks similar and weighs about the same as it did in high school. At no time in his life has he ever been referred to as overweight, and he probably never will be.
When he consistently strength trains, he gains about six to eight pounds of lean tissue. His muscle growth is noticeable but won’t blow you away. People have often told him that he should eat more and that he’s too skinny. He has less body fat and muscle than most, but some of that is due to factors not under his control.
When it comes to our ability to gain fat or muscle, the truth is we aren’t on an even playing field. Anyone starting an effective strength training program will gain some muscle tissue, but the amount of muscle we can gain is largely determined by our genetics. One of those genetic factors is our somatype.
A somatype is a classification for body types. These classifications are based on amounts of fat and muscle cells. Our fat and muscle cell quantities are important because they rarely change much during adulthood. Past the age of 18, people likely do not lose fat cells, and may gain more of them in extreme cases. On the other hand, we can lose muscle cells with age if we’re not strength training, but gaining them is uncommon.
To put it simply, our muscle and fat cell totals help to determine our maximum potential for change. Within those limits, the changes we see are just increases or decreases in cell size.
There are four basic somatypes:
- Ectomorph – few fat and muscle cells
- Mesomorph – few fat cells with many muscle cells
- Endomorph – few muscle cells with many fat cells
- Meso-Endomorph – many fat and muscle cells
The guy who I discussed in the opening example is an ectomorph. As mentioned, he does gain muscle when sticking with strength training, but he will never look like a bodybuilder or anything close to it.
For mesomorphs, strength training produces a greater gain in muscle for them than it does with ectomorphs. Mesomorphs also tend to have more fat than ectomorphs. They are the people who generally can gain or lose 20 pounds with diet and strength training.
Endomorphs won’t grow a lot of muscle with strength training, whereas meso-endomorphs do. Meso-endomorphs have the most muscle mass of anyone who fits into one somatype. Examples of meso-endomorphs are linemen in football and World’s Strongest Man competitors.
The importance of knowing that somatypes exist can be helpful in a number of ways. For example, knowing about somatypes is further support for the idea that you should only compare you to yourself and not to others (who may have a different somatype than you).
The potential your somatype provides is irrelevant without consistently training as hard as you can. You can only learn where your ceiling is by working towards it. Also, no matter what your genetics indicate for your physique, keep in mind that your actions (i.e. how you eat and exercise) are the biggest factors in improving your health and well-being.
Training at The Perfect Workout will help you achieve your ideal physique, and by increasing the amount of muscle tissue that you’re able to add, you will become healthier and feel better.
Matt Hedman is a Master Level Super Slow instructor and the founder of The Perfect Workout, which is the largest privately-owned 1-on-1 personal training company in the United States with over 60 fitness studios nationwide. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Washington. He worked briefly as an engineer in GE, until he found his passion for HIT, and pursued a career in personal fitness training.