February 3

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Workout Right For Your Body Type | Exercise Routines By Somatotype

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Depending on your body type, you can adjust your workout and exercise routine to maximise your strengths and minimise weaknesses. Bodies are different. How you train and workout can affect the way your body responds. Read on for exercise routine examples for male ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph with workout ideas.

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Life can seem so unfair some­times, and nowhere more so than in the gym. You know, the guy who simply has to look at a dumbbell and his biceps visibly pump up. Or how about that girl who trains once in a blue moon, yet runs on the treadmill like a gazelle?

That is genetics in action.

Like it or not, we all tend towards a certain type of metabolism and a certain type of body. So what type are you, and should it influence the way you train?

It all started over seventy years ago. William Sheldon was trying to classify different body types by examining differences between them. He looked at characteristics like body proportion, bone structure, and body fat levels.

The three essen­tial body types, known as ectomorphs, meso­morphs, and endomorphs

Body Type Chart depicting ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph somatotypes

In more recent years, there have been attempts to refine this classification sys­tem. Some allow for varying levels of fatness and thinness within each body type and the distribution of body fat.

The Richman Body-Type Classification Method, for example, builds on the three basic types to produce 45 variants. A little excessive if you ask me. But it's the three main categories above that are familiar to most of us.

However, although the concept of body type is well accepted, there are two main problems.

Problems with body type classification, somatotypes and ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph labels

Firstly, these categories are very broad. Therefore, it's easy to oversimplify someone's body type.

You can end up pigeon-holing them without ade­quately considering other important characteris­tics.

For example, although you may tend to one of these types, you'll al­most certainly have supporting characteristics of one of the other types too.

Secondly, there's the de­bate over nature versus nurture.

It's important to realise that these genetic traits are in-built tendencies, not pre-determined outcomes.

The way you are is and always will be dependent on the interaction between those genetic tendencies and your envi­ronment.

In other words, whatever your 'body type', what you do with your body in the real world will determine its shape.

The characteristics of each of the 3 body types

It's worth emphasising again that these character­istics are broad generalisations — not exact de­scriptions.

Think of pure ectomorphic, mesomorphic, and endomorphic characteristics as extreme points on the three points of a triangle.

Most of us lie somewhere inside an imaginary tri­angle with a blend of each of the somatotype characteristics from the mesomorph, ectomorph and endomorph body types

Most of us lie somewhere inside this imaginary tri­angle with a blend of these characteristics.

We also need to dispel the myth that it's 'better' to have one type of body over another. It's clear that each body type carries both training advantages and disadvantages.

Characteristics of the Ectomorphic Body Type

Physical Characteristics of Ecotpmorphs

Generally tall and slender with a delicate build. Likewise, they'll have a small bone structure and a generally young appearance. Thin chest, small hips, and narrow waist.

Metabolic Characteristics of Ectomorphs

Ectomorphs have a fast metabolism. They can be slow to gain muscle and lose weight easily. Often they'll have difficulty gaining weight.

Fitness and Training Advantages of being an Ectomorph

Ectomorphs find it easy to lose and keep off excess body weight. They're often naturally good at endurance types of exercise. Especially where low body weight is an advantage, such as running.

Training Disadvantages for Ectomorphs

Their smaller bone and muscle structure makes ectomorphs much more injury-prone. Additionally, vigorous exercise may cause excessive weight loss, more than that considered to be healthy.

Characteristics of the Endomorphic Body Type

Physical Characteristics of Ectomorphs

Generally strong bone structure with a more rounded appearance. Often a 'softer' body with less well-defined musculature. In comparison to ectomorphs, endomorphs often have shorter leg bones.

Metabolic Characteristics of Endomorphs

Endomorphs have a slower metabolism but also a 'strong constitution'. They gain muscle and weight easily and find it harder to lose weight.

Fitness and Training Advantages of being an Endomorph

Endomorphs are naturally strong and powerful. As a result, they respond very well to resistance training. Additionally, endomorphs are less likely to become injured or overtrained.

Training Disadvantages for Endomorphs

Endomorphs have more difficulty losing body fat. Careful diet monitoring and plenty of aerobic exercise can help counteract this tendency.

Characteristics of the Mesomorphic Body Type

Physical Characteristics of Mesomorphs

Fairly tall & athletic-looking with broad shoulders and narrow waists. Often, mesomorphs will have broad hips and naturally possess upright posture. They look more muscular and have a more overall 'triangular' appearance.

Metabolic Characteristics of Mesomorphs

Mesomorphs have a fairly fast metabolism and they can both gain and lose weight quite easily. Training history is an important factor in how they look. Mesomorphs also respond well to training and can gain muscle relatively easily.

Fitness and Training Advantages for Mesomorphs

Mesomorphs respond very well to a variety of training types. They see results rapidly and can achieve both low body fat and high levels of musculature.

Training Disadvantages for Mesomorphs

Mesomorphs tend to become over-trained or injured. Overtraining can be an issue if they don't take adequate rest and recovery. Mesomorphs can easily gain weight once training stops or activity levels drop.

Body type chart depicting rectangle shape for ectomorphs, triangular shape of mesomorphs and oval shape for endomorphs

How should each of the body types train?

Of course, it all depends on what you want.

For example, if you're an ectomorph aiming to run a marathon, your body type is already suited to the task.

Rather than try and become more mesomorphic or endomorphic, you'll be quite happy to exploit the body type you already have.

The same could also be said for an endomorph training for powerlifting.

But let's suppose you have a body type that definitely leans towards one of the three categories. Say you want to train for general health and fitness and to develop a well-balanced blend of stamina, strength, and power.

Are there any 'body type' training guidelines you can fol­low?

The answer is yes.

However, these guidelines are more about shifting the emphasis of your training rather than forming the program itself.

You still have to think about your overall goals and objectives. Likewise, your current fitness level and exercise history will determine how you should train.

Whether or not you have any in­juries or medical conditions might affect the way you train too.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you should take into account your own personal preferences. There's no point devising a program that you just won't enjoy because you won't do it.

And, regardless of body type, consistency is key if you ate looking to develop a stronger, healthier body.

Once you've come up with a personalised plan, you can apply these guide­lines to help produce more balanced results for your particular body type.

Male ectomorph workout routine diagram

Ectomorphs should train with heavy weights

Workout Ideas for Male Ectomorph

Ectomorphs lose weight easily because of their high metabolic rates. Additionally, male ectomorphs can find it hard to gain strength, power, and muscle from their workouts due to their body type.

Ectomorphs seeking 'balance' should spend less time calorie-burning in aerobic workouts. Ideally, they want to spend more time doing high quality and reasonably intense resistance training. As a result, the male ectomorph body type can maintain and improve their strength levels from their workout routine.

The training volume, however, should be kept down. Otherwise, it will tend to raise an already active metabolism and prevent sufficient gains. Keep the emphasis on the compound exercises such as chest press, leg press, lat pulldowns/chins, dips, and squats.

A high-repetition isolation workout is not recommended for the male ectomorph body type.

Ectomorph cardio workout recommendations

Volume

Keep Low.

Three sessions of 20-30 minutes per week are adequate

Intensity

Moderate

Work at around 75% of maximum heart rate

Type

Smooth non-weight-bearing movements like cycling, rowing and swimming.

Pounding movements against gravity like running, skipping and aerobics less so. They tend to induce weight loss.

Notes

These guidelines don't apply to ectomorphs in training for sports requiring aerobic fitness. Both the volume and intensity of their aerobic training will need to be increased.

Weight training ectomorph male workout recommendations

Volume

Moderate — don't overdo the volume.

Train each body part no more than once every 4 or 5 days. Subsequently, allow for full recovery between workouts.

Stick to 2-3 very high-quality sets per body part.

Intensity

High

Use heavier weights at between 8-10 reps per set. Aim to reach the point of failure at the end of each set (excluding warm-up set)

Type

Forget the fancy stuff and stick to basic movements such as squats, bench press, chins, etc. The male ectomorph sometimes needs a little upper body workout emphasis.

Notes

Quality, not volume is the real key to success for ectomorphs wishing to gain strength

Exercise Routine Suggestions for Endomorph Body Type

Endomorph somatotype exercise routine diagram

Endomorphs are naturally strong

If you're an endomorph, you'll tend to have plenty of natural strength and a high tolerance for training hard.

However, the flip side is that with their inherently slower metabolisms, endomorphs need to do higher training volumes. Likewise, they should place a greater emphasis on aerobic exercise.  This helps maintain optimum body fat levels for health and performance.

Resistance training shouldn't be ignored, because it raises the body's basal metabolic rate. This exactly what the endomorph body type needs from its exercise routine.

It should, however, be of the higher volume, lower intensity type.

Structure your exercise routine for the endomorph body type so that aerobic training is a priority. Add sufficient resistance training workouts to build and maximise strength.

Cardio exercise routine recommendations for endomorphs

Volume

High.

4 - 6 sessions of 30-60 minutes per week.

Of course, this will depend on fitness level

Intensity

Low to moderate.

Longer, less intense aerobic workouts at around 65-75% of MHR are more suitable for larger frames.

High-intensity intervals can be an option. However, those with an endomorph body type should have a lot of cardio in their exercise routine. Less intense workouts that go for longer are a better way of getting it all in.

Type

Weight-bearing exercises against gravity will be more effective at promoting fat loss. For example, running, hill walking, and cycling should be included in an endomorph's exercise routine.

Weight-supported exercises like swimming can be easier on the joints. However, if possible, get out and practise your athleticism.

Points to note

High volumes of pounding exercise are unlikely to be suitable for those who are substantially overweight or with a history of lower limb/back injuries. If in doubt, seek advice from your trainer.

Endomorph resistance workout recommendations

Volume

Moderate to High

Aim for one or two full-body workouts a week. Your high tolerance to resistance work means you can perform plenty of sets per body part.

Intensity

Low.

Using lighter weights but higher repetitions of around 12-20 per set will still maintain strength.

Type

Include plenty of lower body exercises. This is where the largest muscles are, afterall.

Use a wide variety of movements in your exercise routine to maximise the strength of the endomorph body type.

Notes

Keeping your heart rate raised during training will produce aerobic benefits. Keep your rest between sets to a minimum and move quickly through your circuit.

Mesomorph body type diagram

Mesomorphs are more prone to overtraining

Workout Suggestions for Mesomorph Body Type

The mesomorph body type lies somewhere in between the other two, which is reflected in the workout recommendations.

However, to make good progress and avoid becoming stale, workout variety is crucial for mesomorphs.

For good aerobic gains, CV workouts should be at a variety of different intensities.

A mesomorph's resistance program should include compound movements for building and maintaining strength. Additionally, it should also contain higher-rep isolation work for improving muscle definition.

While frustrating for the other body types, when it comes to training, mesomorphs can get away with doing less and achieving more!

The downside, however, is that because they see results so quickly, mesomorphs are also more prone to overtraining. Even repeating the same routine over and over again will almost certainly produce results.

To avoid falling into this trap, mesomorph body types need to change their workout routines frequently.

Cardio workout recommendations for mesomorphs

Volume

Moderate.

3-5 sessions of mixed duration aerobic sessions per week work well. For example;

  • 2-3 shorter, higher intensity sessions of 20-30 minutes
  • 1-2 longer 40-60 minutes sessions.

Intensity

Mixed.

For example shorter sessions at around 80% of maximum heart rate. Then longer sessions performed at around 70% maximum heart rate.

Type

Mesomorph body types respond well to all types of aerobic workouts.

Notes

High volumes of pounding exercise are unlikely to be suitable if you're substantially overweight. Likewise, if you have a history of lower limb or back injuries. If in doubt, seek advice from your trainer.

Resistance workout recommendations for mesomorph body type

Volume

Moderate.

Two sessions a week is ample for most mesomorphs. These should include 4-6 exercises per body part.

Intensity

Mixed.

Mesomorphs should cycle their resistance training.

Ideally, mix lower repetition, higher intensity workouts (8-10 reps per set) with a slightly higher rep, lower intensity workouts (12-15 reps per set).

To avoid overtraining, heavier training periods should be broken up with lighter peri­ods to allow full recovery.

Type

The tried and tested formula of performing a basic compound exercise, followed by an isolation exercise works well for mesomorphs. The exercises and the order in which they're performed should be changed frequently.

Workout variety is key for those with the mesomorph body type. Your body is quick to adapt and respond.

Points to note

Beware of overtraining and getting stuck in a rut.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs. He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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