What Are the Three Main Body Types?

A portrait of fit man doing exercise at home, stretching.

 

Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

There are three main body types, and knowing yours can be helpful when planning an exercise routine. Being aware of your body's natural tendencies allows you to develop a workout plan to achieve your fitness goals. Understanding and accepting your body type can help you cultivate a more positive self-image.

The Three Main Body Types

Body types are often categorized by the somatotype theory, which was developed by the psychologist Dr. William H. Sheldon during the 1940s. The somatotype theory separates people into three different categories based on their body's propensity to gain weight, stay slim, or be muscular and athletically shaped.

These categories are only a theory, however, which means that some people will fall into more than one category. Your body type can also change depending on your diet and exercise habits. Here's how the three body types break down, according to the somatotype theory:

  • Ectomorph: This type is often characterized by a tall, slim build. Individuals with an ectomorph body type are lean and may have a narrow frame. Some people with this body type find it hard to gain weight because of their fast metabolism, and in order to gain weight, they have to take in higher amounts of calories than the average person.
  • Endomorph: This describes a rounded build with a larger waist size, bigger bones, and a large frame. People with this body type generally gain weight easily, and without exercise, the weight tends to be more fat than muscle.
  • Mesomorph: Those with this body type gain weight more easily than ectomorphs and generally find it easier to lose weight than endomorphs. They have a muscular and athletic build with a medium-sized frame.

Not everyone necessarily fits perfectly into just one of these types, and people may find they have characteristics of other body types.

Changing Views on Body Types

Research has indicated a change in the way people are viewing the "ideal" male and female physique. For instance, one psychological investigation in the United Kingdom found that the average man feels a little intimidated by the images surrounding him.

Another study suggests that the emphasis on the "ideal" male muscular body may have originated in the gay community before entering the mainstream. Research has also acknowledged that the proliferation of advertising for products like underwear and aftershave featuring male models makes the average man feel inferior and uncomfortable about his body, much in the same way that women have felt about the representation of the female body in advertising for decades (if not longer).

Of course, the changing views also include the "ideal" female body type, which is shifting to reflect women of all shapes and sizes. While some experts attribute social media to the rise of the body positivity movement among women, others point out the fine line between body positivity and the continued objectification of the female body, in general. Even still, the collective view on both male and female bodies is starting to shift away from unrealistic beauty standards toward a more inclusive attitude that celebrates "real" bodies over "ideal" ones.

There was a time when personality was thought to be associated with body type. Ectomorphs were considered to be quiet and even morose individuals, endomorphs were thought of as jolly, and mesomorphs were viewed as a bit on the crude and vulgar side. But these views are not in any way scientifically proven or accurate.

Can Body Type Be Changed?

Dissatisfaction with body shape is one of the main reasons men and women seek out medical methods like cosmetic surgery. Pectoral implants, calf implants, and liposuction have become commonplace among men, while breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, and liposuction are some of the most common procedures among women.

But any body type can be changed through certain lifestyle modifications like a healthy diet regular exercise. Just as following a well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense whole foods can add years to your life, a consistent exercise routine is more effective than the occasional burst of physical activity for weight loss, weight maintenance, and overall health.

Aerobic exercises that involve all the muscle groups such as running and swimming can help burn fat and develop a leaner build, while strength and resistance training can help build and retain lean muscle mass.

When paired with a healthy, balanced diet, a combination of both cardio and strength training is considered the most effective method for developing a strong and lean body. However, everyone's body will respond differently due to factors such as age, sex, weight, genetics, and level of fitness.

Developing a Muscular Body Type

To develop muscle mass, you will need to perform resistance training. Focus on training each muscle group two times per week in full-body or split-training routines that target specific body parts. Use compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, upright row, and isolation exercises for the smaller muscle groups such as biceps, triceps, abdominals, and calves. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Cycle the number of sets and repetitions every few weeks.
  • Start with a range of 2–3 sets of 8-12 repetitions, which can help build muscle size.
  • After three to six weeks, switch to a more strength-focused routine of 3–5 (or more) sets of 2-4 repetitions.
  • You can also try sets of higher repetitions, ranging from 10-15, depending on your level of fitness.

Keep in mind that everyone's body, no matter the "type," responds differently to training programs. It's important to switch up your training routine, a strategy called periodization, to continue seeing results. You must also increase your weights, repetitions, or sets, adding volume to see increased muscle mass and definition.

Additionally, your diet needs to contain enough calories and protein to build lean muscle mass. If you have trouble gaining muscle, you will need to increase your calories substantially with healthy foods to support the extra energy required to build muscle. Some people, especially beginners, can often build muscle while losing body fat at the same time.

Different types of physical activity will have different effects on your morphology (morph = shape).

How Aging Effects Body Type

As people get older, their metabolism slows down. Fat is more likely to accumulate around the belly, and can become more difficult to get rid of as a result.

But age-related weight gain can be addressed with a balanced mix of exercise and healthy eating. Over a period of time, many people will see improvements—particularly if they continue to focus on resistance training to combat the loss of muscle mass associated with age.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to aspiring to a certain body type, consider working with what you have and remembering there is no "ideal" or "perfect" body type. Societal expectations around body image can be difficult to overcome, but cultivating a little body positivity can go a long way in helping you to accept your body type, whether you have difficulty putting on weight or losing weight. Choose a diet and exercise plan that is right for your body type and work toward the healthiest version of yourself that you can be.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bernard TJ. Encyclopaedia Britannica. William Sheldon, American psychologist.

  2. Payne A. National Academy of Sports Medicine. Body types: how to train & diet for your body type.

  3. Voges MM, Giabbiconi CM, Schöne B, Waldorf M, Hartmann AS, Vocks S. Gender Differences in Body Evaluation: Do Men Show More Self-Serving Double Standards Than Women?. Front Psychol. 2019;10:544. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00544

  4. Calzo JP, Corliss HL, Blood EA, Field AE, Austin SB. Development of muscularity and weight concerns in heterosexual and sexual minority males. Health Psychol. 2013;32(1):42-51. doi:10.1037/a0028964

  5. Tanck JA, Vocks S, Riesselmann B, Waldorf M. Gender differences in affective and evaluative responses to experimentally induced body checking of positively and negatively valenced body partsFront Psychol. 2019;10:1058. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01058

  6. Cohen R, Newton-John T, Slater A. The case for body positivity on social media: Perspectives on current advances and future directionsJ Health Psychol. 2020:1359105320912450. doi: 10.1177/1359105320912450

  7. Hu Y, Parde CJ, Hill MQ, Mahmood N, O’Toole AJ. First impressions of personality traits from body shapesPsychol Sci. 2018;29(12):1969-1983. doi:10.1177/0956797618799300

  8. Sinno S, Lam G, Brownstone ND, Steinbrech DS. An assessment of gender differences in plastic surgery patient education and information in the united states: are we neglecting our male patients? Aesthet Surg J. 2016;36(1):107-110. doi:10.1093/asj/sjv100

  9. International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. ISAPS Global Statistics. 2016 Global Statistics.

  10. Fontana L, Partridge L. Promoting health and longevity through diet: from model organisms to humansCell. 2015;161(1):106-118. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.020

  11. Cox CE. Role of physical activity for weight loss and weight maintenanceDiabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):157-160. doi:10.2337/ds17-0013

  12. Thomas MH, Burns SP. Increasing lean mass and strength: a comparison of high frequency strength training to lower frequency strength trainingInt J Exerc Sci. 2016;9(2):159-167.

  13. Benito PJ, López-Plaza B, Bermejo LM, et al. Strength plus endurance training and individualized diet reduce fat mass in overweight subjects: a randomized clinical trialInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(7). doi:10.3390/ijerph17072596

  14. Lamiquiz-Moneo I, Mateo-Gallego R, Bea AM, et al. Genetic predictors of weight loss in overweight and obese subjectsSci Rep. 2019;9(1):10770. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-47283-5

  15. Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance training with single vs. Multi-joint exercises at equal total load volume: effects on body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscle strengthFront Physiol. 2017;8:1105. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

  16. Evans JW. Periodized resistance training for enhancing skeletal muscle hypertrophy and strength: a mini-reviewFront Physiol. 2019;10:13. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00013

  17. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained MenMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764

  18. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health BenefitNutrients. 2019;11(5):1136. Published 2019 May 22. doi:10.3390/nu11051136

  19. Barakat C, Pearson J, Escalante G, Campbell B, De Souza EO. Body recomposition: can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2020;42(5):7-21. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000584

  20. Nauli AM, Matin S. Why Do Men Accumulate Abdominal Visceral Fat?. Front Physiol. 2019;10:1486. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.01486

  21. Harvard Health. Preserve Your Muscle Mass. February 19, 2016.