What Are the Three Main Body Types?

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The somatotype theory proposes that 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 become round and soft (endomorphs), stay slim (ectomorphs), or be muscular and athletically shaped (mesomorphs). He also associated these physical traits with personality traits.

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. People with an ectomorph body type are lean and may have a narrow frame. Some find it hard to gain weight because of their fast metabolism. 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 more than one body type.

Changing Views on Body Types

Research has indicated a change in the way people view the "ideal" physique. For instance, one psychological investigation in the United Kingdom found that men have become more intimidated by images of ideal male bodies than they used to be.

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.

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 lifestyle modifications. Just as following a well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense whole foods can add years to your life, a consistent exercise routine can promote 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.

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 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 build muscle while losing body fat at the same time.

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.

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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.
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By Jerry Kennard, PhD
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.