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“Somatotypes for Muscle Building”: Don’t let this idea hold you back

If you find yourself looking up information on ‘somatotypes for muscle building’, it’s likely someone’s told you it might be important. They might have convinced you, either vocally or in writing, that ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ is a concept that’s possibly working against you while it could be working in your favor if only learned and applied correctly.

If that’s you, I want to start out by proposing a question in relation to ‘somatotypes for muscle building’:

Is it possible that it describes and labels your muscle building starting point while having no bearing on your destination or the rate at which you’ll get there?

Slender Guy_Mesomorph Bodybuilder
'Somatotypes for Muscle': Your body type will determine where your muscle building quest begins. But there's no evidence that it influences your rate of progress when you train intensely and intelligently


I want you to really think about that. Consider the fact that muscle is nothing more or less than slabs of contractile tissue. It doesn’t have a “type”; at least not of any classification that would make it easier or more difficult to gain. It’s simply tissue made up of protein and fluid. It possesses basically the same physiology whether you’re beginning your physique building quest with a slender build or husky one. Whatever your weight, height, and body composition, you’re starting out with genetically-determined greater or lesser amounts of muscle dispersed in a hereditarily unique ‘topographical layout.’ But that’s only a factor in how far you need to go to reach your muscle building goals; it has nothing to do with how quickly or easily by which you’ll build the muscle.

‘Somatotypes for Muscle Building’: Where’d this notion come from?

The ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ idea is derived from the largely discredited work of psychologist William Herbert Sheldon. Along with the dubious distinction of being a eugenicist, Sheldon believed people’s personality characteristics were determined by three basic body types that he’d identified: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. To put it in everyday vernacular, an ectomorph is a lanky, underweight type of person. Mesomorphs have medium-sized, muscular, athletic-type builds.  Endomorphs are the soft and pudgy types that tend to gain fat easily.

Before we even get into the question of whether ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ is a viable fitness concept, let’s look at how flimsy Sheldon himself was on the notion as it relates to psychology. He said that nobody belonged to any one of the three classifications. He claimed that everyone had overlapping distinctions of each of the three somatotypes.

Okay, what does that mean? Should we call this “playing it safe with ambiguity?” If most people don’t belong solely to any of the three classifications, the theory is nullified to the point of becoming nearly meaningless.

He apparently attempted to clarify this with a scoring system. He used a scale of one to seven in order to label a pure ectomorph as a 7-1-1. A pure mesomorph would be a 1-7-1. And, of course, a pure endomorph would be a 1-1-7. Upon analysis with this numbering system, he claimed that many people fell about even among the three with a score of 4-4-4.

If reading such a relativistic and meaningless description doesn’t raise your inherent ‘quackery detector’ in the realm of psychology/physiology, it might at least give you pause with the idea of applying it to sports and bodybuilding.

So how’s it being applied to those? Let’s analyze it.

‘Somatotypes for Muscle Building’: Are you a special case if you’re skinny or fat?

The following is a paraphrased description of an ectomorph excerpted from a ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ article:

“Ectomorphs are small-boned, extremely slender, and tend to be hard-gainers. They possess fast metabolisms and are able to eat as much as they want without gaining any body fat. Unfortunately, they also tend to have a very difficult time gaining muscle.”

Let me propose a fair question: Why would an ectomorph’s tendency not to gain fat have any bearing on his or her ability to gain muscle? To make that claim is to assume that fat and muscle are gained in a way even remotely resembling the same manner. They’re not. And making this assumption is almost comedic when considering that many who do will also repeat the following claim:

“Fat’s fat and muscle’s muscle; they’re two completely different tissues and one can’t be changed into the other.”

That’s true. And they’re each gained for a different reason. But that doesn’t seem to create any reservation in ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ believers as they label endomorphs with the following (paraphrased) descriptions:

“Endomorphs tend to be short with bigger bones and a propensity to carry more fat cells. They tend to have an easier time gaining muscle, but at the price of gaining fat more easily too.”

“Easier time gaining muscle”; are these guys serious?  When was the last time you heard an overweight person say anything like the following:

“Gee… my metabolism’s so slow that I practically gain ten pounds of fat just looking at a piece of cheesecake. But boy… that sure has its payoff; the muscle just starts packing on as soon as I hit the gym and pump some iron.”

If this were the case, and given that muscle burns calories, every fat person in the world would have a built-in counterbalancing system that would make them naturals for speeding up their metabolisms. Thus, they’d likely have an eventual advantage in losing body fat that they had once found all too easy to gain. 

Of course, it’s not the case. And the best evidence that you’re not at a muscle gaining disadvantage if you’re a skinny individual is the realization that nobody appears to be at a muscle gaining advantage by being fat.

‘Somatotypes for Muscle Building’: Are “Mesomorphs” at an Advantage?

Proponents of ‘somatotypes for muscle building ‘are quick to claim that mesomorphs possess an inherent advantage in building muscle. Mesomorphs are said to be stocky with slightly muscular builds and bigger bone structures. It’s claimed that they have naturally smaller waistlines and broad shoulders.

But here’s another fair question on behalf of any thinking person:

‘What would bone structure have to do with muscle growth? Why would it be a factor?’

Let’s say you had two people of equal height, equal weight, and the same level of body fat. As a hypothetical, let’s say they also happen to possess the exact same volume of non-muscle soft tissue and body fluid. Let’s just say the only difference is that ‘person A’ has ten pounds less bone mass circumference than ‘person B.’ To make their body weight equal, however, person A has ten pounds more muscle than person B.

As you picture that, you can easily imagine how person A would have a noticeably more developed muscularity than person B while possessing a mere ten pounds more muscle.  It wouldn’t matter that person B has a bigger bone structure. This is why someone standing 5’- 9” and weighing 175 pounds can appear much more muscular and in-shape than someone standing two inches taller and weighing 200 pounds. This can be the case even if their body fat percentages are within a few percentage points of each other. The taller, 200-pounder is undoubtedly of bigger overall size. However, as the late Vince Gironda once said, bodybuilding is about “creating an illusion with your body”; it’s not about just being “big” or mindlessly putting on any type of mass.

Muscle Tissue of the Back

'Muscle Tissue': It responds to the same principles of tear-down/recuperation, regardless of how much or little with which you start out


So, another question: Why would a mesomorph have any easier ability to gain muscle than either of the other two body types? This question doesn’t imply that a mesomorph doesn’t start from a better place. If a person of this body type starts his bodybuilding quest with a naturally-occurring twenty pounds more muscle than his ectomorph buddy, he won’t have as far to go if they have identical goals in terms of sought-after muscularity. But to think this gives him an advantage in adding the new tissue is to confuse a genetic gift of a static nature with goal potential of a dynamic nature. 

This is because successfully gaining muscle is dependent on, more than anything else, getting a workout/recuperation formula correctly customized. I’ve seen so-called mesomorphs get this wrong and make no progress. Conversely, I’ve seen so-called ectomorphs get it right and build muscle fast by any reasonable standard.

‘Somatotypes for Muscle Building’: Don’t let it take your eyes off what matters

If you’re thinking about the ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ theory and you want to apply rational thinking to it, I’d like you to consider a question:

‘Do you really think a muscle building guru or personal trainer is more brilliant than a scientist?’

Why ask that question? Because that’s what he’d need to be in order to know exactly what you need to eat and when you need to eat it given the individual variables that affect your body and recuperation rate. My point all along in this article is that the rate of your muscle growth is dependent on successful workouts coupled with adequate inter-workout recuperation. These two things are NOT dependent on a label by which someone classifies your body when you start.

Think about this for a moment. A proponent of the ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ theory will typically assert that a mesomorph has “better” recuperative ability than an ectomorph or endomorph. But there’s a logical reason for theorizing the opposite; that such a body type will actually take longer to recuperate than either of the other two types. Why? With more muscle already present on the mesomorph’s body, he has more tissue that requires post-workout recuperation. A larger amount of tissue requires more time to recuperate than a lesser amount.

So there are two main takeaways I want you to get from this article:

  1. ‘Somatotypes for muscle building’ could potentially divert your focus from what really matters for building muscle to that which doesn’t matter at all.
  3. If you’re labeled either an ectomorph or endomorph, ‘somatotypes for muscle building’ could have you unnecessarily adopt a limiting belief about yourself that could inadvertently hold back your progress.

Remember that a big key to success in anything is to identify and absorb what’s useful and hastily dump and forget what’s not.

Your comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.


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