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Somatotyping – Fact or Fiction?

Developed by William Sheldon in 1954, somatotyping is a scoring system used to ascertain an individuals body-type and psychological traits in relation to three set categories. I’m 100% sure you’ve all seen them or heard of them over the years.

Endomorphs apparently store fat easily, have a wide bone structure, and a wide waist. Ectomorphs have long thin limbs, low fat storage and little muscle mass. Mesomorphs have a solid torso, wide shoulders and can’t store much fat but build muscle easily.

Clearly most people start a program of exercise because they fit into one of these categories, and want to be more like one of the others. Generally, through years of inactivity and/or surviving off one piece of bread a day (i’m looking at you, students) you can be sure gym newbies are either an ectomorph, or an endomorph. Skinny, or fat.

Sheldon’s theories were originally offered as an alternative to BMI, and he also ascribed psychological traits to the individuals purely based on their body type (this is slightly insane). Scores were arrived at by cataloguing 46,000 men from various ages and backgrounds (though a vast majority were either untrained or detrained in terms of physical fitness).

Since the 1950’s the scientific community has, at best, shown somatotyping to be highly subjective and without much basis in fact. At worst it’s been called pure quackery, damned to an existence on a dusty shelf with balance bands, homeopathy, and those pumps that make your cock bigger. (I.e. three ways to waste £20)

Unfortunately his work has been adopted by the public (and the bodybuilding community especially), providing a lot of excuses for why fat people “cant” lose weight, or why skinny people “cant” put on muscle, or why the people who can do those things through dilligence and hard work have only their genetics to thank for it.

You can see this by looking the following rankings of certain somatotype scores. Each score has a three digit number assigned to it (Endo-Meso-Ecto), scored from 1-7 representing to what extent each characteristic is displayed in the individual’s physique.

So a pure type (ectomorph for example) would have a 7 in ectomorph, and a 1 in the other two. Easy peasy. In fact, the most common somatotype isn’t any one of the three major types. It’s actually 4-4-3 and in Sheldon’s research was found in 600 out of 10,000 people. Next up is 3-4-4 with 570/10,000; then 3-5-3 with 560/10,000.

I’m gonna skip a few chapters and get to what we really want to know – the pure types! Uh…okay so it’s more than a few chapters…oh here we are! The most common pure somatotype is…..(drum roll)…..mesomorph. That’s right, there are more pure mesomorphs in Sheldon’s cohort than ecto’s or endo’s.

To be honest there’s actually not much in it. Pure mesomorph was seen in only 3/10,000 people (that’s not a typo), pure ectomorph was 2/10,000 and pure endomorph was only 1/10,000. Just take that in for a second – statistically there’s a higher probability that you’re more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than Chris Moyles. I can’t say i’m upset about that, to be fair.

Not only that but all somatotypes more frequent than 340/10,000 displayed a 4 or 5 score in mesomorph, suggesting that pretty much everybody has a great chance of building a lot of muscle, and everybody else only has a good chance slumming it down there on 2 and 3. Tsk.

There’s also evidence that you can change your somatotype via exercise and proper diet, in Sheldon’s own book at that, not to mention the decades of before and after pictures from people who actually work hard in the gym and achieve something rather than pontificating about being a hardgainer or why they think they have a thyroid problem.

Personally, i think the tree types are a great way to describe an already developed physique. For example Mike Mentzer has a very mesomorphic shape with his wide shoulders and solid musculature:

Whereas Frank Zane was more ectomorphic in proportions but turned his lack of comparative size to his advantage and created a statuesque physique that won him the Olympia three times!

Most powerlifters on the other hand are more towards the endomorphic end of the scale, like Dave Tate in his McDonalds years:

But even this side of somatotyping falls down because Tate himself drastically changed his type some years ago:

Hell, even the fatties of the iron game – strongmen – are starting to get ripped. Look at Derek Poundstone, rocking some epic traps somewhere between endo and meso:

My point is that all these guys have certain qualities that make them unique, but all of them started from the same place with an untrained, undermuscled, and over-fatted body. What does that say about somatotyping’s real usefulness?

In conclusion, somatotyping is horseshit, hardgainers don’t exist, and you’re fat because of all that pie. Anybody who’s stronger, more muscular, and more ripped than you has gotten that way because they spend less time crying into the internet and more time lifting weights and sprinting down the rec.

And that paragraph again in a less macho offensive way. Ahem.

There is absolutely no reason why you can’t change your health, body, and quality of life TODAY except your willingness to get started. If you’re sitting back on this pseudoscientific nonsense as a reason for why you can’t succeed so “why bother” then you need to change your attitude. That’s all. If you’ve been plugging away with no results for years and found this as a possible answer, get real – you’re either not trying hard enough or you’re not doing the right things. Find somebody who knows more than you and ask for help (the lovely trainers at Dave’s Gym, for instance!)

The worst that can happen is that you’ll lose the ability to disappear when turning sideways, or the ability to keep your keys and wallet safely under your manboobs. Depending on which side of the fence you start on.

Now get off the internet and go do something awesome with a barbell.


  • Steve Colescott on May 20, 2014

    I share an office with Dave Tate here at elitefts. I have to correct one minor point. Dave’s McDonald’s years are not over. He just gives himself a few months of eating fairly clean once or twice a year. Some of the crap he eats the rest of the time would put me into an immediate diabetic coma.

    • admin on September 10, 2014

      The grip of the golden arches is clearly just as strong as the grip of an elite deadlifter, then? I’m partial to hot apple pies myself.

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