If you’re like many people, you might answer the question “what’s your body type?” with a response like “hot,” “weak,” “strong,” “flabby,” “curvy,” or another adjective based on your subjective judgments of yourself. But there are ways to figure out what your natural-born body type is, objectively speaking.
These objective body types are based on the concept of somatotypes, which were developed in the 1940s to correlate body types with physical strengths and weaknesses, personality characteristics, and behavior. Subsequent evidence suggests personality has little to do with it. But there is research suggesting differences in physiques, hormonal responses, and physical performances in the original somatotype profiles hold true. And there is solid science behind using somatotyping for fitness and athletic training to enhance performance.
To get a precise assessment of whether you’re an ectomorph, mesomorph, endomorph, or a combination type, you could go to a lab and have your body fat, bone, and muscle mass measured. You can also gauge your body type right now by taking this quiz.
Read each of the following questions or statements thoroughly and (honestly!) choose the option that best describes you. If you’re not sure which of two responses applies to you, trust your instincts or choose both — you’ll see why later.
1. From an objective point of view, which of the following factors seems most prominent (or dominant) on your body when you look in the mirror?
C. Body fat
2. How do your shoulders compare to your hips?
A. My shoulders are narrower than my hips.
B. They’re approximately the same width as my hips.
C. My shoulders are wider than my hips.
3. Which of the following objects best describes your body shape?
A. A pencil
B. An hourglass
C. A pear
4. If you encircle one wrist with your other hand’s middle finger and thumb, what happens?
A. My middle finger and thumb overlap a bit.
B. My middle finger and thumb touch, but just barely.
C. There’s a gap between my middle finger and thumb.
5. When it comes to your weight, which of the following patterns best describes your history?
A. I have trouble gaining muscle or body fat.
B. I can gain and lose weight without too much difficulty.
C. I gain weight easily but have a hard time losing it.
6. Think about what your body looked like, before you corrupted it with poor dietary and exercise habits, once you reached your full height as a teenager or young adult. How did you look?
A. I looked long and lanky.
B. I looked strong and compact.
C. I looked soft and full bodied.
7. If you’d been exercising regularly and you were to take a break for a few months, what would happen to your body?
A. I would lose muscle and strength quickly.
B. My body wouldn’t change that much.
C. My body would soften up significantly and I might even gain weight.
8. Put on a pair of form-fitting jeans — where on your body do they get extra clingy or even stuck?
A. They don’t. In fact, I can’t keep them up without a belt.
B. With a bit of work, I can wriggle my way into them over my muscular thighs.
C. They get caught on my butt or belly.
9. When you have a serious carb-fest (think: heaping plate of pasta or multiple slices of pizza), how do you feel afterward?
A. The same as I usually do — normal, really.
B. I generally feel good, though I notice my ab muscles are extra hard or my belly feels full.
C. More often than not, I feel tired or bloated for a few hours after the meal.
10. How would you describe your body’s bone structure?
A. I have a small frame.
B. I have a medium frame.
C. I have a relatively large frame.
How to Figure Out Your Body Type
Add up the number of times you answered A, B, or C. If you chose mostly A’s, you’re an ectomorph; mostly B’s, you’re a mesomorph; mostly C’s, you’re an endomorph.
If your responses were divided fairly equally — as in 5 and 5 or even 6 and 4 — between two different letters, you likely have a hybrid body type. To be specific, if your responses were split between A’s and B’s, you’re an ecto-mesomorph; if they’re spread between B’s and C’s, you’re a meso-endomorph; and if you found your responses in a 50-50 or 60-40 split between A’s and C’s, you’re an ecto-endomorph.
If you end up with a 7-3 division between two different types, it may mean that you’ve strayed off course from your true type with poor dietary choices, in which case the hybrid approach to diet and exercise will steer you back on the right track.
Here’s What Your Body Type Says About You
Generally thin and lean, ectomorphs tend to have slender waists, narrow hips and shoulders, small joints, and long legs and arms. They tend to be slim, without much body fat or noticeable muscle mass. Because they have fast metabolisms, they burn calories quickly, so ectomorphs may find themselves hungry frequently throughout the day; yet, regardless of what, how often, or how much they eat, they don’t gain weight or muscle easily.
RELATED: The Ectomorph Diet: Food List, Sample Menu, Benefits, and More
Naturally muscular, mesomorphs typically have moderate-size frames, with wider shoulders and a narrow waist, strong arms and legs, and modest amounts of body fat. They are genetically predisposed to build muscle, so mesomorphs often require a slightly higher calorie intake (since muscle requires more calories to maintain it) and more protein than the other types do (again, for muscle maintenance). Generally, mesomorphs are able to lose or gain weight easily.
RELATED: The Mesomorph Diet: Food List, Sample Menu, Benefits, and More
Because they have a medium-to-large bone structure and more body fat than the other types, women who are endomorphs are often described as curvaceous or full-figured, while endomorphic men might be considered stocky, doughy, or round. Endomorphs usually have narrow shoulders and wider hips, and carry any excess weight in the lower abdomen, hips, and thighs. It’s often challenging for them to lose weight but with the right diet and training approach, it can be done.
RELATED: The Endomorph Diet: Food List, Sample Menu, Benefits, and More
These hybrids are increasingly common, especially in the athletic world, where this physique is prized for being aesthetically appealing. In fact, for men and women alike, ecto-mesomorphs tend to have the “fitness model” look. Often muscular with V-shaped torsos (think: wide upper back, developed chest and shoulders, narrow waist), ecto-mesomorphs are lean and agile, with strong-looking (but not bulky) arms and legs.
Including variations where people have more predominantly mesomorphic or endomorphic qualities (rather than a truly even split), this is the most common hybrid, according to research. Many bodybuilders and contact sports athletes (like football players) have this body type. Characterized by thick arms and legs and a boxy chest and mid-section, this type looks powerful but it isn’t chiseled. (This may be partly because people with this body type tend to retain water and a layer of fat on top of their muscles.)
People with this kind of build who want to get a leaner physique should be prepared to take a more refined approach to resistance training, cardio workouts, and diet, so they can prioritize fat loss.
Usually, this is a behaviorally acquired body type — basically, someone who is really an ectomorph has added significant body fat, whether it’s from poor eating habits, sedentary ways, or a combo of these less-than-stellar habits.
With long limbs and a smaller bone structure, ecto-endomorphs often have soft midsections, droopy chests, and flabby upper arms and legs from sheer neglect. To improve fitness, body composition, and health, the most efficient plan for this type involves resistance training and high-intensity cardio, both of which promote muscle growth and stimulate metabolism.
Since ecto-endomorphs may have developed some insulin resistance, their bodies may not be as efficient at burning carbohydrates, so they should follow a dietary plan that’s suited to endomorphs — with a slightly higher protein intake, a medium fat intake, and lower carb levels — until the excess body fat comes off and metabolic function is optimized; then, these hybrid types can switch to more of an ectomorph approach (adding in more carbs).