What body type are you? Published information by the American Council on Exercise in their Personal Training and Group Fitness Instructor manuals tells us that the genes we inherit from our parents partially determine our build throughout our lives.
There are three main body types, or somatotypes (sometimes called morphotypes)
- ectomorphs (delicately-built individuals, like Oscar-nominated actress Rooney Mara)
- mesomorphs (muscular and athletic, like Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson), and
- endomorphs (softer, rounder bodies with a propensity towards difficulty at losing weight, like singer Adele).
These three broad categories of body types were created in the early 1940s, not by a physician or exercise specialist, but by American psychologist William H. Sheldon. He reported on it in his book The Varieties of Temperament, which remains a classic series on body types for both the medical and the psychological professions. Sheldon, who died in 1977, developed his somatotypes theory after studying 4,000 photographs of college-age men. His primary research interest was drawing connections between body type and temperament. He theorized that ectomorphic people tend to be quiet and reflective; mesomorphs brim with energy and vigor; and endomorphic people are magnanimous and love to eat. While those connections greatly oversimplify people and play a relatively minor role in modern psychology, Sheldon’s body types continue to influence how people exercise, body-build, and manage their weight.
Years later, Carol Saltus published Bodyscopes, in which she took these ideas a step further, discussing combinations of the original 3 somatotypes. Saltus explains that, although genetics predetermine what general type you will have for life, proper training methods can produce desired changes within a framework of realistic goals.
I want to emphasize that my purpose here is not to label you, for indeed, many of us are combinations of different body types. The important thing to remember is that you can’t pick up a magazine, find the body type of someone you like, and say, “I’m going to work out until I have this woman’s figure.” The Group Exercise Instructor Manual of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) states that everyone starts with these genetic predispositions. Genetically inside of us is predetermined how our body will respond to fitness. Yes, we will definitely become healthier, but we cannot determine the shape of the bicep when we exercise it, for example. We can make it stronger, leaner, and more functional, but we can’t determine its ultimate shape. Just being aware of this fact of genetics will help you understand your predisposition to a particular body type.
But this is only half of the story! What you choose to do with your genetic makeup is all up to you. According to Joseph Cotton, editor for the aforementioned ACE industry publication, no matter what you do, it is difficult, if not impossible, to change the body type you inherited from your parents. You can, however, move toward a fitter level within that particular type—if you are willing to put in the time. This means that, while you most definitely can add cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training to your regime and improve the constitution of your body, you cannot “become” like another individual of a different body type. For instance, while Jennifer Hudson has lost weight, she’s still naturally curvy and will never have a build that’s petite like Natalie Portman’s. But both women are beautiful!
So, remember when setting fitness goals that, realistically, you can’t change your genes to a completely different body type, but you can change your weight and your muscle tone to become the fittest version of your own beautiful body type possible!
Guest post by Lawrence Biscontini, Mindful Movement Specialist, fitness expert, and Senior VIP Consultant for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Power Music®.