The 3 Somatotypes Are Bullshit

Wherever there are dudes discussing lifting there is inevitably the mention of the somatotypes: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Guys will subscribe to the belief that these body types exist and that they have supreme bearing on their life. Well, they do have a bearing on their lives in that they are needless limiting beliefs. As soon as you say “I’m a hardgainer” or “I’ve reached my potential as a mesomorph” you’ve already quit. You’ve already acknowledged that any failures to lose or gain mass can not be attributed to what you’re doing, but attributed to your “body type”.

First off a bit of history…

Somatotypes were first suggested by psychologist William Sheldon in the 40s. He published his “findings” in 1954. He concluded on the three body types by looking at thousands of pictures of people and classifying them based on how their appearance made him feel. There is no scientific basis to this, just the feelings and observations of a psychologist. The scientific knowledge at the time was that of a current high schooler. Scientists barely knew anything about genetics and biochemistry, so how is it that everyone these days claims scientific reasoning behind the somatotypes. To me they have about as much credibility as phrenology and as much usefulness as measuring BMI.

Django Unchained
What was that about phrenology?

Body Type Is A Product of Lifestyle

Ectomorphs are frail and skinny because they stay inside all day and don’t eat enough. Just because they’re shy, introverted and skinny doesn’t mean some mythical body type is the cause of that. Mesomorphs are described to be the athletic and well-built (i.e., a jock). They play sports and eat a lot of food growing up and thus have a respectable body. Endomorphs are described as jolly, extroverted food lovers. Duh, an endomorphic body type is a fatso with or without some muscle underneath, nothing more.

Nothing can be done, he’s an endomorph.

Human beings are not so varied that there exists three distinct groups where morphology is enough to tell us everything we’d ever want to know about one’s metabolism or ideal training methods. Yes everyone is slightly different from one another. What works for one guy might not work as well for the next guy.

There was a guy on the forum who asked why he wasn’t gaining weight and when asked about his training program he said he did HIIT and ate paleo. Of course you’re going to be skinny if you do that, thats what people do to lose fat. If you find you’re gaining weight too fast drop a few hundred calories until you get it just right. There are much more important things to be worrying about, like willpower and preventing injuries.

Describing yourself by one of the three somatotypes is just a limiting belief and a rationalization for failure. The top skills someone training needs, regardless of goals, is accountability and consistency. If you don’t have a general idea of how much you’re eating or how much you’re progressing you’re just going to be stuck treadmilling in the same spot, going nowhere.

And some of us share Neanderthal DNA.
Read Next: 10 Reasons You Can’t Build Muscle

54 thoughts on “The 3 Somatotypes Are Bullshit”

  1. Bingo! Good stuff. If I got a penny for everytime one of my skinny friends told me he cant gain weight I would be rich. These are the same chumps who order a meal only to bring half of it home, of course.

    1. Somatotype doesn’t have any genetic correlation at all. William Sheldon doesn’t know enough biology to even back up his stupid claim.

  2. The three somatotypes aren’t based on just how much you weigh. For example, ectomorphs have a short torso and long limbs, while mesomorphs have a long torso and short limbs. If an ectomorph gained a lot of weight you would still be able to tell that he’s an ectomorph based on how his body stores fat and the density of his bones, same with the other types. Also, most people are a mixture of the types as Sheldon explained in Atlas of Men; people who are strictly one type are very rare. I get the point of the article, but I think this system has more credit than people give it.

  3. From Scrawny to
    Brawny: The Complete Guide to Building Muscle the Natural Way
    “As you might imagine, Sheldon’s findings were wide
    criticized, mainly because he based his assertions solely on visual inspections
    of photographs without any hard physiological data to back them up. Many other
    scientists argued that a person’s body-type (score) shouldn’t be based on
    something as easily altered as appearance. After all, would dropping 50 pounds
    change some from an endomorph to an ectomorphy? Therefore, researchers were
    interested in linking body type to some unchangeable physical feature.
    Otherwise, as indicated, a poorly fed endomorph could wind up being classified
    as an ectomorphy after losing a whack of body mass sweating’ to the oldies with
    Richard Simmons.”
    The book goes on to relate body types to bone size, joint
    structure, and other similar measurements, but I will choose to ignore the
    facts just like the author of this article did.
    It’s interesting to see how some guys on RVF were
    complaining about the quality of the articles on this blog, yet its proprietors
    keep focusing on volume.
    If no one moderates the quality I’m guessing this will turn
    into the Spearhead, a good place for “victims” to gather and upvote each others’
    comments and feel good about themselves.

  4. I agree with the author on his view that many place too much credence in somatotypes to the point that they use it as an excuse to slack off in the gym.
    That is all I can agree with. The rest of this article is ignorant. I would expect a little more science out of a biologist. Genetic variance plays a huge role in a man’s propensity for building muscle and storing fat.

    1. I 100% agree genetic variance has much to do with gaining/losing, but the somatotypes aren’t grounded in anything but observational data on someones morphology. You can’t determine the entirety of ones biochemical processes based on what they look like, thats just stupid.
      The proportions of someones frame will give them advantages/disadvantages in lifting, but you can’t seriously tell me that because someone is an ‘ectomorph’ with long limbs and who happens to be skinny, they’ll have an impossible time gaining weight. Its more likely that their lifestyle leads them to be skinny and they think they eat more than they do.

    2. But, Somatotypes have no genetic correlation at all. The propensity for building muscle, the propensity for storing fat, and the frame size are independent of each other.
      Also, body shape, and frame size are independent of each other.

  5. hate to piss on your fire but actually Ayurvedic Medicine that been around for an few thousand years or so has a similar thing….. there are skinny people, sporty people and fatty people….. i’m as thin as a rake, even if i don’t do any exercise and eat nothing but pizza

  6. Love the pic of the “Neanderthal”. So here’s another one, for no particular reason:

      1. You made me laugh, KD. Good comment!! But let’s think of him more as a pensive, coy Neanderthal, striving to evolve into something better than he currently is.

  7. Denying facts to make everyone appear equal. Didn’t know Return of Kings was going to go the leftist route. Sure, you can overcome your body type but thinking your body type won’t make any difference is just plain ignorance. Also, you can be inbetween body types; they’re more like a spectrum. This doesn’t mean the three types don’t exist, though. Do races not exist because you can be a mix of different races? Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best place for a question like that.

    1. I think some of this criticism is misplaced. The author acknowledges genetics guide body types. His argument is that environmental inputs can make a tremendous difference despite how some would claim otherwise. I would think this sort of advice would be well-received.

    2. Where did I say everyone was the same?
      I’m saying the complete opposite in that the idea of categorizing people into 3 types (even a spectrum) of bodies based off of appearance alone is absurd and that it is infinitely more complex than that. People describe themselves as a certain body type to avoid taking responsibility for failing in their goals. It takes time to figure out what works with your body and what does not. Check out the diets of world class powerlifters. They usually swear by certain foods and even certain workouts to maximize their progress. What allows one to set records will destroy the other’s progress.

      1. I can find myself agreeing a lot more with this. I guess you just came on a little too strong with your title by calling the 3 body types bullshit when there is something to it. I think everyone here agrees that people who use their body type as an excuse for their bad lifestyle or health are bullshitters.

    3. Actually, race as a biological category does not exist. There is not enough genetic difference from individual to individual to be able to classify someone as a different race. The only known example of different race is human biology is Homo neandertalenses, which is extinct. Ask any biologist, forensic/bio anthropologist etc. They will tell you race is a social category, not a physical category.

  8. Dude, I hate to piss up your flagpole, but you’re a little of base here. I’m full-on tiny-boned ectomorph-type of guy and I’ve been lifting seriously (and eating like I’m getting paid for it) for over 20 years. For probably a ten-year period, I was regularly sucking down 300+ g protein per day, gallon plus of water per day, and trying just about every “hard-gainer” workout you’ve ever heard of.
    I hit 195 lbs in early 2011 and even at 6’0″ and in site of being in the gym 3-5 times per week, my face still looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
    Bottom line, the juice-boys you’ve got pictured with your article are not a product of hard work or diet, that’s solid genetics with a huge pharmaceutical push.
    My big takeaway, after 20 years, is to jut get as much muscle as you can maintain a six-pack with; bitches love a six-pack but no one gives a shit if you bench 450. And fuck gaining weight, you ain’t getting a title fight anytime soon.

  9. Somatotypes are proper, but aren’t an excuse. I remember a coworker that was my height whose ankle was smaller than my wrist. If we were both 180 pounds, he would be morbidly obese and I would be emaciated. (Or he would have to be a weightlifter and take a lot of steroids). The first image is not that of an ectomorph, but an obese mesomorph.

    1. Somoatotypes don’t have any genetic correlation. It wasn’t coined by someone who doesn’t know shit about biology.

  10. “The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’.” — Richard P. Feynman
    -You’ve been declared a hopeless, obese “endomorph”? Ignore it. Go to the gym and stick to a real workout for a few months and see what happens:
    -IQ test says you’re dumb? Ignore it. There aren’t any pictures in this comment to look at, so I’m guessing you can read. If you can read, you can teach yourself almost anything. Go to the nonfiction/reference section of your library and start teaching yourself a trade. I know guys who are making $25+/h working as electricians, HVAC technicians, and auto mechanics with just know-how – no expensive degree or certification required. They live in nice houses that were cheap and rundown when they bought them, but their practical knowledge meant they could save tens of thousands of dollars by renovating them on their own time.
    -Did you bomb the SAT/ACT? Ignore it. You can graduate from Princeton with a Rhodes scholarship, become a US Senator, and even a major presidential candidate with a terrible 480 verbal SAT score. Bill Bradley did it. And the SAT was a much harder test when he took it.
    Living your life by the “scientific” classifications put upon you by
    “experts” will only take the fighting spirit out of you, making your
    victories hollow and your failures inevitable and permanent. Maybe you won’t ever be able to bench 500 pounds, cure cancer or invent a longer-lasting light bulb. Maybe you won’t ever get rid of the baby fat on your face. Whatever.
    What makes a good life? The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

    1. Didn’t Bill Bradley push for the VAWA which made all men guilty until proven innocent?

      1. Bradley did indeed co-sponsor VAWA.
        It wasn’t my intention to endorse Bill Bradley. I just wanted to show that his highly successful career in politics (his political positions notwithstanding) stands in stark contrast to his verbal SAT score. That suggests that being able to speak well is not important in politics, OR that standardized tests don’t measure anything that’s real. I’m leaning toward the latter.
        In the case of VAWA, it would appear that Bradley used his verbal intellect for evil. But he still had the smarts to navigate the political waters, which is what I find interesting about him.

  11. dude im an endomorph but ive always stayed lean
    just put in the fucking work. no excuses.
    But somato types are real its you left wing pussy hippies who dont like that genetics give some people an advantage

    1. Somoatotypes have zero genetic correlation. He doesn’t know enough biology to back his claim.
      The ability gain muscle, the ability to to burn fat, and frame size are independent.
      Also, body shape and frame size are independent.

  12. I don’t think anyone objects to the assertion that men need to lift weights and eat properly regardless of their genetics. I understand the point of the article and agree with its core message — stop making excuses and get your ass in the gym.
    However, genetics are very important, and a naturally skinny person can only do so much to overcome their handicap.

  13. I’m glad someone in the “Sphere” has finally taken the time to debunk the somatotypes that every serious scientist has abandoned since the early 90s.

  14. There is an unbelievable amount of dogma (i.e., “bullshit”) surrounding fitness and nutrition. Trying to communicate with that community is like talking to snake handlers about theology — you can ask a simple question, or express an innocuous opinion, and in response you will get an avalanche of received wisdom, shrieking, and know-it-all certainty, with zero basis in observable fact.
    The somatype system of classification is just set of quasi-scientific-sounding terms for describing observable features. They say nothing meaningful about any biological causal mechanism at work, or the precise nature of human variation. People have different body shapes? No shit! Tell me more!
    People say things like “Somatypes are about more than body fat .. it’s about limb length too!” Can anyone point to any scientific studies (or even surveys) that show a correlation between body fat percentage and torso/limb length? Something based on skeletal measurements, and not observation? Any scientific papers dissecting those studies? You know, the process of actual science?
    Is it possible that skinny people merely look like they have longer torsos and limbs? You know, because they’re thin? .
    And why base everything on one’s bone structure, anyway? Bones are living tissue — they grow and develop in response to the environmental demands placed on them. Yes, bones change more slowly than muscle (or body fat) tissue can change, but bones do change in response to the environment.
    And there’s also the matter of gene expression — body development patterns can and will change, quite radically, in response to your behavior and lifestyle. Not even our DNA is 100% immutable and fixed. Genes get switched on and off depending on how you eat, sleep and exercise. Your DNA may not change, but the effective expression of your DNA changes.
    But the dogma is that somatyping (and all the rest) is genetic, and thus there’s “nothing you can do about it.” It’s just wrong.
    And in the dogmatic world of fitness and nutrition, there’s no topic that’s been covered in a deeper pile of mythology than the so-called “hard gainer.”
    It’s simple — muscle development is mostly a hormonal phenomenon, and partly neurological. Certain kinds of neurological stimulation (i.e., exercising) prompts a hormonal response, which is what actually alters the metabolism and catabolism of your tissues.
    That means that while one small reason to have proper diet is to supply the raw materials for muscle growth, a far more important concern is the hormonal effect of your dietary choices. You might lift like a champ, and eat enough protein to shut down your kidneys, but if your hormonal responses are being squelched by some aspect of your diet, then it won’t matter. You won’t grow.
    That’s all a hard-gainer is — someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong.
    The main hormone is, of course, testosterone, which is what anabolic steroids are — just regular old testosterone, with various esters and other chains added to make it last longer in the bloodstream. Anything in your diet or lifestyle that inhibits testosterone production or uptake will inhibit muscle growth.
    The guys who complain about being a “hard gainer” are the same ones who typically buy the $150 tub of whey protein. It’s is made from milk, which is itself estrogenic, and bovine parts, from cows that have been loaded with estrogenic hormones their whole sorry factory-grown lives.
    These are the guys criticize steroids, but are in effect ingesting anti-steroids on a daily basis.

    1. Thank you so much for this response! One guy above was comparing somatotypes to race… as proof that somatotypes exist. Race does not exist so it’s not a good analogy at all. The same people who want somatotype to exist seem to be the same people who want race to exist as a biological category. Both end up being a jsutification for prejudice and laziness, but neither actually exist. I remember when I was skinnier my neck and torsoe and legs actually appeared longer despite being 5″1. After gaining weight I actually looked shorter despite the fact that my height never changed. Somatotypes are based on perception/opinion, not hard facts or scientific reasoning.

      1. I think that’s actually a good analogy — neither one really exists, but they do exist as visual approximations, and are good for quickly describing people.

  15. Denial of reality is a way of negative whisful thinking. Just because everyone can get bigger it doesn’t mean that aren’t genetic limitations to muscle growth. Terrible article because it lacks scientific arguments.

  16. ROK needs to seriously stop posting Fitness articles written by guys who don’t even lift ! Just because someone is a senior member on the forum doesn’t give him the right to spew misleading broscience bullshit to younger guys around here. Unless someone has been lifting for over 3 years , is over 5’10 , over 200lbs and sub 12 % BF they don’t deserve to write anything concerning weightlifting ! Shameful !

  17. 3 somatotypes is just an easy to give advice to the millions of people who want to get in shape. sterotyping is faster.

  18. I don’t think there is enough support in this article to discount the careful observations and intuitions of an expert.
    E.G. Darwinian evolution was not based on genetics or biochemistry and his intuitions and hunches were pretty accurate considering the lack of applicable knowledge and nuance we now have.
    Like BMI , the 3 somatotypes as “be all end all of” how to train and eat is outdated given the nuance that genetics and epigenetic variation(not everyone responds to the same exercise the same way) bring to light.
    The 3 somatotypes aren’t bullshit , there’s just much more to the story.

    1. Somoatotypes are bullshit. Somoatotypess have no genetic correlation. It has no clear evidence. Lifestyle also plays a part in someone’s appearance. Just looking photos isn’t good enough of an evidence.
      The ability gain muscle, the ability to to burn fat, and frame size are independent.
      Also, body shape and frame size are independent.
      Darwin’s observations was based on a sample size that is far greater than 1000. Similar characteristics between animals do have some genetic correlation. The evidence for evolution theory are very clear. Transitional forms between species are clear evidence.

  19. Not to sound like an ass…but maybe you should take a college (or even highschool level) genetics class…..
    Body type should’nt give anyone an excuse, but training and eating with your body type in mind will most certainly give you a competitive advantage of attaining your dream physique. Realizing your genetic preset and knowing you body type, if anything, will help you gain muscle by adapting your training/diet to your body type…

    1. Edit: after re-reading it, I think I get what youre saying now. I think the title is a little strong though. The last paragraph I feel like is what you are trying to say, how we shouldnt limit ourselves on ‘genetics’. But if thats the case, wouldnt you want to suggest other measures?
      For example, knowing your an ectomorph will seriously help you. You now know you can eat ALOT. So use this to ones advantage.
      and so on….

  20. Matt relying on what you’re saying, definitely the three somatotypes exist, but can be changed, did you know that? No matter the combination between them or purely the development of one type, can be changed with not only diet but with a properly state of mind. Your body obbeys and acts depending of what your mind thinks.

  21. This site is a pos. you white men on here believe that women should be skinny and starve themselves with little or no womanly parts(hips). But you think men should eating a lot and being as big as possible. You guys got distorted gender roles.
    I mean first of all, you white men only like big boobs but not a big butt to balance it out. And then you write saying that an alpha man has a big butt. So you white men think men are suppose to have big butts but not women? Lmao

    10 Reasons You Can’t Build Muscle

    It says men are the ones who are suppose to have hips/butt. Lol

  22. To anyone reading this article, the claim of somatotyping being bull is absolute quackery. I would love to see the author of this article refute the scientific FACTS showing mesomorphs are insulin dominant while ectomorphs being dominant in testosterone. Hopefully everyone reading this article gets to these comments and realizes the fallacies in this argument

  23. so this is all news to me. I stumbled on these theories while searching for tips to lean-up a little more and shed time off my half marathon (its my third one yay).I found it super interesting a researched it all day I quickly identified as an endomorph, with the exception of being fat. I gain weight SUPER easily, but I manage to work my @$$ off to keep myself in check. I’m still not ‘skinny.’ I gain muscle/strength (relatively) easier (at least compared to weight-loss its easy). When I do gain weight/ when I used to be overweight, my fat was mostly lower-body. I’m super-short (5ft exactly), have short limbs. My thighs are WAY to big for my tiny waist (jean shopping is HORRIBLE) My weightloss happens eventually, when I do the right calorie-definicency, but never nearly as efficiently as I would expect (mathematically). I never thought of doing the things suggested to endomorphs: Higher protein/fats less carbs (because apparently our body type is bad at processing carbs as energy and would rather store them), especially starch which should only be eaten immediately after workouts. This is super different from what I always believed. Intuitively (as a biochem major who knows about glycolisis and such) I always believed carbs+caffine before workout, protein after. Sorry for the long background, but I wanted to explain that I have been identifying with this classification not for an excuse (because I already went through the leg work), but I guess as a possibility I could start working smarter rather than harder? Do you think me switch up my diet (lowering carbs upping fats (this scares me)),but remaining in the same calorie deficit i always have (ps my lean proteins were always high). Would have no help,hinder, marginal help? When I read about these body-types, I didn’t look at them as excuses to stay fat/skinny/whatever. I looked at is as : hey, this is the problem, your not the only one who’s had to overcome it, here are some tools to help you succeed, along side your hard work.
    P.S I’m really looking for your response/advice, I’m new to the concept and I’m not sure if I buy into it yet, but if theres anything behind it, it could totally help me out with my 1/2 marathon prep.
    Thank You!

  24. Actually somoatotypes aren’t “bs”. They are based on physiological characteristics and psychology. This post doesn’t seem grounded in science but instead, click bait.

        1. I agree! like ectos with a bit of meat on their bones! Boy r u cute John!! Ecto with a body of Meso!!!

  25. Ectomorphs are frail and skinny because they are introverts and don’t play sports? talk about dumb and ignorant. Being an ectomorph means you have a light frame, shallow rib cage, small joints, thin shoulders, etc.. all of these have nothing at all to do with life style and many of the greatest athletes i know are ectomorphs but they are skilled af. I am an ecto but i body build and have a lot of muscle but I still have a light skinny frame and i wouldn’t expect to bench as much as an endo who has a big rib cage and way bigger bones. It is also foolish to think that metabolisms do not vary and that hormones do not determine your body builds muscle and stores fat.This whole article is just a big ignorant rant of bullshit.

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