Somatotypes are a way to classify human physique according to three basic builds. Ectomorphs have a slim body; mesomorphs have a strong, broad build; and endomorphs have increased fat and a rounded physique. An extreme endomorph has a large round abdomen and short arms and legs with a lot of fat on the upper limbs and thin wrists and ankles. Being an endomorph has many implications on a person’s health, including what exercises are appropriate and the chronic health conditions to which they are prone.
Heath-Carter Somatotype Measurements
Heath-Carter measurements are one method used to determine somatypes. These measurements include height, weight, and the width of the epicondyles at the top of the humerus and femur. The circumference of the upper arm, forearm, waist, hips, thighs, and calves are also factored in, as are skin folds on the back, ribs, abdomen, biceps, forearms, thighs, and calves.
Research shows that diet and exercise can affect somatotype, but genetic causes also limit how much change can occur. Endomorphs have a lot of potential for gaining muscle, but a difficult time losing fat. While it is possible for an endomorph to change their physique, just like anyone, a person’s somatotype does not change.
Somatotypes are not as straightforward as the three general body types. They exist on a spectrum of combinations of ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Endomorphic variations include
- balanced endomorph, where endomorphy is the dominant component, and mesomorphy and ectomorphy are equal
- mesomorphic endomorph, where endomorphy is dominant, and mesomorphy is greater than ectomorphy
- ectomorphic endomorph, where endomorphy is dominant, and ectomorphy is great than mesomorphy.
Somatotype correlates to some chronic diseases. Studies show that mesomorphic endomorphs experience GI diseases and neurosis more than other body types. Regardless of gender, those who scored high in endomorphy and mesomorphy were most likely to suffer from liver disease and atrial hypertension. The results also indicate that people with marked endomorphy paired with mesomorphy are predisposed to certain diseases and should focus more on weight control.
William Sheldon was a physician and psychologist who believed that personality was tied to body type. He developed the three somatotypes and attributed traits to each. Sheldon believed that endomorphs were more relaxed, comfortable, and extroverted. He took this theory further and attributed the personality types to criminal behavior, believing that mesomorphs had assertive and aggressive personalities that made them more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Sheldon’s work was criticized, with many believing that his samples were too small and that he was confusing causation and correlation.
Energy and Nutrients
One study on endomorphic women evaluated the relationship between somatotype, diet, and energy. The results showed that endomorphic women consume more total protein, animal protein, thiamin, vitamin E, and phosphorus than ectomorphic or mesomorphic women. Another study showed that endomorphs and mesomorphs have a negative energy intake correlation than ectomorphs.
Usefulness of Studying Somatotypes
Somatotypes can provide useful tools for identifying those who are predisposed to obesity. More research is needed to determine the relationship between somatotype and food consumption, diseases, lifestyle, and eating habits. Identifying these relationships may provide an opportunity to recognize negative changes over time and help people understand how to prevent them.
Many endomorphs find exercising difficult, but one study examined how endomorphic older adults responded to aquatic and dry-land exercises. The results show that dry-land exercise was not appropriate for endomorphic older adults as they are often overweight and have an increased risk of falls. Aquatic exercise, though, is suitable for people with obesity, back pain, joint pain, and those who lacked confidence. The water keeps the body temperature lower during activity than it would be on dry land, and less pressure is placed on the joints. Plus, being underwater and somewhat out of sight increased confidence and helped study participants adhere to the exercise regimen.
According to one study, endomorphy does not correlate with strength performance. It is important to remember that somatype is not the only contributing factor to anything; however, over a third of upper and lower body strength can be predicted by somatotype. Training will increase muscle mass and alter body weight, but cannot change genetic factors, like height and bone breadth.
Endomorphs may have a more difficult time dissipating heat than ectomorphs, who have long limbs and less body fat. Endomorphs may have a particularly hard time tolerating heat after a meal when their body is working to metabolize food — this elevates their body temperature even more. This is something to consider when it comes to outdoor activities like camping, hiking, or even military training and maneuvers.