There are many terms and phrases you’ll hear for each body type as well: “I am a hard-gainer”, “naturally thick”, “I put on muscle easily”, etc. These are true, in-part, however the reality is that the people who are saying these things just aren’t exercising efficiently; essentially, they are taking a generic workout from a magazine or off of a body building website and expecting the same results as the models. It’s like trying to put a triangle peg into a square-shaped hole: yes, it technically does fit in there, but the hole is only partially filled and there’s a far more efficient way to get the results you are looking for
At the most basic level, the world’s population is divided into 3 body types: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. Ectomorphs are naturally leaner and often taller, mesomorphs are usually proportionately built and easily put on muscle mass, and endomorphs usually have thicker joints and naturally carry more weight. Think of this classification as a spectrum, rather than 3 separate silos.
As you can probably guess, ectomorphs, who excel in endurance sports like long distance running, swimming, and rowing, have predominantly type 1 muscle fibres. Endomorphs, who excel in sports like wrestling, football, and shot-put, have predominantly type 2 muscle fibres. And mesomorphs have a pretty fair balance of both. Mesomorphs generally excel at any sport they try…nobody likes mesomorphs.
We can break the body types down further into muscle-types (because not all muscles are created equal). Type 1 muscle fibres are characterized by their ability to perform endurance exercises. They can put in work without fatiguing for a longer period of time, but ultimately their force output is not as high as their type 2 cohorts. Type 2 muscle fibres are strong, and can be explosive muscles which provide maximal force, but they fatigue quickly. Depending on our body types, we are born with a certain amount of each type of muscle fibre. In our lifetime, we can make these fibres bigger and stronger by exercising them, but we cannot create more of them (ie. if you want more type 2 muscles, but you are type 1 dominant, tough beans, you’re stuck with what you’ve got). So then, we are left to grow the ones we’ve got.
Before telling you what the ‘secret’ formula is then, I want to add a disclaimer that I believe every athlete, weekend warrior, and exerciser should adhere to the principles of periodizationto build a strong base level of fitness and health, however, let’s pretend that we are exercising in a vacuum for the sake of discussion, and that you already have a solid fitness foundation to work from. Additionally, this information is applicable to those whose goal is aesthetics (ie. you want to look good). The exercises you perform can be universal, and the intensity across all levels should be high, however, it is your sets and reps that will need adjusting:
Ectomorphs: Your body is predominantly comprised of type 1 muscle fibres. Type 1 muscle fibres thrive on endurance work. To maximize your results, consider 4 or 5 sets of an exercise in between the 12-15 rep range (don’t bother going above 15 reps if you’re goal is building muscle, at that point, it’s almost strictly cardio).
Endomorphs: Your body is comprised mainly of type 2 muscle fibres. Type 2 muscle fibres are designed for maximal strength output. For you, 3 sets of an exercise, between 6-8 reps, will give you best results. Because of the low repetition nature of your workouts, it is imperative that you perform all exercises to absolute failure (except perhaps barbell squats or barbell bench press, or any exercise where the weight could crush you and you don’t have a spotter).
Mesomorphs: You can do whatever you want and you’re going to look great. These are the body types you see at the CrossFit Games doing superhuman things that would literally destroy the bodies of ectos and endos. Just for your information, doing 3 sets of 10 reps per exercise will get you jacked, but then, so would the ectomorph’s and endomorph’s workouts as well. Duck you fouchebag.
Now, before I get a flood of emails from people giving me poo about how ectomorphic basketball players produce maximal power output, I already know that. There is nothing to say you can’t develop the type 2 muscle fibres that you have to perform optimally. And, by employing Periodization, almost all athletes do this as a requirement for excelling in their sport. What this concept applies to is strictly aesthetics and looking good on the beach or poolside. Yes, work hard, but also, work smart. Your workout should be tailored to your body type.