Building muscle depends, in large part, on the type of body that you have.
If you want to learn how to build muscle, genetics always plays a role. Understanding your own unique body type can help you overcome barriers, create the right workout program, and ultimately, lead to the best results.
Unfortunately, the majority of people don't know what their body type is, or how to assess it. Further—and this isn't meant to throw anyone under the bus—the majority of people, quite frankly, aren't great at evaluating their own bodies.
After all, the process is objective and requires some honest evaluation.
Here's a look at the three different body types, a few bonus categories you could fall into, and how to build muscle given the information.
What Are the Different Body Types?
There are three basic body types, or somatotypes: ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Additionally, you can classify a few other body types that might fall out of these standard categories. Here's more information on each type.
Ectomorphs are your typical skinny person. This body type can be classified by a long, lanky figure.
Typically, a person who is an ectomorph has trouble gaining weight. In fact, people with other body types sometimes feel jealous of this fact. Ectomorphs generally have very high metabolisms, which means some of them can eat generally unhealthy all the time and still not gain weight.
Commonly, ectomorphs are referred to as "hard gainers." This term refers to the fact that they have difficulty when trying to gain weight or add muscle. With such a high metabolism, it can be difficult for them to increase body size even when they eat at a caloric surplus and lift weights.
Mesomorphs sit in between ectomorphs and endomorphs. They generally have athletic physiques, which means they have more lean muscle than an ectomorph but not as much fat as an endomorph.
Generally speaking, when you consider someone who doesn't exercise that much "genetically gifted," they are likely a mesomorph.
Muscles are well defined, areas of the body stay tight and hard, and they generally don't have a hard time losing or gaining weight. It's for these reasons that many mesomorphs become successful athletes and bodybuilders.
Endomorphs can be classified by their rounded physiques. Unlike ectomorphs, they tend to be softer in key areas of the body, especially around the waist and belly areas.
Keep in mind, this does not automatically mean that an endomorph is fat or unhealthy. Some people are just naturally bigger or stockier and are perfectly healthy at the same time.
Endomorphs can also be incredibly strong and athletic, although it may be harder from the outside to get a read on their physical or athletic prowess.
These are the three different body types, but not everyone falls into one of the categories. Some people call these "in-betweeners," but it's safe to assume that very few people can be classified as one specific thing. To some degree, we're all in between one of the body types.
For example, someone who is naturally a mesomorph may gain weight. They could appear to look more like an endomorph if they have natural muscle below their fat tissue, but if they leaned down it would be quite clear that they aren't.
Another example is very lean ectomorph. You could look quite muscular, taking on mesomorph qualities but still have an incredibly hard time adding actual size to your frame.
Also, keep in mind that the three-body types don't correlate directly to health or any other outcomes. People come in all shapes and sizes and health is an individual thing.
How Do I Know Which Body Type I Have?
Knowing which body type you have can be difficult. The easiest way to find out is to take an online quiz or just give yourself an honest assessment in the mirror. Though the latter can be confusing or even intimidating for some.
There are some general guidelines to follow, though.
You'll know you're an ectomorph if you're naturally lean. If you've been exercising for a long time but don't really have much muscle tone or size, you are also likely an ectomorph. Being tall and lanky is also a sign.
Mesomorphs usually know they are that way because others tell them. They have low body-fat percentages, well-defined muscles, and natural athleticism even when they don't train as much as others.
Endomorphs tend to be on the softer, bigger side of things. A good physique example would be a lineman on either side of the ball in football. Endomorphs tend to be tall, stocky, well built, and naturally quite strong.
How to Build Muscle With Your Body Type
Want to know what's great for building muscle for your body type? Use the guide below to help you get started.
Build Muscle for Ectomorphs
For an ectomorph, it really comes down to two things: lots of resistance training and lots of eating.
Lifting weights helps you build muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. Follow a workout program that hits between 8 and 10 repetitions in a set, as this can help promote lean muscle gains.
As an ectomorph, it'll benefit you to do less volume in a workout and increase the intensity. Heavier weights with fewer sets will help stimulate the gains you're going for without taxing your body too much (and spiking your metabolism). You want to get in, get the work done, and then get out.
Keep in mind, too, that eating is at least half the job for naturally skinny people wanting to add muscle. You need to out-eat those genetics if you want to create a caloric surplus that helps promote muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Try following a compound exercise routine. Do movements that work for multiple muscle groups at once, like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and power cleans? Then start your second "workout" directly after you lift in the kitchen.
You're one of the lucky ones given the license to eat. So have fun with it!
Build Muscle for Mesomorphs
Endomorphs should find a muscle-building program that works for them and stick to it. You have genetics on your side, so anything from a bodybuilding-style program to powerlifting or even CrossFit could help you build lean muscle.
Because you're at an advantage when it comes to your physical appearance, you have more flexibility in terms of the program you use. But some combination of heavy strength training and high-intensity cardio is likely the way to go.
Strength training whether with weights or your own natural body weight will help stimulate protein synthesis and fill out your muscles.
High-intensity cardio will help keep your heart strong and burn a ton of calories. This way you don't gain any fat and are able to keep your athletic looking physique
As for nutrition, mesomorphs should eat lots of protein and enough carbs to fuel activity. This ensures you won't lose weight from your training, and that you'll be able to recover in between sessions.
Even though you're at an advantage for gaining fat, eating too much food will lead to weight gain just like anyone else.
Build Muscle for Endomorphs
As an endomorph, you want to maximize your greatest strength to build muscle. You're naturally strong and have a frame designed for lifting heavy weights already. So this should be your approach for adding even more muscle.
Heavy, compound lifts are great. But you can also add in lots of assistance work to help tone and define the smaller muscle groups in your arms and legs (the biceps, triceps, etc.).
Your greater concern is the food you put in your body to fuel your efforts. Stick to clean fuel sources, like lean proteins, vegetables, and clean carbs like rice to help promote muscle gain without adding fat at the same time.
As an endomorph, overeating can spoil your gains. To look muscular and naturally athletic, your biggest battle will come in the kitchen, not the gym.
It could also help to do some periodic cardiovascular exercise. High-intensity interval training has been shown to be especially effective for fat loss and can be done in just a few minutes per week. This approach may be the most ideal, as it won't take away from your muscle-building program.
Build Muscle for In-Betweeners
If you feel like you're in between body types, mix and match the advice given above.
For example, if you already look naturally lean and muscular but have a very difficult time making the number on the scale reflect it, increase your food intake.
Conversely, if you easily gain weight but look pretty athletic at a low-body fat percentage, you may need to monitor your diet more than the typical mesomorph.
Just remember that no matter what your body type is, no results happen overnight. You'll need to be patient no matter what your body type is, stick to the process, and let things play out over the long term.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
If you're wondering how to build muscle, keep the following tips in mind. They apply to all body types to some degree.
Learn Proper Form
The technique helps you get the best results from your workout program and keeps you safe from injuries. No matter what your physique looks like, bad form increases the chance that you'll get hurt and have to take a prolonged break from your program.
Add Muscle the Healthy Way
Each body type has its own advantages depending on the goals you're aiming to reach. Sure, it may seem ideal to be a mesomorph, as their natural athletic aesthetic is appealing to a lot of people. But if your goal is to add size, being an endomorph would actually benefit you.
No matter what your goal is, just be sure to add muscle the healthy way. Be sure to give your body at least one or two days off per week to recover.
In fact, rest days are absolutely necessary to promote muscle synthesis. So big or small, make them a priority.
There are a number of athletic supplements you can take to help you add lean muscle. Some of the popular ones include:
- Whey protein, for improved recovery
- Fish oil, to reduce inflammation and soreness
- Branch chain amino acids, to promote recovery
- Pre-workout, to help give you a boost during your exercise routine
- Natural sleep aids like melatonin, to help you recover better while you sleep
Suffice it to say, thousands of supplements exist. Just be sure to do your research before taking anything, not on this list. Marketing campaigns spend thousands of dollars each year to fool people with all sorts of body types into buying their products.
Now that you know how to build muscle based on your body type, you're probably ready to get started with your routine.
At the end of the day, remember that results in the gym come down to hard work and consistency. Each body type offers its own advantages and disadvantages, and tailoring your program to meet your specific needs will help. But giving it your all is ultimately how your physique will change.
The key is, to be honest with what you see in the mirror. Assessing yourself can be intimidating, so just remember that this information is valuable and that you are a work in progress.
For more tips on health, fitness, and building muscle, check out the rest of our blog. Good luck with your goals!