If there is one thing I hate about the fitness industry its that it’s full of shady characters trying to make quick cash. We are constantly being sold the latest and greatest fitness gadgets, diet programs, and workout DVD’s.
And one of the biggest problems with this (other than that most are a complete waste of money) is that we are being sold a “one size fits all” solution to our problems.
Does it make sense for two 40 year old dads to be sold the Atkins Diet when one is 280 pounds with 40% bodyfat and the other is 170 pounds at 20%? Should the heavy set guy who has never played a sport in his life use the P90X or Insanity program like the guy who played 4 years of college baseball?
Of course not.
We are all different and no cookie cutter exercise program or meal plan will work for all of us. Hardly.
One of the reasons I’ve had so much success with my fitness coaching programs is that I look at each persons specific needs, goals, limitations, health history, and a host of other things. It’s about the individual.
Getting fit (the right way) is a unique experience for each person. Sure we can all lose 20 pounds by going on a low carb diet, but is that healthy for most of us? Fuck no! Does it make sense for some? Yes.
One thing that is often overlooked when trying a new diet or a new fitness program is your body type. I mean, how many of you have ever said “I’m a endomorph and should focus on compound exercises”? Right, none of you.
But it makes sense to understand what type you are as there are specific things that you can do to help the process along of getting fit.
Let’s take a look.
What’s Your Body Type?
We all have different genes and are built differently. Each of you will require different stimulus to get the best results. Maybe it’s high weight, low rep training. Maybe it’s HIIT type training. Or maybe it’s both.
Maybe you need to eat a ton of complex carbs or maybe you should avoid them like the plague.
Some of this depends on your somatotype or body type.
There are 3 general body types:
Keep in mind that there are few people who are purely one type or the other. Most of us are a combination of two of these(for example, if you carry a lot of muscle but stay very lean, you would be a meso-ecto.) The key is to recognize your dominant body type and plan accordingly.
The good news is that there are things that each body type can do to improve their fitness and health and I’ll take a look at each.
This is the “Skinny Vinny” or “hardgainer” who can eat two tubs of peanut butter every day for a year and not gain weight. He is characterized by long limbs, smaller body frame, and smaller bones. He also carries a lot less body fat by nature and is usually frustrated by his inability to gain muscle mass.
This was me for 35 years of my life. I was called “stickman” for years because I looked like a scarecrow. I ate whatever I wanted at any time of day and burned it all before I could even gain an ounce. If you’ve trained your ass off, tried every heavy lifting program out there, and/or have had buckets of “weight gain 5000 powder” lining your pantry shelves, you are an ectomorph.
This body type is on the flip side of the round and pudgy endomorph and will struggle to add weight to their small frame. I spent 15 years training heavy, eating like a horse and never was able to get above 165 pounds. The only way I ended up breaking through that barrier was by getting a desk job and sitting on my ass 8 hours a day (not recommended).
Today, I walk around at 180 pounds with body fat in the low teens but that’s only after 20 years of training, dieting, experimenting, and figuring out what works best for me.
Some of the characteristics of this body type are:
- Long arms and legs
- Thin frame with small bones and joints
- Usually pretty lean
- Has difficulty adding weight/muscle mass
- Tend to be weaker then other body types
- Has lots of energy
- Has a fast metabolism
Because I am an ectomorph (with some meso thrown in there), and have spent two decades figuring out what works, I have some ideas as to the best way to train and eat in order to get/stay fit, lean, and muscular.
Eat like a horse
You will never gain lean muscle without an excess of calories (and the right calories). Your metabolism will burn them quickly, so you’ll need to focus on eating. A lot. I have heard guys tell me over and over that they just cannot gain weight no matter how much they eat. This of course, is bullshit and I tell them so.
It’s more like they are not eating enough on a consistent basis, are not tracking calories so they have no idea what they are eating, and aren’t training heavy enough. If they are doing all of these things and still aren’t gaining weight, then it’s time to up the calories.
Like 5-6 times each day. It’s a pain in the ass, but trying to get in all your calories and macros will be extremely difficult if you only eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Snacks will become your friend. Also, try your hardest to avoid skipping meals.
Go BIG on carbs
Carbs are your friend. Since you burn virtually everything you eat, dropping carb intake will make it difficult to get in enough calories. Also, you will need a high amount (50-55%) of carbs to sustain your energy levels.
Use protein shakes and MRP’s
Although I typically advise against drinking your calories, as eating whole foods has a much higher thermic effect than shakes or smoothies, it makes sense for many ectomorphs. The problem is that many of us are busy, too bust to cook and eat 5 or 6 meals each day. The solution, although not the greatest, is often a protein shake.
Aim for 25-35% of your calories to come from protein. I personally use Transparent Labs whey protein isolate (grass-fed too!) with Myoplex for a meal replacement.
Just stay away from Smoothie King!
If you can’t gain weight, you aren’t eating enough. And the only way to eat enough is to determine how many calories you need in order to gain weight and then eat that many consistently.
The tool I use for determining caloric needs is the Harris-Benedict Formula. This is fairly accurate for most people and will give you a very good estimate of what you need on a daily basis.
And once you know what your body needs to maintain, you need to add an additional 10-20% for muscle gain. You also need to track those calories to make sure you are hitting your numbers. I use MyFitnessPal, which is a free app, to track my calories.
This is rule #1. Doing high rep sets is a waste of your time if muscle mass is your goal. Use heavy weights (70-85% max) and focus on big lifts. Concentration curls and triceps pushdowns are not going to help you here. Also plan to keep your workout short and intense. 45 minutes is plenty long enough if you are pushing yourself hard enough.
Focus on big lifts
Your exercise program should include any or all of the following:
- Barbell back/front squats
- Barbell deadlifts
- Barbell/dumbbell bench press
- Barbell/dumbbell shoulder press
- One arm rows
- Chin up and pull ups
Junk the treadmill
Other than for purely general health reasons, there is no need for you to ever step foot on a treadmill. That is if your primary goal is to add muscle to your frame. If you are a distance runner, then well I suppose it makes sense to get on a treadmill from time to time 🙂
With that said, I am in favor of using interval/high intensity work at the end of a workout. I like sprints or hill sprints as a way to really crush my hamstrings and glutes as well as work my heart and lungs. You can also give deadmill sprints a try (only if you’re into pain!)
As an endomorph, you’ve probably struggled with your weight for years. You’ve no doubt tried many diets (and failed) and ended up right back where you started.
This is where many fat dads spend their lives. The soft, doughy flabbiness that you call a stomach never seems to disappear despite your best efforts.If you grew up hearing “oh, he’s just big boned” all the time, then this is you. This body type has the hardest time losing weight/fat, has a metabolism slower than shit, and gains weight just by driving by Dunkin’ Donuts.
Little do you know that you are given more fat cells than your body type counter parts and while you cannot eliminate them, you can reduce their size.
A few prominent characteristics are:
- Tend to carry excess body fat and are often overweight
- Have short limbs and smaller hands/feet
- Are “big boned”
- Have a waist and sometimes hips
- Have a hard time losing weight
- Often low on energy
- Are heavy sleepers and tend to snore
The good news is that there are specific things you can do as an endomorph that will speed up the fat loss process. And I’m assuming that fat loss/muscle gain is the goal for most of you in this category.
So here are several things that are going to be critical if you want to lose fat:
Drop your carbohydrate intake
Chances are you don’t tolerate carbs very well and by dropping them to around 35-40% of your total caloric intake, it will force you eat higher quantities of protein and fat. Ultra low carb diets are not recommended as they will strip away water and muscle and are not sustainable.
They work in terms of short-term weight loss, which is why people do them and buy the programs touting how great they are. But you are looking for long-term fat loss, not short-term weight loss. Huge difference!
Focus on eating a high protein (30-35% of calories) diet
Also make sure you are getting plenty of healthy fats from things like fish, oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Overweight men tend to avoid eating fat because they think it will make them fatter. Not the case at all. In fact, eating too little fat will make it harder for you to drop fat.
Make fibrous vegetables your BFF
As much as you love those starchy carbs (damn you baked potatoes!), focus on leafy green stuff instead. They are far less calorie dense and much better for you. Plus, you can never overeat broccoli!
Be consistent with your nutrition
The moment you let your foot off the gas, your body will jump at the chance to store the fat you’ve already lost. You HAVE to stay consistent and that doesn’t mean for a week or a month. This is your life and you have to take this seriously. Pay attention to what you put in your body. It’s too easy to revert back to eating whatever you want.
It sounds simple but becoming more active is critical to raising your metabolism. Whatever you’re doing now, whether it’s walking your dog at night or riding a bike for 30 minutes, double it and that will be a good start.
Add strength training to your routine
Nothing burns fat like muscle and muscle is built through resistance training and progressively overloading your body. Focus on compound exercises that incorporate many muscles at once. This is not only efficient, but stimulates your metabolism and raises it for longer periods post exercise.
Do more cardio and make it intense
Should you be running hill sprints and dragging prowler sleds for your cardio? Probably not right now. The key is to do cardio that is intense for you. Don’t worry about what CrossFit or Tony Horton says, work at your capacity and to your threshold.
Because of the stress on your muscles and joints over the years you probably are on the inflexible side. Stretching and foam rolling are going to be a life saver for you. You’ll feel 10X better once you’ve loosened up some.
Your fat loss will come but it will take time. You are not genetically gifted to shred fat like the guys you see on tv. Accept that and do the best with the hand (and belly) you were dealt. For help with the process, the Fit Dad Blueprint 90 day program can help you with many of the struggles you’re facing.
This is the naturally fit, lean, and muscular guy who seems twice as strong as everyone else despite the fact he never exercises. He is gifted by the genetic fairy and is the source of envy for many of us.
I’m not going to spend much time talking about this body type because they need the least help (by far).
A few characteristics are:
- Naturally lean and muscular.
- Has broad shoulders and often a V shaped body
- Naturally strong
- Easy to lose fat and/or gain muscle
- Naturally athletic
- Excel in sports that require strength and/or power
This body type just has to be smart about what they eat and how they train. Just because you got good genetics doesn’t mean you can eat Twinkies all day and sit on your ass.
It will be much easier for you to get big and strong than the other body types, but it will still require hard work. Focus on quality foods, mix up your training to include strength, power, agility, and HIIT work.
What’s Your Type??
So now that you understand there are different ways to train and eat depending on your body type, you can now make some adjustments as needed.Hopefully it helps you break through that plateau or lets you reach your goals.
So tell me, what type are you and how do you train and eat?
This was really enlightening. Being a cross between an ecto and endo seems to be where I live.. Which seems to me to be counter intuitive a bit. I am what has become known as skinny fat. I am building muscle slowly, but have real issues letting my fat reserves peel off my chest and waist. I’m not sure how to approach that type of combination considering the substantial difference in eating and exercise regimens. Or, it maybe that I am not placing myself in the right categories either. I am 5’9″ 171 with 20% body fat.
Thanks for the comment here and on FB. Let’s chat about your situation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You cant be an Ecto and Endo… Either an Ecto-Meso or a Endo-Meso.
Some of the ‘experts’ claim (and it’s all-too-often parroted in the BB.com forums (which I no longer bother with), because they believe that regurgitating snippets and factoids puts them up there right along with the ‘well-informed’…) that there’s no such thing as a body type, but I don’t concur. I’m in agreement with you. Because if there weren’t somatotypes, then what worked for one of us would work for all of us (medical conditions, notwithstanding), and we’d be close(r) to standardization. We’re not. Because we *are* different and predisposed to genetic markers and body composition.
Well said and I agree wholeheartedly. Fitness marketers sell us on a one size fits all solution, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Is it possible to actually change somatotypes as we age? Like you, when I was a kid and through at least my late twenties I was flat-out skinny. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see an endomorph staring dully back at me.
Or have I simply buried the skinny kid under a thick blanket of sugary soda and highly-processed convenience foods?
I do love the broccoli. Never woulda believed that could happen when I was seven years old, but today, seriously, I’ll eat as much of it as you put in front of me.
I’d say that we have a “natural” body type that we will always gravitate towards if left unattended. For example, I might be construed as a ecto-meso because I have a good amount of muscle mass but if I stopped training and eating right, I would no doubt end up the 98 pound ectomorph again..
I don’t think our inherent types change but they can be altered significantly with exercise and diet. A fat guy would be looked at a pure endomorph by many but if he went nuts and lost 100 pounds and got lean and muscular, people would say he is a meso.
As we age, things change, yes. We add more body fat and lose muscle mass, which may change the appearance of our bodies to let us think we are a different body type. In the end, it doesn’t matter that much and for someone like you, it’s FAR more important to just get moving and then stay consistent!
Great info.. im an endomorph. . 5’9″ 315lbs 39 old. Who sits at a desk for 8 hours a day..i hit the gym on lunch and do 20 minutes on treadmill(walking) the usually throw in a 3 set of 15 reps of a moderate weigh.. i started trying to go after work for at least 90 minutes.. 75% cardio.my struggle is low energy and i seem to have lost my will power. Friends tell it is probably depression. To just fight thru it. Any recommendations or ideas would be greatly appreciated.
I don’t know anything about your situation and if you are clinically depressed, you’ll be best served by a mental health professional. But as far as your struggles, here’s what I’ll tell you:
1. Moving as much as possible is key for you. At your weight, you have to think about your long-term health first.
2. Your diet needs to be good in order for you to start seeing the best results. Eliminate breads, pasts, and empty calories.
3. Focus your eating on lean meats, fish, eggs, veggies, fruits, nuts, and a few grains.
4. Drink at least a gallon of water daily. You may need to work up to that amount or you’ll be pissing every 15 minutes.
5. Doing a few exercises just to do them is not helping you. In fact, you may end up injuring yourself. You need a specific plan especially since you probably have flexibility, mobility, and imbalance issues among other things.
If you want specific help, email me at email@example.com.
But keep moving, working on that treadmill, and being consistent. Once you start seeing progress, you may feel more motivated.
Hey Fred? Hope you’re doing better. I’m coming out of left field here and a few years late, but talk to your doctor if you’re still having issues. I just found out I’m severely low on vitamin D and after supplementing for 2 months I am seeing marked improvements in my willpower and energy levels. Good luck!
I am 38 years old. I´v just checked the webpage… man i end up in the meso category by far … i am strong as few and have a lot of energy.Since always. I have always been like a stock, even when i had only 82 kg..
I have been at 130 kg, 110, 92, 95, 100 … you name it.
As soon as i stop training or eating sweets it goes nuts … this is really fucked up. It feels really bad. I gain fat just by looking at a cake… It feels like this is a curse, really.
Yesterday i started training again, i´ll try to find a balanced lifestyle , with more atention on what i eat and a ok amount of training. Our bodies need motion. I´v read Freds words and i found myself there …depression is a real bitch. You need to talk about it with someone that haves similar issue, here i am ! You are not alone
I’m an extreme ectomorph -as in I could pay off the bring program for Olympic racewalkers. Several docs suggested I be tested for marfan’s (fortunately I don’t have that), I’ve got enough adrenaline for three people (nothing to do about that, as I’ve healthy blood low pressure) [oddly cortisol is normal, so this the extra adrenaline is apparently my normal]; my thyroid actually runs low in spite of my being very thin, but this is disabled with medication (though it means I have a four hour window I can’t eat during to absorb it); and finally my total testosterone is good but it’s nearly all bound up, my free T is at the very bottom of the healthy range. It’s very difficult for me to add weight. What little I do is muscle though, I will stay single digits body fat as a couch potato thanks to all the adrenaline. And, I burn some of that excess off aerobically -minimum equivalent to a 4 miles a day run (though I usually just bike to work) just not too feel like I drank too much coffee. I can eat what I want, but I burn through sugar and simple starches (potato or maize) like it’s water. Complex carbs, protein and healthy oils, eating like it’s Thanksgiving everyday to add any weight. As soon as I do my body for back down to 143 lbs (I’m 6’1″). My goal is to get a BMI of 21, I’ve never gotten to 160 pounds though (I’m 50 and still wear the same size clothes I did at 16).