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Body Types & Build

Success as an athlete comes from a combination of athletic ability and our body build. The three components of body build are type, size and composition. A system, developed by W.H. Sheldon (c.1940)[2], uses the terms ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph to describe the body build of an individual.

Body Type

Beashel and Taylor (1997)[4] identify three extremes of body types.



Endomorph (711)

  • A pear shaped body
  • A rounded head
  • Wide hips and shoulders
  • Wider front to back rather than side to side.
  • A lot of fat on the body, upper arms and thighs

An endomorphic individual typically has short arms and legs and a large amount of mass on their frame. Their mass hampers their ability to compete in sports requiring high levels of agility or speed and perform sustained weight bearing aerobic activities such as running. Sports of pure strength, like power lifting, are perfect for an endomorph. They can gain weight easily and lose condition quickly if training stops.

Sports Benefits

  • Size benefits sports such as rugby where bulk is useful, provided it can be moved powerfully
  • Tend to have large lung capacity which can make them suited to sports such as rowing
  • They can increase muscle mass much more easily than ectomorphs



Mesomorph (171)

  • A wedge shaped body
  • A cubical head
  • Wide broad shoulders
  • Muscled arms and legs
  • Narrow hips
  • Narrow from front to back rather than side to side.
  • A minimum amount of fat

A mesomorphic individual excels in strength, agility, and speed. Their medium structure and height, along with their tendency to gain muscle and strength easily makes them a strong candidate for a top athlete in any sport. They can sustain low body fat levels and find it easy to lose and gain weight.

Sports Benefits

  • Respond well to cardiovascular and resistance training
  • Can sustain low body fat levels
  • All muscle groups can be used to derive positive training adoption
  • Dependent on the sports' needs they can easily gain or lose weight



Ectomorph (117)

  • A high forehead
  • Receding chin
  • Narrow shoulders and hips
  • A narrow chest and abdomen
  • Thin arms and legs
  • Little muscle and fat

A predominantly ectomorphic individual is long, slender and thin, and therefore power and strength sports are perhaps not suitable as their slight build leaves them susceptible to injuries. While they can easily get lean and hard, their lack of musculature severely limits their chances in sports requiring mass. Ectomorphs dominate endurance sports and gymnastics. They can archive low levels of body fat which can be detrimental to health and for females in endurance sports it can result in a cessation of periods and iron deficiency.

Sports Benefits

  • Light frame makes them suited for aerobic activity like gymnastics
  • Smaller body surface area also enhances their suitability for endurance activity
  • Their body is better at thermo regulation, important in endurance based sports


Sheldon[2] evaluated the degree a body type was present on a 1 to 7 scale where 1 is the minimum and 7 is the maximum.

All athletes are made up of the three extreme body types so we are all part endomorph, part mesomorph and part ectomorph. Using a score of one to seven, we can grade our bodies on each of the extreme body types. e.g. two, six, three means: two (low endomorphy); six (high mesomorphy); three (low ectomorphy). In this way, we can compare our body type with that of other athletes. This method of body typing is known as somatotyping - height is not taken into consideration.

Somatotype Chart

The "perfect" bodybuilder would perhaps be a 173, while 475 might be better suited for football, and 147 a basketball player. Having scores in multiple body types, for instance the football player's 475, does not mean he has all of the traits of each body type mixed together. It may mean he has the heavy thick build of the Endomorph combined with superior musculature and strength of the Mesomorph, with the above average height of the Ectomorph.

Greek researchers Bayios et al. (2006)[1] evaluated 518 elite Greek basketball, volleyball and handball players. Their results indicated the following somatotypes (endomorph, mesomorph & ectomorph) for each sport:

Sport Endomorph Mesomorph Ectomorph
Volleyball players 3.4 2.7 2.9
Basketball players 3.7 2.7 2.9
Handball players 4.2 4.7 1.8

Body Size

Body size refers to the athlete's height and weight. The ideal size for an athlete depends on the sport or event and sometimes the position they play in their sport (consider the various body sizes in a Rugby team). There are standard ideal weight charts based on an individual's height.

Body Composition

Body composition refers to the athlete's body fat. In most sports, the athlete will try to keep his/her levels of body fat to a minimum. In general the higher the percentage of body fat the poorer the performance.

Alternative method of somatotyping

Research by Barbara Heath et al. (1967)[3] identifies an alternative somatotype method for both sexes and all ages. 


  1. BAYIOS, I. A. et al. (2006) Anthropometric, body composition and somatotype differences of Greek elite female basketball, volleyball and handball players. MD.J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 46 (2), p. 271-80
  2. SHELDON, W. H. et al. (c.1940) The varieties of human physique. Oxford, England: Harper
  3. HEATH, B. H. J. E. and CARTER, J. E. L. (1967) A modified somatotype method. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 27 (1), p. 5774
  4. BEASHEL, P. and TAYLOR, J. (1997) Fitness for Health and performance. In: BEASHEL, P and TAYLOR, J, The World of Sport Examined. Croatia: Thomas Nelson and Sons, p. 59

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • COOPER, P. J. et al. (1987) The development and validation of the Body Shape Questionnaire. International Journal of eating disorders, 6 (4), p. 485-494.
  • GREENBURGH, D. R. and LAPORTE, D. J. (1996) Racial differences in body type preferences of men for women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19 (3), p. 275-278.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Body Types and Build [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

Related Pages

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