Morphology was developed in the 1930s by William H. Sheldon, Ph.D., M.D., when he was investigating the relationship between people’s physical sizes and shapes and their tendency to behave in certain ways. While people no longer put much stock in that aspect of Dr. Sheldon’s research, his study of different body types has proven to be valuable to a number of athletes.
All you need to do is look around you to see that some people are big, some are small and others fall somewhere in between. We all inherit certain physical characteristics, and training and hard work have little chance of changing that fact – at least not with any workout and fitness techniques that we know of at the present time. These inherited characteristics include bone thickness, muscle quality (the natural thickness of muscle fibers), internal organs and even the outer skin.
“Everybody has different bone structure,” according to Vera Christensen, a pioneer in women’s physique training. She has operated health clubs and trained thousands of women and men since the early 1960s and was the women’s editor for Strength and Health magazine for more than 30 years.
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“Any good instructor can look at you and know what kind of training you need,” she said.
How can you determine for yourself what your training needs are?
“Most people know what kind of bodies they have,” Vera said.
“Women almost always know. When they buy clothes, they can tell. If the top part of their body is too small and the bottom part too big for the clothes, then they know what kind of body they have.”
Classifying body types
Dr. Sheldon used a scientific approach to evaluating and classifying body types. He referred to it as somatotyping. He carefully photographed more than 4,000 men without their clothes on and documented the measurements of specific body parts, such as their wrist sizes.
With tons of measurements on which to base his comparisons, Sheldon was able to identify three basic body types. Additional research assured him that these types apply to women as well as men. They are:
• Endomorphs. These are the “big people.” Examples would be a sumo wrestler, a big offensive lineman or a super heavyweight powerlifter. They have a “predominance of soft roundness throughout the various regions of the body,” Dr. Sheldon wrote in his blog Varieties of Human Physique. “The digestive viscera are massive and tend relatively to dominate the bodily economy,” he stated.
• Mesomorphs. These are the people with the great athletic builds. You see them in every sport. Mesomorphs have a “predominance of muscle, bone and connective tissue,” Dr. Sheldon wrote. “The mesomorphic physique is normally heavy, hard and rectangular in outline. Bone and muscle are predominant and the skin is made thick by a heavy underlying connective tissue.”
• Ectomorphs. These are thin people with little or no muscularity – the classic “97-pound weakling.” Dr. Sheldon notes that, “In proportion to his mass, the ectomorph has the greatest surface area and hence relative the greatest sensory exposure to the outside world. Relative to his mass he also has the largest brain and central nervous system”
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