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What is a somatotype/somatotyping?

Somatotype is a scientific word for body-type or physique.

Why not just say body-type?

We all have terms that loosely define various body-types, such as: fat, skinny, strong, tall, short etc. The word "somatotype" was first introduced by William Sheldon and refers to something more accurate and measured than the common words we use to describe people. For example tall and short are relative terms that are dependent on the prevailing height of the population making the judgment. In contrast to such superficial terms, somatotype defines close to 1,800 different body-types. This is a serious tool that forms a technical platform that can be used in research by physicians, psychologists, anthropologists & Olympic trainers all over the world.

How did Sheldon describe somatotype?

Sheldon described somatotype as the intersection of three dimensions: endomorphy, mesomorphy & ectomorphy. He used a seven degree scale for each component. Reading from left to right the first number is endomorphy, the second number is mesomorphy and the final number is ectomorphy. An extreme endomorph would be 7,1,1. An extreme mesomorph would be 1,7,1. An extreme ectomorph 1,1,7 A balanced somatotype would be nearly equal in all three components. A 4,4,4 would be right in the middle of the triangular somatotype space

Is it correct to refer to Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy as the three somatotypes.

In some discussions on somatotype you get the impression that there are three somatotypes: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. This is inaccurate because Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy are components or dimensions of somatotype. Those words would only describe the rare extreme somatotypes. Referring to someone as being simply an endomorph, mesomorph or ectomorph is no different from saying someone is fat, muscular or skinny. Technically a somatotype is represented numerically by a sequence of the three numbers that represent the degree to which each component appears to be present based on objective measurements of a person's physique.

Some websites post a list of questions and depending on how you answer the questions claim to determine your somatotype. Is this an accurate way to find your somatotype?

Most of the questions are general and ambiguous. Once you understand how somatotype is determined you will clearly see how far astray those questions can lead a person. Although it is possible to infer some personality traits based on somatotype there are too many variables to how a person may perceive their own personality to make any kind of accurate prediction about one’s somatotype.

Is it possible to change your somatotype?

Sheldon's theory says that the somatotype you have by your early 20's, when you have completed your growth, is the somatotype you inherited and you are stuck with it. Adding or losing muscle or fat is unlikely to alter a person's assessment by much more than a 10% margin of human error. There are endless arguments in the body building community over this issue. These arguments are all based on examples where a person appeared fat and later, after intense training, is bulging with muscles. But if you were to determine the Trunk Index before and after you would find them to be the same. The beauty of the Trunk Index method is that the Trunk Index has proven to be an extremely stable measurement. The Trunk Index is firmly rooted in a person’s skeletal structure. You can add and subtract fat or muscle and have no effect on the general skeletal structure.

What about the Heath-Carter method of somatotyping? They claim somatotype can change through diet and exercise.

Heath-Carter is a way of determining somatotype as defined by Heath-Carter. There are hundreds of ways a person could measure and classify physique. However, in an effort to retain as much continuity to the field as possible, the Heath-Carter method uses Sheldon's terms for the dimensions of physique. They measure subcutaneous fat to determine endomorphy and they measure muscle circumference to determine mesomorphy. Of course these measurements can vary with diet and exercise. But endomorphy is NOT fat and mesomorphy is NOT muscle. Endomorphy is the tendency of a certain physique to be able to easily produe and store fat. If an extremely endomorphic body is starved it will not become an ectomorph but instead will be an emaciated Endomorph whose Trunk Index will remain the same. Likewise, mesomorphy is NOT muscle but rather the tendency to easily develop muscle.

Which method is most useful?

They both have value. Heath-Carter has established a solid reputation in tracking athletic development and performance. Heath-Carter acknowledge a degree of connection between somatotype and temperament but shied away from that area because it is so loaded and difficult to prove causation. Instead Heath preferred practical scientific rigor and focused on the changes in fat and muscle that mark a person's fitness for superior athletic performance. However, if you are interested in a theoretical framework that aids in the diagnoses of temperament then Sheldon's concept of a stable inherited somatotype becomes the preferred way to go.

Is using somatotype to predict temperament just another pseudoscience like phrenology?

People with only a superficial knowledge of Sheldon and somatotyping like to make this claim. Remember though that phrenology actually was a scientific theory. It made falsifiable hypotheses (claims) and its’ claims were shown to be false. Anyone who continues to adhere to the false claims of phrenology is clinging to a pseudoscience. On the other hand Sheldon’s claim that there is a relationship between somatotype and temperament has been affirmed by other independent researchers in peer reviewed journals. The correlations found by these researchers were much lower than the correlations published by Sheldon but were still significant and in the same direction as Sheldon’s. Sheldon was promoting the idea of inherited temperament at a time when the Behaviorists dominated American psychology. That combined with his unconventional provocative writing style and abrasive personality made a lot of enemies and that stigma remains to this day. For this reason it may be better to refer to Sheldon’s method as the Trunk Index method thereby avoiding entanglement in Sheldon’s personal problems.

Why should you find your somatotype?

Somatotype takes the guesswork out of self-knowledge. If you don’t know your somatotype you will never understand your personality or the personality of others.  Without a knowledge of somatotype you won’t be able to understand the adaptations you have made in life. This has application to any field where you need to understand what makes people tick.

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