When discussing both gym based training and cardiovascular exercise performance, most people talk about either the types of equipment they use, or their favorite training modality, as the two key factors that influence running performance.
And while there is nothing wrong with this – each of these factors do hold significant importance in this scenario – there is one other key factor that often goes completely unconsidered.
The way in which we are put together can vastly influence our ability to perform certain tasks, our suitability for certain sports, and our general athletic potential, while also impacting our capacity to build muscle and burn fat (affecting our body composition in its entirety).
As such, it stands to reason that our body type can also greatly influence our running capabilities.
What Body Types?
It is commonly known that within the human species, there are three key categories of body type (also known as somatotypes), each identified by different qualities, different limb lengths and joint sizes, and different body compositional make ups.
The three categories of body type are known as Endomorph, Ectomorph, and Mesomorph, and in the following article we will outline each of these in detail, and then expand on how your individual body type can influence your running capabilities.
The endomorph body type is typified by both shorter arms and shorter legs, and tend to carry more mass around their frame. Individuals who fall within this category tend to put on both muscle mass and fat mass easily, and maintain a higher relative body fat percentage as a result.
In conjunction with their shorter limbs, they tend to have a somewhat ‘stocky’ build, which is characterized by wider hips and shoulders, and a smaller height.
Due to the unique combination of these factors, endomorphs typically demonstrate high capacity to develop muscular strength, and subsequently excel at pure strength based sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting.
The ectomorph body type is commonly described as ‘skinny’ or ‘lanky’ - and for good reason too. Ectomorphs are characterized by a slight build, narrow hips and shoulders, and extremely long limbs (of both the upper and lower body).
Ectomorphs are somewhat renowned for their inability to gain weight (either in the form of muscle or fat), and often get categorised as ‘hard gainers’. As a result, they tend to carry minimal body fat and have long, sinewy muscle tissue.
Due to a combination of both their long levers and low mass, those with an ectomorphic body type are best suited to endurance based activates, or body weight specific sports such as gymnastics.
They tend to have a difficulty performing strength and power based sports, and their lack of muscle mass can leave them susceptible to injuries.
The mesomorph body type is represented by a large bone structure and what most would consider a ‘naturally athletic’ physique. Mesomorphs tend to have what would be described as moderate height and moderate width, with broad shoulders and hips.
Those who fall into this category of body type tend to have an easy capacity to develop muscle mass, while also maintaining a lower body fat percentage (although still gain fat at a much quicker rate than ectomorphs).
Due to their size and capacity to develop muscle tissue, mesomorphic individuals have the capacity to excel at sports that require a combination of both speed and agility, with particular emphasis on field based sports such as soccer and football.
Additionally, due to the ‘middle ground’ that mesomorphs tend to fall into, those with a mesomorphic body type have a relatively good capacity to develop their cardiovascular system, and can therefore perform quite well at endurance based exercise.
Body Type And Running Capabilities
Now it is important to note that it is rare to find an individual who fits these categories perfectly, In fact, most people are typically a combination of two body types, often leaning towards an endomorphic mesomorph (or a mesomorphic endomorph) or an ectomorphic mesomorph (or a mesomorphic ectomorph).
Despite this, it is important to realise that the body type you lean towards most (and there will be one) can greatly influence your running capabilities. Those who fall under the capacity of ectomorph have effectively won the lottery in regards to maximising their running capabilities.
Due to their long limbs and reduced mass, they are the ideal creature for running, having a great capacity to develop their aerobic fitness AND optimal running mechanics.
It is important to note, that due to their light frame, ectomorphs may have an increased risk of joint injury as a result of tuning volume, and as such should also participate in strength based activities (such as lifting weights…) to improve muscle strength and injury resistance.
Our second best body type for running capabilities is the Mesomorph. Those who have a mesomorphic body type have a good capacity to build their aerobic system, which can contribute to their running performance significantly.
And although mesomorphic individuals will be slightly heavier than their ectomorphic counterparts, most of this will come from muscle tissue. As such, it won’t limit performance as much as fat mass, and will also improve joint stability and injury resilience.
Finally we have our endomorphs. Due to their short limbs and high fat mass, endomorphs are not really built for running in general. Despite a normal capacity to improve their aerobic fitness, their genetics are against them when we are talking about running performance specifically.
While often unconsidered, our body type can greatly influence our capacity to perform a variety of sports – of which running is arguably impacted the most significantly.
Due to the importance of limb length, weight, and cardiovascular fitness on running performance, it stands to reason that the way in which we are built can influence our general capability for running.
As a result, it becomes apparent that those with a more ectomorphic body type are best suited to maximise running performance, while endomorphs are the least suited.
It is important to note that this does not means that endomorphs shouldn’t run, merely that their capacity to improve running performance will be limited due to their body type. They can still run (and train hard), it is just likely that their performance ceiling is lower than their ectomorphic friends!