The game of rugby union was conceived in 1823 when William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, disregarded the early rules of soccer and to the astonishment of his team-mates picked up the ball and ran with it. From this pivotal moment the rules of the game evolved and its reach steadily expanded as former pupils took the burgeoning sport to all corners of the British empire.
One of rugby’s great appeals is the way it celebrates different body types and utilises a blend of physical qualities to forge a winning team. Strong, stocky players win the ball in the scrums, tall players dominate the line out, big athletic players weigh in with crunching tackles whilst smaller speedsters run in the points out wide.
The variety of physiques found on a rugby pitch is just a narrow reflection of human society as a whole. Quite obviously, we are not all built the same way!
Some of us are naturally skinny, others naturally heavy. Some of us struggle to put on weight, others struggle to lose it. Some of us have long limbs, others short limbs. Some of us are naturally built for strength, others for endurance. The list could go on and on.
Back in the 1940s, American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon was trying to discover if different body types were related to different personality traits. After studying thousands of photographs he came up with 3 broad classifications for the human physique which he labelled somatotypes.
- Ectomorph - naturally thin with skinny limbs
- Mesomorph - naturally muscular and athletic
- Endomorph - naturally broad and stocky
It is important to note these body types represent the extreme ends of the spectrum. In reality most of us occupy a space somewhere between the different types. For example I would classify myself as falling between the ectomorph and mesomorph, an ecto-meso if you will.
Knowing roughly where your body type fits into this classification system can be useful when deciding how to approach your fitness goals as there are some general (although not absolute) guidelines which apply to each.
For example, ectomorphs typically have a hard time gaining weight and respond well to frequent feedings, higher carbohydrate intakes, high intensity resistance training and a reduction in cardio exercise (assuming adding some lean mass is their goal.)
Endomorphs on the other hand typically have a hard time losing weight and respond well to a reduction (not an exclusion) of carbohydrates, stricter adherence to their diet, frequent cardio exercise and regular resistance training (assuming fat loss is their goal.)
Mesomorphs are touted as the genetic lottery winners when it comes to physique goals. They can build muscle or drop body fat relatively easily so long as they stay true to the basic principles of progressive overload and energy balance.
As mentioned above these guidelines are merely approximations, not a sentence. Understanding the unique traits of your body and how it responds to food and exercise is an important journey of discovery but shouldn’t detract you from the big picture stuff like eating nutritious foods, being mindful of energy balance, exercising regularly and consistently getting good sleep.
Like rugby players around the world we come in all different shapes and sizes. Embrace your strengths, respect your weaknesses and don't waste energy wishing your natural body-type was any different... without it you wouldn't be here at all.