investigator, Research article
ANTHROPOMETRIC COMPARISON OF WORLD-CLASS SPRINTERS AND NORMAL POPULATIONS
Department of Sport Science, University of Aarhus, Aarhus N, Denmark
30 May 2005
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2005) 4, 608
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present study compared the anthropometry of sprinters and people belonging
to the normal population. The height and body mass (BM) distribution
of sprinters (42 men and 44 women) were statistically compared to
the distributions of American and Danish normal populations. The main
results showed that there was significantly less BM and height variability
(measured as standard deviation) among male sprinters than among the
normal male population (US and Danish), while female sprinters showed
less BM variability than the US and Danish normal female populations.
On average the American normal population was shorter than the sprinters.
There was no height difference between the sprinters and the Danish
normal population. All female groups had similar height variability.
Both male and female sprinters had lower body mass index (BMI) than
the normal populations. It is likely that there is no single optimal
height for sprinters, but instead there is an optimum range that differs
for males and females. This range in height appears to exclude people
who are very tall or very short in stature. Sprinters are generally
lighter in BM than normal populations. Also, the BM variation among
sprinters is less than the variation among normal populations. These
anthropometric characteristics typical of sprinters might be explained,
in part, by the influence the anthropometric characteristics have
on relative muscle strength and step length.
WORDS: Sprint running, height, body mass, anthropometry.
times are a function of reaction time, acceleration potential, maximal
running velocity and the ability to maintain velocity as fatigue
progresses (Ross et al., 2001).
These factors are clearly influenced by metabolic (Allemeier et
Barnett et al. 2004;
Dawson et al. 1998;
Jacobs et al., 1987;
Mero et al., 1981)
and neural factors (Casabona et al., 1990;
Jönhagen et al. 1996;
Mero et al., 1992;
Nummela et al., 1994;
Ross et al., 2001),
however, anthropometric factors also play an important role (Mann
et al., 1984;
Mero and Komi, 1985).
A muscle's maximal force is, generally speaking, proportional to
its physiological cross-sectional area (Izquierdo et al., 2001;
Powell et al., 1984).
If we consider two geometrically and qualitatively similar individuals,
we would expect all linear dimensions to be proportional. Accordingly,
we would anticipate body mass (BM) to be proportional to height
cubed (since mass equals density times volume), and muscle strength
to be proportional to height squared (since area scales with height
squared). In fact, it has been reported that muscle strength (measured
as weight lifted) varied almost exactly with height squared in world
weightlifting champions (Ford et al., 2000).
Consequently, muscle strength relative to BM, i.e. the relative
muscle strength (RMS), should be inversely proportional to height.
In other words, we would expect RMS to decrease with increasing
In sprint running, the center of mass (COM) is accelerated during
the early part of the race before reaching a plateau between 40
and 60 m into the race (Delecluse et al., 1995).
During each step, the COM is accelerated both vertically and horizontally
by the application of large forces during the stance phase, after
the body is slowed by air resistance (horizontally) and negatively
accelerated by gravity (vertically) prior to foot-ground contact.
The acceleration of the body is proportional to the force produced
but inversely proportional to the body mass, according to Newton's
second law. Therefore, in theory, the ability to accelerate the
BM should be closely related to RMS. This implies an inverse relationship
between height and performance in disciplines such as sprint running
Although being tall may have disadvantages for sprinters, it may
provide some advantages as well. A taller runner's longer limbs
will enable longer step length (Winter, 1990),
which could be advantageous since running speed is a function of
step frequency and step length. Accordingly, one may expect a smaller
stature to be a disadvantage in sprint running. In sprint running,
one may therefore expect a smaller proportion of world-class sprinters
to be short in stature compared to the normal population.
While it is unclear whether there is an optimum body height, these
theoretical considerations suggest that there should be an optimum
height at which sprint performance is best. Therefore one would
expect less height variability among sprint runners than among normal
populations. The purpose of the present study was to describe differences
in height and BM, and their variability, between world-class sprinters
and normal populations in order to test the hypothesis that there
is less height and BM variability among world-class sprinters than
among normal populations.
and BM data (IAAF Statistics, 1980-2004) of 42 men and 44 women
from the all-time 100m top-50 lists (International Association of
Athletics Federations, http://www.iaaf.org/statistics/toplists)
were compared to those of American (724 male and 663 female) and
Danish (1336 male and 1306 female) 20-30 year-old residents. There
are many Americans among the world-class sprinters. Therefore, it
was considered appropriate to compare the sprinters with the American
population. However, in order to validate the results against a
second population, the sprinters were also compared to Danish normal
population. Even supposing some ´trained sprinters` might be included
in the ´normal population`, the number would be very small and therefore
its effect could be considered negligible. Accordingly, the two
samples ´sprinters` and ´normal population` can be considered different.
The anthropometric data of the sprinters were obtained in part from
numerous internet searches and other sources - too many to cite
individually. Hence the height and BM data from the sprinters are
presented in full in Appendix
1 (men) and 2 (women).
The age range of 20-30 years was selected in order to maximize the
match of the comparing groups. The American data are public-use
data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES
The Danish data were part of a study conducted by the Danish National
Institute of Public Health (formerly known as The Danish Institute
for Clinical Epidemiology) (Kjøller and Rasmussen, 2002).
The body mass index (BMI= BM·height-2) is the recommended
screening tool for overweight and obesity. A large muscle mass can
yield high BMIs even though body fat is not excessive, because the
BMI fails to distinguish between the proportions of body fat and
lean tissue. Nevertheless, BMI can be used to describe the compactness
of a person. Thus it can be a useful anthropometric parameter. Since
both height (determinant for limb lengths) and BM (determinant for
muscle mass and hence strength) impact running speed, the interaction
of body height and BM is important.
Q-Q plots were made to test if data sets followed a normal distribution.
In these cases, in which the assumption of normality was accepted,
group variability (SD) was compared by using a two-tailed F-test,
and group mean was compared by using one-way analysis of variance.
For all variables, the sprinters and two normal populations were
compared. In addition, male sprinters were compared to female sprinters.
The p-values were adjusted for multiple testing (Bonferroni correction).
Statistical significance was set at p < 0.05 for all analyses.
of male groups
The results for the males are presented in Table
1. The male Americans were significantly shorter than male sprinters
and male Danes (p < 0.01). But there was no significant difference
in the mean height of male sprinters and male Danes. The male sprinters
had less height variability (i.e. SD) than the male Danes (p <
0.01) who had less height variability than the male Americans (p
The male sprinters had lower mean BM than the male Danes (p <
0.01), and both these groups were lighter than the male Americans
(p < 0.001). The male sprinters had less BM variability that
male Danes (p < 0.001) who had less BM variability than male
Americans (p < 0.001).
The male sprinters had a significantly lower mean BMI than male
Americans (p > 0.001). But there was no significant difference
in the mean BMI of male sprinters and male Danes (p = 0.11). The
male sprinter showed less BMI variability than the male Danes (p
< 0.001) who showed less BMI variability than the male Americans
(p < 0.001). Thus, in general, the sprinters are lighter in BM
and have lower BMI than normal populations and the height, BM and
BMI variation among sprinters is less than the variation among normal
Comparisons of female groups
The results for the females are presented in Table
2. The female Americans were significantly shorter than the
female sprinters (p < 0.001) and female Danes (p < 0.001).
But there was no significant difference in the mean height of the
female sprinters and female Danes (p = 0.67). All female groups
had similar height variability (p = 0.30-0.40).
The female sprinters were significantly lighter than the female
Danes (p < 0.001) who were significantly lighter than the female
Americans (p < 0.001). Likewise, the female sprinters had significantly
lower BM variability than the female Danes (p < 0.001) who had
significantly lower BM variability than the female Americans (p
The female sprinters had a significantly lower mean BMI than female
Danes who had a significantly lower mean BMI than the female Americans.
Likewise, the female sprinters showed less BMI variability than
the female Danes who showed less BMI variability than the female
Americans. Thus, in general, the sprinters are lighter in BM and
have lower BMI than normal populations and the BM and BMI variation
among sprinters is less than the variation among normal populations.
of male and female sprinters
The male sprinters were significantly taller (p < 0.001) and
heavier (p < 0.001) than the female sprinters, but there was
no significant difference in the height (p = 0.18) or BM (p = 0.13)
variability. The male sprinters had higher BMI (p < 0.001) than
the female sprinters. There was, on the other hand, no difference
in the BMI (p = 0.43) variability between the male and female sprinters.
between sprinters and normal populations
The present analysis revealed a tendency toward less height, BM,
and BMI variability among sprinters than among the normal populations.
These results suggest the existence of a limited optimum range for
height, BM and BMI for sprinters. The normal populations from both
the U.S. and Denmark showed significantly higher BM than the sprinters.
This result may be explained by higher body fat levels among the
normal population given that sprinters often have lower body fat
levels (Abe et al., 2001;
Kumagai et al., 2000;
However, in the present study, no fat measurement was performed.
The fact that sprinters have very low BM variability when compared
to normal populations suggests that very low or very high BM could
be a limiting factor in sprint running. High BM will handicap a
sprinter because it takes higher force to accelerate a larger mass.
On the other hand, strong sprinters should have more muscle mass
and therefore be heavier than less strong sprinters. Hence, sprinters
with a very low BM would probably have less muscle mass and thus
be too weak. Moreover, the results of the present study point towards
the sprinters' BMIs being less variable when compared to the BMI
of the normal populations. This result indicates that sprinters
also have an optimum range for BMI that differs for males and females.
Height, BM and BMI seem to be important anthropometric parameters
The male sprinters were heavier, taller and had a higher BMI than
the female sprinters. Therefore, it may be concluded that there
does not exist an optimum inter-gender height, BM or BMI for sprinters.
In fact, regarding mean height, only the American normal population
differed statistically from the sprinters. For a given height a
male sprinter would, on average, be approximately 10 kg heavier
than a female sprinter (see Figure
2). A significant correlation has been found between strength
and muscle cross-sectional area although there does not seem to
be a significant gender difference in the strength to cross-sectional
area ratio (Miller et a1., 1993).
These data suggest that the greater strength of the men primarily
is caused by their larger muscles.
It has been reported that mechanical power output during a single
short-term maximal exercise is greater in men than in women even
when the differences in fat-free mass of whole body as well as BM
are normalized (Froese and Houston, 1987;
Gratas-Delamarche et al., 1994;
Mayhew and Salm, 1990).
When the results of the present study are taken into account it
seems reasonable to speculate that there is a connection between
the gender difference in BM and performance. Since high muscle strength
(and therefore muscle mass) is required to perform well in the sprint
events, the male sprinters may benefit both from their larger muscle
mass (Cureton et al., 1988)
and the influences of the principal muscle-building hormone, testosterone,
on the development of anaerobic working potential (Kraemer et al.,
The male sprinters may therefore be heavier and perform better than
the female sprinters simply because they have more muscle mass.
present study demonstrated less height variability among male world-class
sprinters than among American and Danish men. On the other hand,
all female groups had similar height variability. Further research
is required to disclose if this can be explained by gender differences
in the degree of track running specialisation.
Limited height range
All of the world-class sprinters were in the height range of 1.68-1.91
m (men) or 1.52-1.82 cm (women). The fact that the sprinters' height
data was normally distributed indicates that both very short and
very tall stature may be disadvantageous for sprinters. No mean
height difference was observed between the female sprinters (1.68
m) and the Danish women (1.69 m), however, there was a significant
height difference (p < 0.0001) between the American women (1.63
m) and the female sprinters. In other words, there might be very
little likelihood that future top sprinters would be outside of
this height range. Even though the present study indicates that
very tall or short stature may reduce the chance of being a successful
sprint runner, several world-class sprinters are taller than 1.87
m (i.e. Linford Christie, Carl Lewis, Joshua J. Johnson and Asafa
Powell), which corresponds to the top 10% of the male U.S normal
population and the top 23% of the male Danish normal population.
Likewise several world-class sprinters were shorter than 1.71 m
(i.e. Andre Cason, Leonard Myles-Mills and Coby Miller), which corresponds
to the bottom 20% of the male U.S normal population and the bottom
5% of the male Danish normal population. Therefore, there is a small
chance that a future male world-class sprinter may be taller than
1.91 m or shorter than 1.68 m.
of the study
The sprinters were compared to two populations at specific time
points. Other time points might give different results, especially
regarding BM, as people tend to be fatter (Hill and Melanson, 1999;
Ogden et al., 2004).
The mean height has also increased during the last decades. However,
while among the American adult population, mean BM have increased
more than 10 kg, mean height has increased less dramatically (2-3
cm) during the 40 years (Ogden et al., 2004).
To test if the same happened among the sprinters, they were assigned
to groups, old (men: 1983-1999; women: 1984-1994) and recent (men:
1999-2005; women: 1995-2005), of approximately equal size according
to the date of their best performance. No statistical height, BM
or BMI difference was observed between the groups (men: BMold/recent=
75.7/77.7 kg, p = 0.18, heightold/recent = 179.2/181.4
m, p=0.20, BMIold/recent = 23.6/23.8 kg·m-2,
p=0.57; women: BMold/recent= 57.6/58.7 kg, p = 0.52,
heightold/recent = 168.5/167.0 m, p = 0.47, BMIold/recent=
20.3/21.0 kg·m-2, p = 0.10). Therefore, no data was excluded
due to the date of the performance even though some of the athletes
performed in the 1980s and early 1990s, which is earlier than the
normal populations (the U.S. data were from 1999-2002).
Although the U.S. has the greatest representations in the group
of sprinters, comparisons against another population might turn
out differently. However, comparison against the Danes who are completely
unrepresented gave relatively similar results, thus suggesting that
the findings are valid.
is likely that there is no single optimal height for sprinters, but
instead there is an optimal range that differs for males and females.
This range in height appears to exclude people who are very tall and
very short in stature. Sprinters are generally lighter in body mass
than normal populations. Also, the body mass variation among sprinters
is less than the variation among non-athletic populations. These anthropometric
characteristics typical of world-class sprinters might be explained,
in part, by the influence the anthropometric characteristics have
on relative muscle strength and stride length.
male sprinters were less variable in height, body mass and body
mass index than the normal populations
sprinters were lighter than the normal populations.
sprinters were taller than the American normal population.
female sprinters were less variable in body mass and body mass
index than the normal population.
Employment: PhD Student, Department of Sport Science, University
of Aarhus, Denmark.
Research interests: Biomechanics.