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The influence of athletes’ physique on performance

In previous articles in this column, the importance of the physical attributes an athlete should possess, have been emphasized. Last week, the importance of the biological age of an athlete was discussed. No physical feature manifests the biological age of an athlete as much as physique.

Human physique includes the size, shape, proportion of parts of the body and the composition of the tissues of that individual. The study of the human physique is known as Kinanthropometry and is useful in the monitoring and understanding of the growth and development of the individual and his performance in sports.

A study of elite athletes using kinanthropometry and studying the factors that influence sporting ability such as body shape, maturation, components of the body fluid, cardio-respiratory capacities, motor abilities and sports performance will reveal a strong correlation between the athletes’ characteristics and their respective sports of choice. Even in a particular sport, the position or role of a player often depends on his physical and other characteristics. For example, it would be inappropriate to choose a short, fat fellow as a goalkeeper for a football team.

The assessment of the physique of an athlete is the joint responsibility of the dietician, sports scientist, coach and the athlete.


Certain body types are suited for certain sports. In order words, the type of sports an athlete is involved in is determined by the size, shape and proportion of his / her body. Different body types have been described in relation to size, shape and proportion. These body types respond differently to physical activity and nutrition. In sports, this knowledge is a useful tool in talent identification and development and also in high performance training. The various body types are Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph, or a combination of these.


The ectomorph physique is:

• Thin

• Slightly built

• Lightly muscled

• Flat-chested

Ectomorphs have low body fat, very fast metabolism which makes them burn calories quickly and hardly gain weight. They are best suited for long distance running, gymnastics, volleyball and basketball.


The mesomorph physique is:

• Athletic

• Hard large muscled

• Upright posture

• Well-developed arms and legs.

Mesomorphs gain weight readily and lose weight easily. They also grow muscle quickly. Their body type is best for weightlifting, heavyweight boxing, cycling (sprints; the sprints (100 meters / 200) races.


The endomorph physique is:

• Round body shape

• Wide hips

• Small hands and feet and more developed upper arms and thighs

• Generally short and stocky

Endomorphs gain weight easily and have great difficulty losing weight. They are best suited for wrestling, shot put, discus and hammer throw.

Some persons fit perfectly into one body type. However, most persons are a mixture of two or more body types. The usual combinations are ectomorph and mesomorph or mesomorph and endomorph.

There is a genetic predisposition of individuals to certain body types at birth. However, inherited body types can be altered with training and nutrition. Different body types are suited for certain training methods and diet plans. For example, ectomorphs would not tolerate power and strength training as those would lead to injuries. Their light, small bodies make them suitable for endurance training. They should also eat frequently to prevent the catabolism of their muscles during sleep due to their very high metabolism. Mesomorphs on the other hand respond easily to weight training, and since they gain fat more readily that ectomorph, their diet should be closely monitored. Athletes of East African origin, especially Kenyans and Ethiopians, are perfect examples.

Endomorphs are suitable for weight training and perform poorly in aerobic activities. Their diet is usually tailored to their sports.

Body size usually describes the athletes’ weight and height. Athletes’ body size are ideally suited for certain sports or events. Ideal weights are therefore important in sports training and competition.

Body Weight

The physical dimensions of humans, namely weight, height and body shape are greatly influenced by lifestyle choices, nutrition and level of physical activity. Acceptable methods to find body weights that are appropriate to individuals include the Body Mass Index (BMI) and the Waist / Hip Ratio. The Body Mass Index is obtained from the weight and height of the individual, and the Waist Ratio from the waist circumference and hip circumference of the individual.

Some studies have recommended body weights that are appropriate for certain heights.

Appropriate body weights are absolute are difficult to establish. Therefore, suggested weights fall within weight ranges. In other words, it is better to say that a 1.85 metre tall person should weigh between 70 – 74kgthan to say that the same person should weigh 72kg.

Recommended Weights for Heights are given below:

Men, on the average, weigh heavier than women of corresponding height as a result of the heavier bone mass in men.

Body Weight Control

The control of body weight is a very important aspect of the preparation of an athlete for training and competition. The significance of an athlete competing in any event at his optimal body weight cannot be over emphasized. However, guidelines for losing weight or gaining weight cannot be fully appreciated without an appreciation of body composition.

Body Composition

It is important to assess an athlete for weight and body fat at the start of a training season. This assessment should consist of physique, weight, percentage body fat, and muscularity. The best and most frequently employed method for body composition measurement is surface anthropometry. It is non-invasive and not too expensive. However, it requires expertise that is not readily available in the less developed countries. In these countries, a cheap and accurate method to measure percentage body fat is with skinfold calipers. If used properly, this instrument can assess lean body mass and body fat accurately and also, establish whether any gain in weight is due to fat or muscle. This method is very useful in gauging the progress of a training programme that emphasizes weight loss and muscle building.

•Professor Ken Anugweje, is a professor of Sports Science and Medicine, University of Port Harcourt

•Till Next week, keep attacking.

The assessment of body composition should also include the medical history, performance history (including injuries), and results of recent tests of the blood and other body fluids.

Athletes’ body weights and percentage body fat should be optimal for the respective sports they engage in. In many instances some athletes may require different weights at different periods of their periodization programme, for instance, being bulkier during a weight- training period and getting lighter and leaner during speed training.



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