The Anthropometrics of Track Cyclists

13 Aug

In 1989, an anthropometric analysis was conducted on 35 elite male Australian track cyclists having a mean age of 22.6 years and who had been competing on average for 9 years. The relationship of anthropometric parameters to both bicycle saddle height and cycling performance was also investigated. Subjects were allocated, for purposes of comparison, to an endurance or sprint group on the basis of their competitive event. This study then went on to be used as a starting point in lectures for anthropometrics in athletes in many universities with majors in sports physiology and therapy.

Interested with the results? Needless to say, the implications were unfortunately not that important, as another study revealed that the anthropometrics had minimal effect on the performance of the cyclist. Further studies revealed that more than a dozen other factors could contribute to the performance of the track cyclist.

In the said study, subjects were allocated to an endurance or sprint group on the basis of their competitive event. The following were the results:

1) The group members in total were ectomorphic mesomorphs of height 178±4.8 cm and weight 72.5 ±6.6 kg on average.

2) Percentage of saddle height to lower limb length averaged 99±1.6%, and significant correlations existed between strength and both body mass (r=0.57) and thigh girth (r = 0.55).

3) No significant correlation was seen between any anthropometric parameter and performance in an individual event.

4) Cyclists in the sprint group were heavier (76.2 ± 7.4 vs. 70.0 ± 4.7 kg, P<0.01) and stronger (258 ± 44.4 vs. 216 ± 30.5 Nm, P<0.01), and had larger chest (98.2 ± 6.2 vs. 92.4 ± 2.9 cm, P<0.01), arm (33.0±2.2 vs. 30.7± 1.6 cm, P<0.01), thigh (57.5 ± 3.4 vs. 54.3 ± 2.5 cm, P<0.01) and calf girths (37.8±1.7 vs. 36.2±1.9 cm, P<0.05) than cyclists in the endurance group.

5) They were also more mesomorphic (5.3 ± 0.7 vs. 4.7 ± 0.8, P<0.05) and less ectomorphic (2.3 ± 0.9 vs. 2.9±0.6, P<0.05) than the endurance cyclists.

Now the methodologies of this study were pretty solid. And I’m sure track cycling coaches can attest to the application of these anthropometrics in actual practice. But what’s mesomorphic? ectomorphic? What’s the implication?

Here’s the gist of those descriptions as described by Professor William Sheldon:

The ECTOMORPH: The extreme ectomorph physique is a fragile and delicate one. The bones are light, joints are small and muscles are slight. The limbs are relatively long in proportion and the shoulders droop. The ectomorph is a linear physique. Straight up and straight down, and may appear longer than he or she really is, due to the length of limbs coupled with lack of muscle mass developed on those limbs. The ectomorph is not naturally powerful and will have to work hard for every ounce of muscle and every bit of strength he or she can gain. In short:
  • Definitive “Hard Gainer”
  • Delicate Built Body
  • Flat Chest
  • Fragile
  • Lean
  • Lightly Muscled
  • Small Shouldered
  • Takes Longer to Gain Muscle
  • Thin

The MESOMORPH: The mesomorph has well-defined muscles and large bones. The torso tapers to a relatively narrow and low waist. The bones and muscles of the head are prominent. Features of the face are clearly defined, such as cheek bones and a square, heavy jaw. The face is long and broad, and is cubicle in shape. Arms and legs are developed and even the digits of the hand are muscled. In short:
  • Athletic
  • Hard Body
  • Hourglass Shaped (Female)
  • Rectangular Shaped (Male)
  • Mature Muscle Mass
  • Muscular Body
  • Excellent Posture
  • Gains Muscle Easily
  • Gains Fat More Easily Than Ectomorphs
  • Thick Skin

Featured in the pic above are Australian Track Cyclists (from L-R), Scott Sunderland, Shane Perkins, and Jason Niblett. Their build is typical of the sprint track cyclist, an ectomorphic mesomorph which is an arbitrary definition used to describe the build which has share characteristics of both an ectomorph and a mesomorph but MORE of the mesomorph type. Take note of the muscular (and presumably hard body), with rectangular features.
Another study comparing the anthropometrics of road and track cyclists revealed that road cyclists were MORE ectomorphs than mesomorphs, and the body build of ectomorphs gave it a performance advantage over the mesomorphs in endurance races, although there was no significant difference between ectomorphic mesomorphs.
A newer study though still unpublished aims to compare the anthropometrics of track cyclists and road cyclists competing in the Beijing Olympics. The study is still awaiting peer review but will be published soon.
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