Book Review: Anthropometrica: A Texbook of Body Measurement for Sports and Health Education by Kevin Norton and Tim Olds

I had to pick up this book by Tim Olds and Kevin Norton, after reading The Sports Gene by David Epstein. Anthropometrica​: A Texbook of Body Measurement for Sports and Health Education talks about how different measurements within the body correlate to athletic success, as well as different health outcomes.


Original source: here.

            For instance, scientists measure athletes and compare them to the general population. Additionally, they measure the top-performing athletes within a sport, and compare them to lower-performing athletes within a sport.

These are some of the measurements discussed in Anthropometrica:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Sitting height vs. standing height
  • Length of arms vs length of entire body
  • Length of the forearms relative to the full arms

… and others.

Here are some of the most interesting points I got from this book:


  • The overlap in height between professional soccer players and the general population is very similar
  • The greater the overlap between a particular group of athletes and the general population, the greater the talent pool
  • Short distance swimmers are taller than long-distance swimmers.
    • In the 1990 world championships at both 50 and 100 meters, the average male swimmer was 186.4 +/- 7.5. The average female was 173.9 +/- 7.0.
      • At 25 km, the average male swimmer was 179.6 +/- 8.6. The average female was 162.6 +/- 4.6
  • Professional tennis players are about 1 standard deviation (approximately 15 cm) taller than the general public, but have an average weight that is the same as the general public.
  • Elite sprinters tend to be of average height, because long legs make it harder to take a sufficient number of steps per second (about 4.5 steps/second).
    • This wasn’t mentioned in the book, but that makes Usain Bolt a huge anomaly, because you rarely see sprinters of his height at 100 meters.
  • The sitting height to stature ratio is an indication of leg length.
    • The athletes with the greatest ratio are weightlifters (they have short legs and long trunks). Their ratio is about 0.55.
    • The athletes with the smallest ratio are basketball players (they have long legs and short trunks). Their ratio is about 0.509
  • Body mass and fat mass is inversely related to the mean annual temperature of where that person (or their ancestors) lives.
  • In long-distance swimming, higher fat levels are correlated to better performance.
  • In 100 years, although the population has gotten taller, the average height of the male winner of the Boston marathon has stayed the same at around 171cm +/- 5.4cm. This suggests that there is an optimal height for a marathon.
  • The average female gymnast in 1976 was 1.6m tall and 22.7 years old. The average female gymnast in 1992 was 1.45m tall and 16.5 years old.


All in all, it makes you wonder whether elite athletes are born or made. After all, you can’t change the length of your arms, your height, the length of your torso, etc. And the interesting thing is that within a sport, the most elite athletes are more similar than they are different. I imagine that by taking this information, you can initially select the perfect body type for a sport. Add some good training and nutrition on top of that, and you have a shortcut to athletic excellence.

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