Finding the right sport for your body type

Monday, April 30, 2007

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Find out what sport your body is best suited to

Have you ever wondered if your chosen exercise is well suited to your body shape? A growing number of people believe that the kind of sport we play should be determined by our body shape.

Our reporter Brooke Hanson has been swimming since she was four — over the years she's done well in the medal tally so surely her body is ideally suited to swimming? Brooke's decided to put three amateur athletes and herself, all with different body shapes, through a rigorous laboratory trial to reveal what sports suit them the best.

The test

The Australian Institute of Sport is always scouring our schools for talent trying to match physiques with sport. In 1987 it picked Megan Still as the perfect rower — she'd never even held an oar before but within ten years won gold for rowing at the Atlanta Olympics.

Brooke and her three friends are at Melbourne's Monash University to see if they've each picked the right sport for their body shapes.

Melissa Arkinstall is the person who's going to see how they measure up. But before starting the test, let's meet the group:

  • Twenty-year-old Sophie Robson does her sport backwards, rowing her way along Melbourne's Yarra river. "I started when I was in school. I don't think I have the ideal rowers' body — I could be more muscular and have stronger legs, but I try."

  • Monash University associate professor, Paul Lajbcygier is a cycling fanatic: "I've been cycling for about three years now. I don't feel I have the ideal body for cycling. I believe I'm a little bit too tall and a little bit too fat at the moment."

  • Victorian Kirsty Smith has been taking her running seriously for a couple of years. "My body shape has changed a lot since I started running and I have become a lot more leaner with different proportions."

Melissa starts by taking their heights, weights, girths of various muscles and skin fold tests to find out their body compositions.

Next, it's a workout on a treadmill for the so-called VO2 test — the volume of oxygen you consume per minute.

"You start at a really low intensity and every minute from there on will get harder, so you'll be running faster and faster till we hit your max speed. At that point we're not going to keep running faster, we're going to go up in gradient — so it will be like you're running up a steeper and steeper hill," says Melissa.

This tells how aerobically fit you are. As you run harder and harder up to your VO2 maximum point, the oxygen and carbon dioxide you breathe out is measured to give your body's maximum oxygen intake.

Melissa wants to push each participant to a point of exhaustion. All the agony is to work out the finer details of their body shape and fitness.

The next test is a prone hold — a core strength test. Core stability is absolutely vital in many active sports and will give Melissa an idea of their real strength and power.


It's time to punch the figures from the tests into the computer.

These are the body types Melissa is looking for:

  • The 'endomorph' — or the jolly fat person.
  • The 'mesomorph' — or 'The Jock'.
  • The 'ectomorph' — the model or marathon runner.

Each of these three body types, or a combination of them, is ideal for a particular sport.

Have our guys chosen the right one?

Her body composition was a combination of both mesomorph and ectomorph, so that's in between being muscular and tall and thin. Sophie's primary sport that she's most suited to is softball.

At 72 kilograms and 1.8 metres tall, Sophie's near perfect for a rower — the ideal for a female is 1.77 metres and 72.6 kilograms. Rowers have the highest air intake of any sport, up to 300 litres a minute.

Kirsty's primary sport at the moment is running, from the results she has a mesomorph body type which is very muscular with soccer as her most suitable sport.

Kirsty weighs 56 kilograms and is 1.63 metres tall, whereas the perfect marathon runner has a lighter, 53 kilogram frame and a height of 1.67 metres. They also need to be able to suck in lots of oxygen.

Is a combination of all body types — he's right in the middle of being a mesomorph, an ectomorph and an endomorph. His primary sport that he's most suited to is badminton.

A survey of elite male cyclists revealed an average height of 1.82 metres and weight of 72.6 kilograms which makes Paul three centimetres too tall, and 10 kilos too heavy.

Brooke's body type is the perfect mesomorph — the perfect muscular specimen with aerobic fitness, is well–trained, and body fat around 14 percent. Her preferred sport to best suit her body type would be lacrosse.

The perfect swimmer is tall with long limbs, big hands and feet, narrow hips and broad shoulders. Brooke's got the shoulders and the hips and she's no shortie, but she hasn't got the size 17 feet like some swimming legends.

"I'll just have to live with that," she says. "Well, I know the sport scientist said my body is best suited to lacrosse but there's a little something those lab instruments didn't measure — it's called passion. Trying a new sport is great, but if your heart isn't in it, you'll never make it part of your routine and you'll probably never succeed at it, either."

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