A Comparative Morphology Of Strongmen And Bodybuilders

Por: Arthur Stewart e Paul Swinton.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Introduction
Strength sports, where the physique itself or manipulative tasks involving heavy objects are assessed for performance,
have a rich history, and today enjoy a well-established international competitive arena. However, the phenotype of
strongmen has not been reported in the scientific literature. Thus the aim of this study was to describe the physique of
strongmen and to compare them with male bodybuilders and controls.

Methods
Ten elite and non-elite bodybuilders, 10 strongmen (four weeks prior to competition) and 25 age-matched controls
underwent 39 triplicate measures of skinfolds, girths, skeletal lengths and breadths according to recommended
guidelines [1]. Skeletal proportions and anthropometric somatotype were calculated [2].

Results
Group characteristics are summarised in table 1.
There was no age differences between groups, but bodybuilders and strongmen were heavier than controls (P<0.001),
and strongmen had greater stature and sum of skinfolds (P < 0.001). Somatotype differed between all groups (P<0.001),
and relative to controls, strongmen had shorter torso length / stature (P<0.05) and bodybuilders had greater biacromial /
bicristal ratios (P< 0.001). Subsequent analysis compared strongmen and bodybuilders for all anthropometric measures,
before and after adjusting for the size difference between the groups. Before height adjustment, all dimensions except
thigh skinfold and anterior-posterior thickness were greater in strongmen than in bodybuilders. After height
adjustment, all skinfolds except iliac crest and thigh, together with head, neck and wrist girth remained greater in
strongmen, while sitting height and biacromial breadth were greater in bodybuilders.

Discussion
Both athletic groups exhibited characteristics of greatly increased muscle mass relative to controls. Strongmen, in
addition to being taller, were fatter than controls (P<0.001) while bodybuilders were not, although they had
considerably greater skinfold totals than reported previously [3,4]. An important finding is the difference in size and
skeletal shape between the athletic groups. While both groups appear robust and muscular, strongmen are clearly of
large stature, which presumably confers biomechanical advantage in pushing, pulling, throwing and lifting tasks. By
contrast, bodybuilders are of similar stature to controls, but have a larger shoulder : hip proportion, enabling a
‘trapezoid’ shape to prevail, previously reported to be a discriminator for success in bodybuilding [3]. Because strength
training is unlikely to alter skeletal proportions, it is likely that athletes self-select into strength sports in which they are
likely to excel.

References
[1]. International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry. International standards for anthropometric
assessment. Underdale, South Australia: ISAK. 2001.
[2]. Carter, J.E.L. and Heath, B.H. (1990). Somatotyping: Development and applications. Cambridge, UK,
Cambridge University Press.
[3]. Fry, A.C. et al. (1991). J Sports Sci., 9, 23-32.
[4]. Withers, R.T. et al. (1997). Austr. J. Sci. Med. Sport 29, 11-16.

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