Details of the findings linking the speed a runner needs to achieve and the ideal body mass for performance appear in the July 15 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology in a study authored by Peter Weyand and Adam Davis.
"We found that regardless of the runner's race specialization or gender, we could link an ideal body mass for running performance to how hard a runner needed to hit the ground," said Peter Weyand, assistant professor in kinesiology and lead author of the study. "The mechanical requirements of running and racing at different speeds are related to the notable differences in body types long-observed among specialized track athletes -- and even among animal runners in nature."
Previously, scientists and others considered massiveness in any form to be disadvantageous for running performance. This idea was based on studies of distance runners and studies of the limited running abilities of elephants and big dinosaurs. However, Weyand and Davis found the trade-offs involved in specialization for speed versus endurance conform to precise body-mass rules.
Their research provides a new twist on an old metric: the body mass index, or BMI, which measures body size based on a person's height and weight. BMI has long been used as a guide on body sizes to be avoided. However, Weyand and Davis unexpectedly discovered that this same index can guide some athletes toward body sizes that will optimize their performance.