Somatotype in Sport (and CrossFit)

Elisabeth tackling WOD 12.3!

The CrossFit Games season is among us now.  Three out of the five Open WODs have been completed, with two more to go.  After that, Regionals will take place, and from there, the Games will come to us this summer.  The stakes are higher then ever (monetarily speaking).  The overall winner of each Open WOD gets a hefty sum of cash, and the overall winner (male and female) after all five WODs earns even more money.  Of course, the winner of the Games comes away with a quarter of a million dollars.  With so much money available to win, the level of competition has grown astronamically.  CrossFit has become a professional sport for some.  Athletes are striking up endorsement deals and getting paid to do commercials that are aired on national television.

All this has gotten me thinking quite a bit (and not just about how jealous I am of Rich Fronning Jr. and all his awesomeness).  What does it take to get to that level?  How does one become a “professional crossfitter”?  Well let’s take a look.  Obviously these athletes have a tremendous work ethic and put a lot of time and energy into their training programs.  Physiologically they are all beasts, with a lot of “god given” talent.  All of them definitely have something going right between their ears as well (confidence is huge in athletic performance).

I wanted more answers though.  Obviously these people are very gifted with great work ethics.  But there had to be more to it that was making them better then everyone else in the sport of CrossFit.  And then it hit me.  The word that came to my mind was somatotype.  It is a word that was coined back in the 1940s that was used to classify body types.  Essentially, there are three extreme body types that we see in people: endomorphy (fat), mesomorphy (medium), and ectomorphy (thin).  Every person on Earth is a mixture of these components (to measure somatotype, they are given a rating of 1-7 in each of these areas; that total is the somatotype).

So what the heck am I trying to say.  Well, I’ll put it this way: body type plays a huge role in indicating an athlete’s suitability to perform at a high level in a given sport.  To excel in the NBA, generally you are tall and thin with long arms and legs.  NFL linemen are normally tall and carry a great deal of weight on them.  Elite swimmers are tall as well, with long arms, but generally shorter legs.  Can you think of other sports where a certain body type is most prevalent?

I decided to do a little research on some of the top CrossFit males competing in the Open.  I wanted to see if there was a trend in terms of body type with these athletes.  Just as in any pro sport, I hypothesized that I would find a trend in somatotype.  I took the top 60 males from the current worldwide leaderboard.  After all, I figured the first three workouts (burpees, snatches, triplet) gave enough balance in them to make these results pretty accurate.  I specifically looked at the height and weight of the competitors.  Here is what I found.  Of the 60 males I looked at, 49 (82%) were under 6’0″.  51 of those 60 (85%) were under 200 lbs.  It is clear from these simple results that CrossFit is gravitating toward a certain body type.  To be an elite CrossFit athlete, you are most likely going to be shorter and under 200 lbs.  Just like any other professional sport, a certain body type is set up to excel.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Being shorter and stockier gives you a biomechanical advantage, in the same way that biomechanically speaking Usain Bolt is built to run very fast (think range of motion, joint angles, etc.).  The shorter you are, the less distance you have to cover.  Think of typical CrossFit movements.  Short arms and legs will make you more efficient at movements such as thrusters and pullups then your counterpart who is 6’3″ with long arms and legs.  The bottom line is that bigger people will have trouble competing with the little guys when it comes to the majority of CrossFit workouts.  Can you think of any WODs that would favor the taller, lankier athlete?

With so much money involved in this sport now and the level at which you must be at to compete in the Games, I believe that over time, the “tall” CrossFit athlete will slowly die off.  The little guys can finally have a sport that they can feel good about :).  In my opinion CrossFit has done something brilliant in terms of giving people who are “good” (but not great) at many different things a sport they can excel at (The data doesn’t lie.  Essentially to be average in all 10 areas of fitness, one must be of average height and weight).  My final thought on the matter is this: if the CrossFit games is truly finding the “Fittest on Earth”, then is it a fair claim if the only people that are excelling (Spencer Hendel is an exception) are under 6 feet tall and sub 200 lbs.  Doesn’t it seem like they are basically saying that to be the fittest on Earth (or the top 60 for that matter) you have to be this certain body type?  A better way to put that is this: are they saying that the fittest people on Earth are of this stature, and that if you are otherwise, you cannot be considered in this category?  Do you think that is a fair claim?  Just some food for thought.  Post your thoughts to comments!

A big shoutout to Zach S. on getting his first muscle up!!!



Back Squat 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

WOD: 10 rounds for time

7 Jumping Air Squats

7 Situps