Anthropometrics with Davinci's Vitruvian Man, Kandinsky

Anthropometrics: The Last Dance with Davinci’s Vitruvian Man

Fans of the ‘Last Dance’ undoubtedly remember the iconic ‘Wings’ poster of Bulls legend Michael Jordan standing – arms fully extended – massive hand palming a bookended basketball. What if our fascination with ‘remakes’ were to reimagine Jordan’s wingspan as Davincis Vitruvian Man for the purpose of anthropometrics?

Benefits of human body analysis 

Anthropometric measurements are the quantification of size and dimension for parts of the human body. Anthropometry and body analysis techniques give detailed information about various aspects of health, abilities, and fitness levels. The most common anthropometric measurements taken during health screenings are height, weight, and body mass index (BMI).

Other core anthropometry elements are further detailed body measurements and ratios (waist, hip, limbs, etc.) and skinfold.

Measuring the body is the first step in assessing body composition and evaluating risks associated with obesity. Secondarily it can be used to track the progress of fitness over time and as an indicator of good health. And could even predict sport-specific success.

Body Mass Index (BMI) for initial assessment

There is a tremendous range of body shapes and compositions in health and sports. And they vary widely as form follows function into a lifestyle, a specific sport or position, even overall fitness levels. To understand norms, BMI introduces a common and shared ratio to the human body.

A high BMI may hurt sports performance and is often viewed as a significant limiting factor in athletic achievements.

BMI = weight (kg) / height2 (meters)

However, the calculation used to determine BMI as an estimate of body fat mass may not apply to people outside the typical ranges of body weight, muscle mass, total body water, or height.

Similarly, researchers found in an early talent review that

  1. young athletes have favorable anthropometric characteristics when compared to peers who do not play organized sports
  2. comparing athletes with different skill levels is inconsistent
  3. maturation level is a significant factor for children 14 & under

Common measurements with a twist

Accurate anthropometrics can be collected by taking only a small number of body measurements. These simple, quick-to-administer techniques require inexpensive and portable equipment. Often nothing more than a tape measure, height stick, scales, and skinfold calipers.

Other less commonly used methods, but more accurate, include hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scanning for more advanced athletes in the lab.

If you’re really at a loss, look no further than Davinci’s Vitruvian Man for a historical guide to anthropometry from his grave-digging days.

  • four fingers equal one palm
  • four palms equal one foot
  • six palms make one cubit
  • four cubits equal a man’s height
  • four cubits equal one pace
  • 24 palms equal one man

What anthropometric measurements apply to sports

Jordan’s 6’6″ frame has a remarkable wingspan of 6’9″. And that poster remains ingrained in the minds of a generation. Long ago molding the idea that a wingspan might be a tremendous value asset in basketball.

Sports require a range of different physical attributes and body compositions. It is important to understand which combination of these attributes is most likely to give you success. Below are just a few ratios and specifics.

  1. Height to Wingspan
  2. Hip to Waist
  3. Sitting Height
  4. Hand Size
  5. Standing Height

And specific measurements are taken to identify future success in sports.

The aim of the present study was to evaluate the Flemish Sports Compass (FSC), a non-sport-specific generic testing battery.

Johan Pion et al

Where researchers tested for the following independent assumptions that correlate with sport-specific success across a variety of sports.

flexibility in gymnastics, explosive lower-limb strength in badminton and volleyball, speed and agility in badminton, judo, soccer and volleyball, upper-body strength in badminton, basketball and gymnastics, cardiorespiratory endurance in triathletes, dribbling skills in handball, basketball and soccer and overhead-throwing skills in badminton and volleyball.

Johan Pion et al

And an inherent implication for talent identification

The generic talent characteristics of the FSC enable the distinction of adolescent boys according to their particular sport.

Johan Pion et al

Predictions from anthropometrics or function from form

By understanding the typical body size, physical fitness, biological maturity, and rate of development, an athlete’s training program can be customized to more efficiently improve performance or sport selection.

While the more objective features related to body size are most likely genetic differences, fitness and nutritional differences may also result from variances in development programs. It’s imperative to not only identify characteristics but also to understand their evolving application to sport ‘success’.

These findings provide novel and robust evidence that anthropometry and body composition variables, predominantly indicative of relative slenderness, explain a considerable proportion of the variance in running economy (i.e., more slender, lower energy cost). We, therefore, recommend that runners and coaches are attentive to relative slenderness in selecting and training athletes with the aim of enhancing running economy, and improving distance running performance.

Matthew I Black et al

As data sets become more shareable and consumable, strategy, and requirements to perform at the elite level are great starting points for talent identification. But an evaluation of these predictive models on a continuum creates room for outliers and other future considerations.

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