If you love to run, it doesn’t matter what body type you have. However, body type does affect your ability to become a successful runner. Training notwithstanding, body size, build and musculature separate the great runners from the average runners. Whether your genetics dictate that you’d be a better distance runner, sprinter or not a runner at all, hard work and motivation go a long way toward becoming the runner you want to be.
Of the three main body types — ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph— ectomorphs and and mesomorphs are better suited for running. Ectomorphs have a small, lean body type. Mesomorphs are more heavily muscled with a larger frame. Endomorphs tend to have softer, rounder bodies with shorter legs. If you are an endomorph, don’t despair. You may just need to train harder to achieve the same results as the other body types.
Height, Stride and Center of Gravity
When it comes to running, height isn’t necessarily an advantage. In fact, the average height for elite male runners is only 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 11 inches. The taller you are, the longer your stride. Longer strides, however, don’t increase running speed. Taking longer strides with less frequency slows runners down. Quicker, shorter strides result in greater speed. A runner’s center of gravity also affects speed. A lower center of gravity requires more power — and more energy — when running. A runner with a higher center of gravity uses less energy.
Ideally, the best long distance runners are average height with a light, slim build and thin legs. Lower body weight benefits distance runners because they have a lighter load to carry. Distance runners have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle. These types of muscle fibers use oxygen efficiently to provide energy over an extended period of time. Maximal use of oxygen is best for distance running. People with less slow-twitch muscle can increase the oxygen use in their muscles with aerobic endurance training.
Successful sprinters are taller and tend to have a more muscular build with narrow hips. Larger muscles benefit sprinters because they can store more fuel to quickly deliver a burst of power. Sprinting is an anaerobic activity. The best sprinters have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle, which burns more glycogen than oxygen. Sprinters’ muscles use glycogen instead of oxygen to generate energy. While your body can’t increase its fast-twitch muscle, strength training can decrease the oxygen use in slow-twitch muscle for improved sprinting ability.
Alissa Pond Mentzer worked in biotech research and educational publishing before becoming a freelance writer in 2005. She has contributed to textbooks for The Mcgraw-Hill Companies and National Geographic School Division and writes science articles for various websites. Mentzer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in anthropology and biological sciences.