Biology Question #3713

Ian Gordon, a 60 year old male from Exeter, Devon, UK asks on November 26, 2006,

Since puberty I have always been tall and thin with very long legs. I was a fair player of rugby football, but never got into the best teams because I couldn’t sprint quickly (my stride was compared with a giraffe’s lope). Could I have done anything to make me into a fair sprinter? I have always enjoyed middle-distance running (jogging really), and I never minded the pain of training.

viewed 14836 times

The answer

Michael Poling answered on December 1, 2006

Unlikely, Ian. Height is generally genetically determined, with very few exceptions. You likely could have built muscle onto your frame with a specific heavy weight training program, but that would not necessarily have made you a better sprinter. There are many types of muscle tissues, but for the purposes of this discussion, we can categorize them in two main types with the second having two variations. Those are slow twitch fibres (good for distance running, endurance and excellent sustainability) and fast twitch (Type 1-Oxidative-can mimic slow twitch fibres, but not as well, Type 2-Glycolytic-Power muscle tissue which is poor at sustaining and endurance but produces massive bursts of strength. It cannot last long though).

We have ALL of these in our bodies, but to varying degrees. Some people have more fast twitch, like me (Football player, soccer player, downhill skiier...very bad jogger, very bad cross country skiier), others have more slow twitch and are better at the distance and endurance sports. From your description, you might have more slow twitch fibres. There isn't much that we know that can change the make up fibre percentages. There seems to be some trainability into the system, but how much is unclear. There is good evidence that genetics plays a dominant role but training early on might as well. We may never know because training a child intensely can damage many of the grow plates in the body. It's not safe to do that research.

Add to or comment on this answer using the form below.

Note: All submissions are moderated prior to posting.

If you found this answer useful, please consider making a small donation to