Are Short Legs Better in Swimming?

Swimmer on starting block

If you are considered average height or short for your age and gender, you may be disappointed to learn that your body type puts you at a disadvantage in swimming. Athletic performances, including swimming, are influenced by a number of factors. Natural athletic ability and your fitness level play a major role in how well you can swim, but your body type also helps determine how fast and efficient you are at cutting through the water.

Physics Wins

Conventional wisdom holds that tall and big body types are ideal for swimming. Physics backs this up and claims that big muscles perform better in certain athletic performances. Niels H. Secher, an anesthesiologist, exercise researcher and rower at the University of Copenhagen, investigated the effects of size and weight of rowers on their physical performance. Secher concluded that tall and large bodies are able to process higher amounts of oxygen for energy than small and light bodies, which are better suited for endurance sports, such as running or cycling. According to Secher, the same principle that applies to rowers also is true for swimmers.

Energy Counts

The intensity of your exercise plays a major role in how effective your legs are while swimming. Because most competition swimming consists of sprints, long legs are in general more efficient. The primary reason for this is the amount of energy big muscles can produce in short, sprint-type athletic performances. Long legs and big muscles, which are able to move more water than short legs, help propel your body at a faster pace. The shorter the swimming distance, the greater the advantage of having long legs.

Physique Facts

A long and lean overall physique contributes to a swimmer's ability to easily glide through the water. The longer your body, the more easily it can cut through the water by reducing the amount of drag. Think of the shape of a canoe or a scull boat used in rowing. Narrow and long designs are more effective moving through water than wide and short boats. The same principle applies to the human body.

Notable Swimmers

A brief examination of famous swimmer heights shows a pattern. Most of the top male swimmers stand at more than 6 feet tall. Some notable names and their heights include Americans Michael Phelps at 6 feet, 4 inches, Ryan Lochte at 6 feet, 2 inches and Mark Spitz at 6 feet, 1 inch, Australian Ian Thorpe at 6 feet, 5 inches, Sun Yang from China comes in at 6 feet, 5 inches and Germans Roland Matthes at 6 feet, 2 inches and Michael Gross, whose 6 foot, 7 inch stature earned him the nickname "The Albatross" for his impressive wingspan.