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Anthropometric Changes in Elite Male Water Polo Players: Survey in 1980 and 1995
Vinko Lozovina, Leo Pavièiæ1
Split University of Maritime Studies, Split, and 1Zagreb University Faculty of Kinesiology, Zagreb, Croatia

Aim. To assess the differences in anthropometric parameters, body fat, body mass index (BMI), and body density induced by sport-specific morphological optimization (adaptation) between two generations (1980 and 1995) of male elite water polo players. Methods. The survey included a total of 160 elite male water polo players, all members of the top clubs in Croatia. The 1980’s generation consisted of 95 players (71.9% of target population) aged between 18 and 32 years, and the 1995’s generation included 65 players (50% of target population) aged between 19 and 29 years. Trained and qualified anthropometrists performed the measurements under standardized experimental conditions and in accordance with the procedures described by the International Biological Program. They measured 23 anthropometric variables reflecting basic human body characteristics described by skeletal bone lengths (total leg length, total arm length, hand length, foot length, and height), breadths (hand at proximal phalanges, foot in metatarsal area, biacromial, biiliocristal, biepycondylar femur, biepycondyar humerus, and radio-ulnar wrist breadth), girths (chest, arm, forearm, thigh, and calf girth), skinfold thickness as a measure of subcutaneous adiposity (triceps, subscapular, axillary, calf, and abdominal skinfold thickness), and mass. Additionally, estimates of body mass index (BMI), body density, and percentage of body fat were calculated from the primary measures. Results. Comparison between anthropometric measures of the two generations of water polo players revealed a positive trend in body skeletal measures and negative trend in body adiposity measures. Most noteworthy differences (d) were an increase in height (d=37.3 mm, p£0.001), decrease in estimated body fat (d=-1.65%, p£0.001) accompanied by higher body density (d=0.01, p£0.001), with no significant difference in body mass (d=-0.74kg, p=0.518). Conclusion. Anthropometric characteristics of elite water polo players have changed over the analyzed 15 years. Body shape changed in terms of greater height and more elongated limbs, with thinner waist and broader shoulders. Body mass remained unchanged. Muscle-to-fat mass ratio increased. The observed changes may be a consequence of population secular trend and sport morphological adaptation (optimization).
Key words: anthropometry; exercise; longitudinal studies; sports; sports medicine

Variations in body size due to environmental influences are much larger than those resulting from genetic differences (1). A trend of increasing body size and faster growth rate has been noted in industrialized countries since the middle of the 19th century, especially in the first half of 20th century (2,3). This positive secular trend has largely been attributed to improving living conditions, nutrition, and control of infections (4-6). The secular trend of increased stature observed during the last century amounted to 1.3 cm per decade by the end of childhood, 1.9 cm in mid-adolescence, and 0.6 cm at young adult age (7). Different effects of sport activities (sport training) on growth and development have been summarized different publications and textbooks (8-10). The athlete’s anthropometric dimensions, reflecting body shape,

proportionality, and composition (11,12), play a significant role in determining the potential for success in sport (13). Distinctive anthropometric characteristics come about by natural selection of successful athletes over successive generations and/or by an adaptation to the training demands within the present generation. The “final” body shape and composition in a given sport results from a phenomenon called “sport morphological optimization” (14). A number of differences in players’ body morphology and composition (15,16) due the environmental changes in general, and changes within the game of water polo itself (17,18) could be expected. The aim of this study was to determine the size and direction of changes in anthropometric characteristics of elite water polo players over 15-year time span.


1 (5. biepcondylar femur.3-20. range) of water polo players in the year 1980 (n=95) 1995 (n=65) 1.3±2.219 2.4±5.3 (401-462) 297.3) 7.0) 24.91 23. The only inclusion criterion was participation in at least one official game as a member of the top national division in the year of measurement.7 (1.741-2.789-2. Version 11.0 (SPSS Inc.6 (51-63) 1.1±2.1) 23.2 (507-631) 389.2) 9.5±34.801 -28.001 0. Anthropometric measures of 95 players (71.408 2.5±4.78-20.2±4.7 (4.681 -16. thigh girth.7±14. and calf girth.8±6.6 (5.29 67.518 0.001 0.834 2. based on the skinfolds.077 14.001 0.8-14.3 (533-682) 565.2-22.001 0.056.154) 1.38-20.018 1.2 (90-115) 96.177) 802.2±7.6±4.001 0.8±3.98 6. The players measured in 1995 had longer limbs. There was no overlap between the two groups.0±26. where a significant decrease in the mean value was observed.001 0.43 30. SPPS statistical software. Anthropometric measures (mean±SD.01 (1. Analysis of variance was used to test the differences between the two generations.4 (256-312) 273.6±2.1±11. An exception was the hand length.6±19. and only the calf skinfold was increased.7±5.1 (167-204) 280.781 -1. foot length. Since there was no difference in the Results The two generations.80 12.70 36.1 kg. arm length.925 -8. using standardized procedures recommended by the International Biological Program (19).0±2. subscapular. Katch and McArdle formulae were used to estimate the body fat percentage on the basis of measurements performed (20).5 (372-468) 437.3) 8.4 (65-80) 65.428 7.1±3.8-19.02 19.8 (4. estimators of the amount of subcutaneous adipose tissue measures of triceps.67 20.3±5.030 -2.1±3. and foot breadth. generally decreased. There were significant decreases in forearm girth.030.8 (53-68) 58.38 101. Analysis of variance of differences in 26 anthropometric measures.3 (6.6 (69-96) 84.28-16.8) 9.8) 10.5 (88-108) 73. was significantly lower.8 (256-330) 99.5 (5.5-27.288 0.104 0. body mass index (BMI).7 (20.1±15.001 0.014 0.1) 1.9 (172-227) 186. Body mass index (BMI) and estimated body fat percentage decreased significantly. USA).2 (341-413) 9.5) d* F (ratio) -16.5 (748-907) 200.009 0.9-19.3±20. and body density higher.91) 1.251 0.60) 85.895.010 0.6±3.419 0. whereas body density increased.5±11.000) 1.48 31.19 -37.01 (1.8 (54-79) 60.3 (293-381) 282.4±2.88 1.413 2.693 p 0.5) 10.14 104.1±3. biepycondylar humerus.2 (1.9±30.53 2.2 (3. the leg length.001 0. and of 65 players in 1995 (generation of 1995).0 (258-312) 280. significantly differed in almost all anthropometric measures and Table 1. and synthetic length measuring tape with accuracy of 1 mm.9 (73. and wrist breadth.330 3. Chicago.Lozovina and Pavièiæ: Anthropometric Characteristics of Water Polo Players Croat Med J 2004. arm girth.0038 13. and body fat between two generations of elite male water polo players 15 years apart Parameter (mm) Leg length Total arm length Hand length Foot length Height Hand breadth (proximal phalanges) Foot breadth (metatarsalis) Biacromial bredth Biiliocristal bredth Biepycondilar femur Biepycondilar humerus Wrist breadth (radio-ulnar) Chest girth Arm girth (relaxed) Forearm girth Thigh girth Calf girth Triceps skinfold Subscapular skinfold Axilar skinfold Calf skinfold Abdominal skinfold Mass (kg) Body mass index (BMI) Body density (against water) Body fat (%) *Difference of means.2 (7.7±1. 21.9±17.589 13. and the age range of the generation of 1995 (50% of the target population) was 19-29 years (mean±SD.861 36.59 30. IL.87 12. such as girths and skinfolds.0 years).35-16.9±50. Only the biacromial breadth increased in the 1995 generation. While the mean height significantly increased. Fig.001 0. including biiliocristal breadth.4-17.001 0. 15 years apart.2±2.3±41.24 0. and height.2 (87-118) 101.16 7. body mass remained statistically unchanged. Breadth measures.131 -2.4±12. ie.3±8. indices (Table 1.8 years) All participants were clinically healthy without morphological aberrations.003 0.34 1.7 (4.4 (6. ie. Statistical Analysis Data for each sample were presented as mean±standard deviation (SD). small sliding caliper with accuracy of 1 mm2.6 (251-296) 1.0 (6.20) 13. In the 1995 generation. where r2 was the result of 1995 and x1 and sd1 were mean±SD for 1980’s generation.78 11.8 (967-1.4±51.3±5. was used for all statistical analyses.5 (932-1.31-28.138 8. Martin anthropometer with a precision of 1 mm.74 0.08) 11.001 203 .65 13.001 0.9 (354-431) 375.3±13.70) 9.001 0.6±52.1 (76-93) 102.0-104.426 1.10 6.4 (21.5±45. 21.76 8.06-1.9±6. Their bodies were taller but more slender.039.1 (942-1.8 (4.3 (65.2) 85.22-29.4 (986-1. A medical balance was used with a precision of 0.9 (704-884) 831.0-30.2±15.890 0.06-1. The measures of soft tissues. The age range of the generation of 1980 at the time of measurement was 18-32 years (mean±standard deviation.168) 1.1 mm. axillar and abdominal skinfolds showed significant decreases. body density. pelvimeter with precision of 1 mm.0±3.001 0.156) 328.08±0.6-107. Discussion Our study showed that body morphology and composition of male elite water polo players significantly changed from 1980 to 1995.45:202-205 Subjects and Methods Subjects The sample consisted of 160 elite male water polo players from the top Croatian clubs. with wider shoulders and thinner waist.2±8.174 11.. skinfold caliper (John Bull) with a compression of 10 g/mm2 with accuracy of 0. mass.066 1.3±28. 1) except chest girth.9% of the target population) were taken in 1980 (generation of 1980).858.073. significantly decreased.001 0.07±0.026 -0.60 38.87) 8. SD. and smaller breadth and girth of most anthropometric parameters measured.3±38. It seems that a change in the body composition of water polo players has been accompanied by changes in the body shape. In skinfolds. Measures of the 1995 generation were rescaled to the 1980 generation according to the formula: z2=(r2–x1)/sd1.0±2.3 (241-300) 601.001 0.3±2. estimated percentage of body fat and BMI was lower.1±4. showed statistically significant positive trends.31 0.3±10.52) 11. Differences were also calculated as z-scores (z2).9 (265-353) 285. Comparison of length measures between the generation of 1980 and that of 1995. none of the players was measured in both years.1±14.018) 81.9±1.9±5.001 0. Anthropometric status of subjects was determined on the basis of 23 anthropometric measures.798 0.8 (282-385) 324.3 (91-115) 420.847 0. Body adiposity estimate. Outcome Measures Trained and qualified investigators performed all the measurements.

body density. the ratio of vertical to horizontal posture in the water changed in favor to the horizontal one (more swimming). These differences maybe explained by the changes in the game of water polo and changes in environmental conditions. The secular changes. ie. The cross-sectional study was based on two measurement points. The observed trend can be only partially explained by a population secular trend. Zero on the x-axis denotes the mean of all 26 anthropometric variables. with up to 4 standard deviations (-4 to 4). It seems that longer hand in the elite water polo players measured in 1980 was an advantage for better manipulation and control of the ball. Thus. water (where the game is played) has been standardized by internationally imposed norms. It is at least a twofold dynamic problem. body mass between the two generations. and there are more goal shoots (18). The average secular trend coefficient for Europe is 1. The significantly shorter hand length in the 1995 generation in comparison with 1980 generation was most probably the consequence of the changes in playing conditions and rules of the game.9 in Slovenia (6). Full line in the box – arithmetic mean. In 1995. Differences in 26 anthropometric variables.45:202-205 Figure 1. which decreased. The game duration was extended. consequently. how the training process and selection pressure. Coefficients of increase in the stature per decade (cm/decade) differ among European countries. Box-plot of measures at the 2nd measurement point (1995) are rescaled as z-scores to the 1st (1980). Consequently. and body mass have been noticeable in European countries and elsewhere for more than a century. and on the other. Given the possibilities of influencing body shape and body composition.7). Besides a secular trend. such as skill level and physical fitness. The playing rules of the game over the 15 years were subject to several changes. The question on the one side is what makes a successful athlete. and percent of body fat between two generations of elite male water polo players. in 1980 and 1995. earlier generation measured in 1980 played the game with a ball made of materials not resistant to water. the volume and intensity of the training also considerably increased. traits other than anthropometric characteristics contributing to success. it seems that the same body mass was achieved by the increase in the muscle and bone mass on account of less dense body fa. will tend to optimize similarities among elite athletes. box – 2 standard deviation. a more rapid growth and development. it is obvious that anthropometric characteristics are of paramount importance for the selection and success of elite players. ie. Due to similar training histories and psychological attributes. Accordingly. taken together. which is obviously present in any given population/nation (6. Conversely. whiskers – minimum and maximum.3 in Norway and Sweden to 1. Changes in rules of the game as it was played in 1995 promoted the use of technologically improved ball material allowing it to retain its stable characteristic for the full duration of the game.2 cm/decade. from 0. elite athletes are additionally influenced by the train- 204 . almost doubled from 4×5 minutes to 4×9 minutes. body mass index (BMI). the lack of differences in body mass and a greater than expected increment in height imply some other sources of variation besides the already established population secular trend. transform or change body characteristics of elite water polo players over time. higher mean stature. the characteristics of the ball changed during the course of the game as it became heavier and its diameter larger.Lozovina and Pavièiæ: Anthropometric Characteristics of Water Polo Players Croat Med J 2004. there are less physical contacts between opponent players during the play.

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