Some of the best athletes in the world often do not resemble the chiseled stone from the fires that forged them.
The difference between training to look good and training for peak athletic performance illustrates a cataclysmic dichotomy in physical training. While many elite level athletes do display washboard abdominals and striated muscles, the shape, volume, and ratios of these muscles are varied; certain body types hold more potential for greater success in certain sports.
Let's look at the athletes who embody the big 4 sports in North America: American Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey. There are 3 industry agreed upon body types, and everyone's body falls somewhere on the scale: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.
You have probably already begun to place the athletes in the big 4 sports in to certain categories. But wait a minute...the Mesomorph is widely regarded as the optimal physique. You know the Mesomorph: the friend who eats what they want, when they want. They have abs all year long, and hit the gym once per month, where their muscles explode with growth. These are the people you both love and hate, all at the same time. And these are the people who make the best bodybuilders. They grow muscle easily, maintain a small waist and joints, and are irritatingly symmetrical.
You can't change your body-type, but you can maximize it's potential. The real point of interest, is that when you examine both the average body type for each sport, and the peak performers, you rarely find a true mesomorph. This is because the extremes, (Ecto- & Endo-) provide distinct advantages when maximally potentiated, while true mesomorphs...are nice to look at. Football (M)/Rugby (W) Football and rugby (women's equivalent, given there is no professional women's football league) are difficult to establish a prototypical athlete body type. Unlike the other sports, the demands of each position differ greatly. For instance a defensive lineman may be a 6'6, 290 lb Endomorph, a halfback might be a 6'2, 230 lb Meso-endo, and a quarterback may be a 6'4, 220 lb Meso-ecto. Conversely, a 5'5, 190 lb Endomorph prop, a 6'0, 160 lb Ecto-meso hooker, and a 5'8, 155 lb Meso-endo inside-centre are ideal for women's rugby. For our purposes, I will highlight the bodies of the 2 more athletic positions: Line-backer and Flanker.
Average body: Linebacker - 6'2, 240 lbs
Peak Performer's body: Ray Lewis - 6'1, 240 lbs
Ray Lewis is a football legend. Ray Lewis has a thick neck & waist and broad muscle bellies. Ray Lewis is most certainly an Endomorph.
Marlie Packer is the starting Flank for England. Marlie Packer has broad shoulders & joints & also has broad muscle bellies. Marlie Packer is an Endomorph.
In games like American Football and Rugby, speed and power are valued, but given that they are both games which revolve around physical contact, the athlete's body must be built to absorb punishment. Thus, thick joints and a robust torso are ideal, most closely reflected by the Endomorph body-type.
Baseball (M)/Softball (W) Baseball and softball are also sports where position dictates stature. For instance, pitchers are generally taller and leaner (so their stride takes them closer to the plate, giving the batter less reaction time), middle infielders (SS & 2B) are smaller because they need to be agile, and catchers and first basemen are often the biggest. Outfielders, often present the best combination of power, speed and athleticism, and so we will examine the bodies of Centre-Fielder, Ken Griffey Jr. and Outfielder Jessica Mendoza.
Average body: Outfielder - 6'2, 220 lbs
Peak Performer's body: Ken Griffey Jr. - 6'3, 215 lbs
Ken Griffey Jr is a baseball legend. Ken Griffey Jr has a narrow waist, broad shoulders, tall, and is lean. Ken Griffey Jr is a Meso-ecto.
Jessica Mendoza is a softball star. Jessica Mendoza has broad shoulders, small joints, is tall, but well muscled. Jessica Mendoza is a Mesomorph.
Baseball and Softball are non-contact sports that require the ability to go from zero to maximal effort in the blink of an eye. They require speed and reflexes and cater more to the Mesomorphic body-type.
Basketball In Basketball, height and quickness are king. While there have been those that have had successful careers, while maintaining mass (Shaquille O'Neal, at 7'0, 300lbs comes to mind), the majority of the All-Stars, Hall of Famers, and GOAT's are tall, lean, and quick. We can't examine basketball bodies without Michael Jordan and Tamika Catchings.
Average body: Shooting Guard - 6'6, 211 lbs
Peak Performer's body: Michael Jordan - 6'6, 200 lbs
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. OF ALL TIME. Michael Jordan is tall, has long arms, lean muscle bellies & a rectangular frame. Michael Jordan is an Ectomorph.
Tamika Catchings is widely regarded as one of the greatest female basketball players of all time. Tamika Catchings is tall, has long arms, but exhibits more muscle tone that Jordan. Tamika Catchings is an Ecto-meso
A basketball hoop measures 10 feet off the ground. The closer you are to the hoop, the easier it is to score (#becausescience). Basketball players need to be tall, and they need to be quick, while maintaining the endurance capacity to sprint the floor many times. Basketball players are, with very minor exceptions, Ectomorphs.
Hockey Hockey requires lower body and trunk-related power, endurance, and the ability to deliver and endure contact. What makes it so unique from the other big 4 sports is that it does not require the primal motion of running, rather, the skating motion, and overall posture, requires development of muscles that are much different from field sports. For example, developing power from a "splay-foot" (toe turned out) position will tend to over develop external rotators like the glut med and vastus medialis while under-developing lateral hamstring muscles. While on the topic of "greatest of all time", we cannot ignore the body of work by Wayne Gretzky and Hayley Wickenheiser, however for relevance to today's audience (and for more access to body-revealing pictures (the old generation just doesn't do mirror selfies...), let us examine current greats, Sydney Crosby and Hailey Knight.
Average body: Forward - 5'11, 180 lbs
Peak Performer's body: Sydney Crosby - 5'11, 200lbs
Sydney Crosiby is widely regarded as one of the best players in the game, if not the best. Sydney Crosby is not tall, but possesses strong legs and core. Sydney Crosby is a Mesomorph.
Hilary Knight the top forward for the US women's Olympic hockey team, and is a consensus top 5 player in the world. Hilary Knight is tall but has muscle mass and muscle definition Hilary Knight is a true Mesomorph.
Hockey is one of the sports where your body is trained to fit the sport. Not even in the sense that certain muscles grow more than others, but there is a posture that is typical of hockey players: feet turned out, big bum, rounded shoulders, head in forward position. In addition, due to the demands of the sport, the athlete's legs are usually more developed than their upper body, and visible abdominals and muscle striations are not as common-place, given a greater demand for energy stores (60 minute games in conjuncture with 3 or 4 games per week is common).
Across all sports, modern athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than they once were. The average skill-level is higher, and because the athletes can now make a living playing their sport, they adapt their bodies specifically to its demands and train for maximal performance. However, one can also make the determination that certain body types are more likely to excel in certain sports, and that while our body can always be maximized for performance, in the end, you cannot escape the fact you are an Ectomorph, a Mesomorph, or an Endomorph.
*General Disclaimer: Steroids and Human Growth Hormone