The Muscle Morphology of Elite Female Sprint Running


A paucity of research exists examining the importance of muscle morphological and functional characteristics for elite female sprint performance. Purpose: This study aimed to compare lower body muscle volumes and vertical jumping power between elite vs. sub-elite female sprinters; and assess the relationships of these characteristics with sprint race and acceleration performance. Methods: Five elite (100 m seasons best [SBE100]: 11.16 ± 0.06 s) and 17 sub-elite (SBE100 11.84 ± 0.42 s) female sprinters underwent: 3 T magnetic resonance imaging to determine the volume of 23 individual leg muscles/compartments and five functional muscle groups; countermovement jump (CMJ) and 30 m acceleration tests. Results: Total absolute lower body muscle volume was higher in elite vs. sub-elite sprinters (+15%). Elite females exhibited greater muscle volume of the hip flexors (absolute +28%, relative [to body mass] +19%), hip extensors (absolute +22%, relative +14%), and knee extensors (absolute +21%), demonstrating pronounced anatomically specific muscularity, with relative hip flexor volume alone explaining 48% of sprint performance variability. The relative volume of five individual muscles (sartorius, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, vastus lateralis, illiopsoas) were both distinct between groups (elite > sub-elite) and related to SBE100 (r = 0.553-0.639), with the combination of the sartorius (41%) and the adductor magnus (17%) explaining 58% of the variance in SBE100. Elite female sprinters demonstrated greater absolute CMJ power vs. sub-elite, and absolute and relative power were related to both SBE100 (r = -0.520 to -0.741) and acceleration performance (r = 0.569 to 0.808). Conclusions: This investigation illustrates the distinctive, anatomically specific muscle volume distribution that facilitates elite sprint running in females, and emphasises the importance of hip flexor and extensor relative muscle volume.

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