Study: For Athletes, It's Speed or Endurance—Not Both

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If you were going to design a human and make him as strong and powerful as possible, the person might be eight feet (2.5 meters) tall and have a very muscular and bulky body. But the strength resulting from this design would come at the cost of maneuverability.

"You can't have both," said Wilson. A human designed for speed would be small and lean and have a much lower center of gravity.

Wilson and his colleagues also found proof to support the old truism: "A jack of all trades is master of none." This statement is ultimately about trade-offs, said Wilson.

Wilson found that athletes who were outstanding in one event performed relatively poorly in the others. By contrast, a decathlon champion was a "jack" of all ten events.

"The champs didn't stand out in any event," he added.

"Animals are specialized for a specific task at the cost of another." Wilson has found, from studies comparing 12 species of lizard from Greece and Croatia, that those species with speed lacked endurance.

Wilson and his colleagues will analyze the results of heptathlons (seven events) to determine whether female athletes display similar trade-offs.

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