A Bio – Density Rating of Tall – For – Weightlifting – Weightlifters: Part II

Andrew Charniga


Figure 5. The world’s strongest man in terms of  absolute weight lifted;  a – tall – for – weightlifting, super elite weightlifter performing with proportionately longer extremities (a dolichomorphic body type, Mulchin, 1972) than is considered within the optimum ranges in height to bodyweight models. Charniga photo.

Relationship of height to strength 

“The average top athlete is now 6% taller than the top athlete of 30 years ago, but his or her muscular strength should be 13% greater than 30 years ago, because the maximum work a muscle can produce is the product of its maximal force and the distance it can shorten.” Astrand, P- A., RoDAhl, K., Dahl, D., Stromme, S., 2003

The idea that longer muscles can produce more work because the distance of shortening is greater has a certain measure of validity in practical experiences with weightlifters. For example, famous, former national weightlifting coach of Poland A. Dzedzits (1978) believed successful weightlifters of the new biathlon era (beginning in 1973) of weightlifting who had longer muscles “which naturally need to be connected to tall athletes”; would be built more along the lines of track and field athletes; have good joint mobility and suppleness.  Training would feature a significant reduction of the previous 40% of the loading devoted to the press with more time spent on speed – strength; more general developmental exercises such as jumping, sprints and so forth.

Apparently Dzedzits’ (“Something about Ozimek, Baszanowski and Smalcerz” www.sportivnypress.com) predictions arose from the ‘mother of all knowledge’ (L. DaVinci), i.e, his experiences with three great Polish lifters who fit his description of a weightlifting champion of the new era;  possessing those same physical qualities of the modern weightlifter: Ozimek, Baszanowski and Smalcerz.

In point of fact, other guys like those three Polish champions of the late 1960s and 1970s would gradually appear on the international scene; but, they tended to be dismissed as anomalies; not part of a trend in an ongoing evolution of weightlifting sport.

For instance, an analysis (Tumanyan, 1976) of the heights of gold medalists from the 1964, 1968 & 1972 Olympics made mention of some guys who were taller than established norms for optimum height. These athletes were Zdrazila (CZE) and Bikov (BUL), both 75 kg class; Nikolov (BUL) in the 90 kgs from 1972; and, in the +110 Zhabotinsky & Alexeyev (USSR). They were the only champions from three Olympics who exceeded the  established norms of optimum height to weight class. The taller than optimum heights of the +110 champions was due, as reasoned by Vorobeyev, to their heavier bodyweight; which means they would typically be taller.

Consequently, once a concept such as weightlifting champions are short; becomes ingrained in a collective conscious; all the more so because mathematics has helped confirm it:   “..the main features of the lifter’s physique are relatively short stature, thick bones and large muscles (N.I. Kurachenkov, 1956)”; it is very difficult to dislodge it.

For example, the author, a weightlifter of 100 kg (with results of 160 +182.5)  visited the Soviet Union in 1979. At each of several gyms, including the famous Central Army club (TsKa) visited; the professional coaches assured me I was too tall @ 183 cm to be a weightlifter. The following year a taller – than – a – too – tall – for – weightlifting, Ota Zaremba (CZE) {184 cm}, won 100 kg gold at the Moscow Olympiad, defeating a Soviet lifter whose height was within the optimum range for the 100 kg class. Zaremba was even 5 cm taller than the Olympic champion Taranenko (USSR) (179 cm} of the 110 kg weight class.

Since appearances of these tall – for – weightlifting – weightlifters over the years has been rather episodic; especially during the era of absolute strength when the press was a competition exercise; and its immediate aftermath; in-depth analyses of any special peculiarities which would enable tall, rather lanky guys to lift record weights; or become Olympic champion are at best rather few and far between, if not, non – existent. For the most part, bio-mechanical analyses would note some variations from the norm.

For instance, seven of the 1980 champions of the Moscow Olympics were rated for technical efficiency in the snatch and the clean, based on a complex set of biomechanical parameters.

Ota Zaremba was the second tallest of the group; next to the 188 cm in height +110 lifter Rakhmanov. It was noted that the 184 cm Zaremba began the final acceleration phase of the snatch at a barbell height corresponding to 31.8% of his height from the platform; which was significantly lower by 20 cm than that of the 171 cm 90 kg champion. It was not assessed as something special in the way of mechanical efficiency or a consequence of his taller than average height (Chernyak, 1980).

On the basis of a predetermined scale, two of the seven champions were rated as having the best technique: Vardanyan (USSR) and Zaremba (CZE); both of whom fit the description above of the Polish coach A. Dzedzits’ ideal of a weightlifter with the build along the taller leaner lines of a track and field athlete.

The Czech 1964 Olympic champion at 75 kg is another example. At 171.3 cm, H. Zdrazila was taller than the two Soviet medalists of the 82.5 kg class of 1968 Olympics (Selitsky & Belayev) pictured in figure 2; who were 164 and 167 cm in height, respectively. However, in his analysis of Zdrazila’s clean technique R. Roman noted:

“the sportsman is not flat-footed but has raised the heels and the arms are bent.  This diminishes significantly the force which is generated in the explosion, as a result the barbell speed is a rather slow 1.4 m/sec versus 1.62 – 1.7 m/sec for other athletes. Roman, R. The Press, the Snatch, the Clean and Jerk

Roman’s assessment of Zdrazila’s rise onto the toes as pre – mature along with bent arms were errors in technique; not a function of an Olympic champion’s reactive movements having to do with his taller than optimum stature. This is another example of judging taller, leaner guys in weightlifting as anomalies. That being said, what is still considered a ‘pre – mature’ rise onto the toes during the pull phases of the classic exercises is quite a common occurrence in the modern era. 

In most all cases of analyses of weightlifting technique, the focus is on barbell speed, displacement, height, acceleration and so forth. The weightlifter’s movements, i.e., the the kinematics are supposed to fit into what have been established as optimum parameters: the movements of the body are subordinate the physics. Those are assumptions of how the weightlifter’s muscles should work most efficiently to overcome gravity to raise the barbell.

Consequently, taller guys like Zaremba and Zdrazila, who appeared to be doing weird things in the era dominated by “short thick weightlifters; can be dismissed, out of hand; left out in anomaly land.

Bio – density and weightlifting strength

“In recent years, the percentage of lifters who are of short stature in the 52, 56  and 60 kg classes is significantly lower.” L. S. Dvorkin, 1992

The five athletes presented in table 3 are currently top lifters of the 109 kg weight class.

Table 3. Comparison of Bio – density (height to bodyweight/ weight lifted) of five lifters of the same weight class. Highest ranking of Bio-density rating in red.

Athl Nat Cl. Ht. IK Sn C&J Tot USSR %Ht.
Hoza UKR 109 195 559 2.87 2.60 1.36 612 10.8%
Nur. UZB 109 186 586 3.02 2.43 1.36 612 11.3%
Zhang CHN 109 187 583 2.92 2.59 1.37 612 11.3%
Mar ARM 109 181 602 3.03 2.51 1.38 612 11.7%
Dju UZB 109 182.9 596 3.07 2..51 1.39 612 11.5%

IK – Index of Kettle weight in grams/height in cm; Bio-density index: IK/snatch, jerk and total. USSR: Optimum index of kettle according to Vorobeyev’s (1988) table of optimum height to weight class. % ht: height of the bar from the floor as a percentage of the athlete’s height.

When height/weight to weight lifted are factored; the lower Bio – density figure determines the better lifter with respect to weight lifted. The proportion of muscle, bone and fat mass are typically indicative of the specific gravity of the weightlifter’s body. Presumably, the lower the fat mass the higher the specific gravity, the higher the proportion of useful tissue: muscle, bone, tendon, ligament and fascia. 

None of the models to be found in the literature attempt to quantify the weightlifter’s ‘useful’ visco – elastic mass: tendon, ligament and fascia: the Bio – springs.

Based on the figures presented in table 3, the most efficient lifters are the tallest (UKR) at 195 cm with the lowest Bio – density of the group (559) and the third tallest (UZB) at 186 cm with a bio – density of 586; both totals rated 1.36. By way of coincidence, all five athletes are taller than the recommended model heights of weightlifters in the 110 kg class from the Soviet era; and, all had lower Bio – density in comparison with Soviet era figure of 612 for this bodyweight; with Hoza having the lowest of the group at 559 and ARM the highest at 602. That is to say, all raised the barbell a greater distance (more work against gravity) with less Bio – density to accomplish the task.

The Bio – density rating is a more accurate assessment of weightlifting proficiency as it introduces a degree of difficulty factor into the lifter’s technical expertise.  How much of the weightlifter’s power to raise record weights emanates from energy released by the Bio – springs is left to conjecture. This Bio – density rating, at the very least, recognizes factors other than muscle mass contribute to lifting record weights.

Presented in table 4 is a Bio – density ratio of the six weightlifters who have clean and jerked 300% of bodyweight or more. Based on the Bio – density ratio; in effect, a relative degree of difficulty; Terziisky the second tallest lifter, rated the highest 300% jerk with 2.09; followed by Topurov, the tallest of the 300% club, at 2.14. Suleimanov at a height of 149.5 cm was the shortest with the highest grams per centimeter Bio – density; significantly higher than the Soviet model for the 60 kg weight class : 408 vs 382. In fact, only Terziisky was lower with 358 vs. 362. So, a case can be made for this special group of lifters cramming as much useful mass (tendon, ligament, fascia inclusive) as possible into a 56 or 60 kg frame may be justified.  However, it is worth noting that OM (PRK), arguably the greatest lifter in the  clean and jerk exercise in weightlifting history was the 3rd tallest at 152 cm with the second lowest Bio- density of 368.

Table 4. Bio-density Ratio of weightlifters who have clean and jerked 300% or more of bodyweight. Highest ranking of Bio-density rating in red.

Athl Nat. cl. Ht. IKett Sn C&J Tot USSR %ht
OM PRK 56 152 368 2.79 2.15 1.21 362 13.9%
Suley TUR 60 149.5 408 2.68 2.15 1.19 382 14.1%
Top BUL 60 157.5 395 2.98 2.14 1.26 382 13.4%
Mutlu TUR 56 150 373 2.76 2.21 1.23 362 14%
Terz BUL 56 156 358 2.86 2.09 1.25 362 13.5%
LONG CHN 56 150 373 2.70 2.21 1.21 362 14%

IK – Index of Kettle weight in grams/height in cm; Bio-density index: IK/snatch, jerk and total. USSR: Optimum index of kettle according to Vorobeyev’s (1988) table of optimum height to weight class. % ht: height of the bar from the floor as a percentage of the athlete’s height.

Irregardless the numbers obtained in research of height to body mass to weight lifted; the basic premise of these analyses is muscle contraction power and along with it, relative muscle mass are the principle factors driving potential in weightlifting. This concept may be true for static strength sports such as powerlifting, strongman sport, as well as in the era of absolute strength in weightlifting. However, it is not necessarily true of the speed sport of weightlifting.

 The problem of encapsulating a weightlifter’s strength in numbers

“Muscle strength is a very complicated parameter. … there is no doubt the more complicated the contraction, the more difficult it is to measure accurately (Simonson, and Lind 1971)…” cited by Rohdal et al, 2006

Various factors, intrinsic of potential to generate power in sport; typically, are not quantifiable with calculations; the foundation of which are assumptions of relative concentration of muscle mass to height. Invariably defining strength solely in terms of muscle cross – sectional area, fiber types while excluding the Bio – spring system is an exercise in ‘math discovers the science’. The fact of the matter is:

  The real limits of human  power are defined by the relative capacity to release energy beyond the what is possible of  muscle contraction.

Figure 6. Weightlifters posing with the world’s strongest man OM Yun Chol (PRK) {Bio – density 56 kg /152cm = 368}. Charniga photo.

Some, not easily quantifiable, factors missing in research models based on strength as a sole function of relative density of muscle mass, fiber types, and laboratory measurements of muscle contraction under controlled conditions:

/ the human body is full of springs (Herr, 2008);

/ elastic recoil from storage and release of strain energy of tendons, ligaments and fascia (Biological springs) exceed the maximum release of energy possible from maximum muscular contraction, i.e., a capability for strength beyond strength of mind to  muscle (Roberts, 2011);

/ energy can be released faster from a spring like element (tendons, ligaments, fascia,, for instance) than is possible from muscle contraction (Biewener, 2013);

“The elastic properties of tendons and ligaments and of inter – vertebral discs might enable the back to function as a suitable spring.” R.McN Alexander, Elastic mechanisms in animal movement , 1988.

/ the faster the speed of muscle contraction the faster the speed of muscular relaxation, the higher the muscle’s state (A.N. Vorobeyev, 1977)

/ the ability  to relax muscles in the performance of complex motor skills in order to reduce to the minimum the unnecessary tension of muscle antagonists; decreases the force necessary to accomplish complex tasks such as the classic weightlifting exercises (L.N. Sokolov. 1973);

Figure 7. World’s strongest man descending into squat extremely fast to raise a slow moving barbell made possible by rapid relaxation of lower extremity muscles. There is never a mention of speed of muscle relaxation in the height – weight – results; ‘math discovers science’ research of the relative strength of weightlifters.  Charniga photo

/ the faster the speed of relaxation the faster the weightlifter can move the body and the individual links; the more force that can be applied to a moving barbell (L.N. Sokolov, 1973);

/ a weightlifter’s abundance qualities can facilitate a weightlifter’s strength potential to perform complex sport exercises, i.e., “using many more elements than necessary for each task, never constraining the system to a single solution”(Gelfand and Latash1998: Latash 2012).

Figure 8. Example of abundance with more movement of hip and lower extremities than are typically considered acceptable technical parameters in weightlifting. Charniga photo

/ variable cycles of relaxation and tension on tendons means: “more force may be exerted during complex movements than during isotonic or isokinetic contractions” ( Bobbert, M., Huijing, P., Van Ingen Schenau, G. 1986

The above, not easily quantifiable factors of human strength/power potential are nonetheless integral of the ways and means weightlifters are able to express the most important skill in weightlifting sport; which is the ability to raise a slow moving barbell. These things just don’t add up in ‘math discovers science’ tables; and, likewise are not to be found in textbooks in the academic world.

Bio – density rating of another of tall – for – the – event – athlete

How can a Pick – up truck outrace a Corvette?

Presented in tables 5 & 6 are analogous comparisons of tall for sprinting males and a female with other record holders whose heights are more characteristic of the events. The same calculations used for the weightlifters were employed with the sprinters: Bio – density divided by best time of the races (100 and 200 meters).

For instance, Usain Bolt’s time of 9.58  was divided into his Bio – density of 482. In the case of sprinting, the higher number rates the better sprinter. Bolt’s rating of 50.31 versus 49.89 for Kerley versus 46.09 for Gatlin and 43.03 for Gay is indicative of his and Kerley’s better mechanical efficiency over the two shorter lighter sprinters by means of degree of difficulty. The same circumstances applied for the females with the taller athlete rated higher than the faster, shorter, lighter sprinter.  

Tables 5 & 6. Bio – density comparison of world’s top sprinters according to height and results in 100 & 200 meters.

Athl. Ht./cm Wt./kg Bio. B/I/100 BI/200 Rating
Bolt 195 94 482 50.31 25.12 1
time       9:58 19:19  
Kerley∗ 191 93 487 49.89 24.65 2
Gatlin 185 83 449 46.09 22.94 3
time       9:74 19:57  
Gay 180 75 417 43.03 21.80 4
        9.69 19:58  
Athlete Ht. cm wt. kg Bio.
FrPrice 152 52 342
32.26 15.70 2
Time       10.60 21.79  
Schipp 179 68 380
35.15 17.57 1
Time       10.81 21.63  

∗ The lower aerodynamic Fred Kerley “driving a pick up truck” outraced a field  comprised of significantly shorter runners, “driving Corvettes”; to win the 2022 100 meters world championships on July 16, 2022. 

In circumstances analogous those of the tall weightlifter having to perform more relative work against gravity; the taller and heavier sprinters like Bolt, Kerley and Schippers have to raise more body mass off the ground; while at the same time, their larger frames are less aerodynamic, having to overcome relatively greater wind resistance than the shorter, lighter, world class sprinters. Consequently, a Bio- density rating factors a  degree of difficulty to compare taller athletes to those who conform to the height/weight norms typical for the event.

Which raises the question: how does someone driving a pickup truck, i.e., a less aerodynamic, heavier, tall for the event athlete, beat someone racing in a Corvette?

The most often heard reason for the competitiveness of the tall – for – sprinting – sprinter is that they have an advantage; it is ‘easier’ for guys like Bolt; because they execute fewer strides to complete a 100 or 200 meter race. However:

“Short limbs with shorter strides move more rapidly and therefore can cover as much ground as do longer limbs moving more slowly. …taller and heavier persons are handicapped when accelerating their body mass to attain that running speed.” Astrand, P- A., RoDAhl, K., Dahl, D., Stromme, S.,2003

Furthermore, that might constitute a valid argument if the energy expenditure per stride were uniform across the spectrum of the field with athletes of varying height and mass. However, less strides to cover 100 or 200 meters means longer strides; longer strides in all probability require greater expenditure of energy.  See Saxonov’s research quoted above. For instance, tall weightlifters expend 38% more energy performing the classic exercises than their shorter counterparts.

Furthermore, the notion that fewer strides translates into an advantage for longer legs, bigger feet and more body mass is not as simple as that:

“… determining the power and work expended to move the legs – the internal power and work – is not a trivial problem. It does not have a definite solution and allows more than one answer.” Latash, Zatsiorsky, 2016

So, in all probability, other factors enable too – tall – for – weightlifting – weightlifters and tall – for – the – event athletes such as Usain Bolt to become world champion weightlifters and great sprinters. Is it possible the longer limbs; the longer muscles (Astrand et al), the longer tendons and fascia; even the plantar fascia spring of the foot, which are stretched on forefoot contact; of tall athletes are able to store and release more strain energy over the course of races? That is to say, the likes of Bolt, Kersey and Schippers, tend to come from behind late in their respective races to overcome fast moving; but, plateauing in speed, smaller, lighter more aerodynamic sprinters. Could this be evidence of release of cumulative, proportionally more strain energy from their longer Bio – springs?


/ bodyweight/height – to – results are mathematical models of an optimum Bio – density  of height conforming to weight class. They are based on an underlying assumption the weightlifter’s specific gravity (preponderance of higher specific gravity muscle, bone with minimal fat), conforms to the available centimeters in height;

/ the relative proportion of visco – elastic tissue (Bio – springs)  of the weightlifter’s mass with increasing height are not easily quantifiable; which means models are based on a specific minimum content of muscle mass to height without accounting for the relative density of Bio – springs;

/weight/height – to – weight – results research of weightlifters do not account for the maximum strength potential of the human body: the potential to generate energy beyond what is possible from muscle contraction through release of strain energy;  

/ weight/height – to – weight – results account for only one property of muscles – contraction; the critical role of the ability for high speed muscle relaxation is not considered which may partially account for the ability of taller athletes to show good results with a relatively lower density of muscle mass;

/ in the modern era of weightlifting optimum bio-density ranges of weightlifters should be adopted as points of reference for determination of appropriate body-weight classes of both sexes;

/ a trend of taller (successful on the international stage) weightlifters relative to the era of the press continues to evolve;

/ height to body-weight/weightlifting – results calculations alone are not a true reflection of the determinants of the world’s strongest weightlifters, i.e., math does not discover science;  

/ a rise in fat mass typically is accompanied by a rise in bone mass with increasing height, especially in the lower extremities;

/ the relative proportion of Bio – spring tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) to fat -muscle – bone mass which accompanies the rise in height of weightlifters is unknown.


/ Astrand, P- A., RoDAhl, K., Dahl, D., Stromme, S., TEXTBOOK OF Work Physiology, 2003; Human Kinetics

/ Ford, L.E., Detterline, A. J., Ho, K.K., CAO W., “Gender- and height-related limits of muscle strength in world weightlifting champions”, PMID: 10956351, DOI:10.1152/jappl.2000.89.3.1061

/ Tumanyan, G.S., Martirosov, A.G.,  Body Structure and Sport  FiS, Moscow, 1976 Pp180 – 196. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Nikitin, A.F., Gladysheva, A.A., “Stereo – Photometric Research of the Muscle Topography of the Sportsman’s Ankle”, The First All –Soviet Scientific Conference on Sport Morphology, PP114 – 116 Moscow, 1975. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Saxonov, N.N., “Energy expenditure of classified weightlifters”, Tribuna Masterov, 79 – 90; FIS, Moscow, 1969. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Chernyak, A.V., Povetkin, Y.S., Marshaniv, S.S., Popov, G.I.,”Technical preparedness of the 1980 Olympic champions”, Tiiazhelaya Atletika Yezhegodnik, FIS, Moscow, 1980. English translation Andrew Charniga

/ Kudyukov, I.,S., “Dynamics of some components of sport mastery” Tiazhelaya Atletika, Yezhgodnik, 1981. English translation Sportivnypress Livonia, Michigan. Andrew Charniga.

/ Pilipovsky, A.Z., “Somato – metric and Somato – typological Characteristics of the High Class Weightlifter”,The First All –Soviet Scientific Conference on Sport Morphology   Moscow, 1975. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Dzedzitz, A., “Something about Baszanowski, Ozimek and Smalcerz”, From: V Druzhba – Cila (Strength in Friendship), FIS, Moscow, 1978 I.S. Kudyukov, editor; The Path to Records. Translated by Andrew Charniga.

/Steven B. Heymsfield,1 Phoenix Hwaung,1 Fernando Ferreyro-Bravo,2 Moonseong Heo,3 Diana M. Thomas,4 and John M. Schuna, Jr., “Scaling of Adult Human Bone and Skeletal Muscle Mass to Height in the United States Population”, Am J Hum Biol. 2019 Jul; 31(4): e23252.  Published online 2019 May 14. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23252 PMCID: PMC6634976 NIHMSID: NIHMS1028784

/ Bobbert, M., Huijing, P., Van Ingen Schenau, G., “A model of the human triceps surae muscle- tendon complex applied to jumping; ” J. Biomechanics vol. 19: 11: 887-898:1986

/ Salnikov, V. A., Kimeisha, B.V., Nikitin A.M.,”The time Dynamics of Weightlifters’ Results with Respect to the Psycho – motor Peculiarities of Personality”,  Teoriia I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury  7:14 – 17:1982

/ Geselyevitch, V.A., Medical Reference Book for the Coach, FiS, Moscow, 1981. Translated by Andrew Charniga