Weight & Performance

Greetings, and immediate apologies for starting another contentious thread (anyone remember the “Base Training Revisited” thread ???)

For my part, my interest in this thread centres around examination of how to achieve the best athletic performance feasible, without starving yourself to death. That said, judging from purely anecdotal experience, it's clear that perceived and actual optimum racing weight for me differs by 12-14 pounds. This is somewhat scary, as I always believed myself to be on the lean end of the spectrum.

Biggest changes for me stemmed from a conversation with a training partner in which he revealed that the only significant difference between his ability to run a 32-min and a 35-min 10k was the fact that he was a stone lighter for the former. Upon closer examination, it turned out that the older runners that I was training with admitted to equivalent sins - for instance, the two V50 runners that I regularly train with have run 2:28 and 2:34 for the marathon (aged 30 and 35, respectively) and both admit to being 1-1.5 stone lighter than they are now (of course, they are also 1-1.5 decades older than they were then too!).

Nevertheless, the best V40 (soon to be V50) in our club claims to have run all of his best times after reaching the age of 40. He's clocked a 67 min half and a 2:24 marathon. He reckons it's all down to consistent training and weight control. I'd be inclined to agree with him. He'll turn 50 next year and I'm sure will clock at least one sub-73 half, that's tough to argue with!

As a consequence of the comments above, I decided to embark on a program of controlled weight loss during intensive training. I focused on a half marathon with a plan to peak in terms of athletic performance and weight loss on a specific date. This is how things have turned out so far:

belper 30k – sun 19 aug - 2:17:12 (5th) – 10st 0lb     
lichfield 10k - sun 09 sep - 35:18 (4th, 1st V35) - 9st 12lb
leicester 1/2M - sun 14 oct - 1:15:02 (3rd) PB - 9st 8lb
natl xc relays 5k - sat 03 nov - 17:02 PB - 9st 6.5lb
markeaton xc (~10k) - sat 10 nov - 34:06 (24th) - ?           
bergamo 1/2M - sun 18 nov - 1:13:08 (10th, 2nd V35) PB - 9st 5lb

Clearly, with these sort of data, the obvious temptation is to try and keep losing weight. But this would be a BIG mistake. There’s obviously a limit, and as a learned colleague has pointed out, once weight loss results in loss of lean muscle mass then a  decrease in performance is inevitable. So I guess the central question when trying to determine optimum weight for performance is “what is the optimum weight to height ratio”. I have to admit, this gets me to a strange place, as despite my best intentions, I find myself, regardless of any preconceived differences of opinion, finally agreeing with Frank Horwill!!!   

His article on weight-height ratios and performance seems to be spot on:
Horwill being a nutter part 1
Horwill being a nutter part 2



  • Regarding the Stillman formulae, at 5’8”, and as a runner aiming at the marathon, Horwill's suggestion is that I should weigh 128.5 lbs or 9st 2.5lb. Currently, I’m 9st 4lb, and to be perfectly frank (no pun intended), I’m starting to feel a little transparent, having dropped 14 pounds since July.

    Nevertheless, the proof of the pudding etc etc………. However, I think that I can’t diverge from the opinion that there is enormous potential for both male and female athletes to go waaaaaaaayyyyyyy too far with weight loss in the pursuit of better times, and the likely result under these circumstances is at best, poorer performance and at worst poorer health, with potentially catastrophic results.

    Interested to hear any and all opinions…………
  • Good topic M

    I am currently at 11 lbs above my normal racing weight and feel it in training let alone racing.  My PBs have often been made when I look gaunt and underweight, which by anyone's standards I was. So it's difficult to know what should be our ideal weight. For health or for a race pb?

  • A good topic - look forward to seeing how it develops.   I agree in many ways it's the great unspoken - that losing a shed load of weight is likely to make you far faster than doing intervals or any of the other stuff that people rattle on about.  
  • According to that ratio at 5'6" I should be weighing in at scraping 50kg to run at my best.  No thank you.  It' not worth it.
  • This is a tough subject and one that often gets peoples backs up and quite negative responses.  I've certainly been beaten up on here a few times for suggesting losing weight might be a good way of getting faster.

    Its worth touching on a couple of things I think - firstly as treadmill implies fastest weight may not be healthiest weight.  And secondly weight is one of the many factors having an effect on running speed where we make compromises to achieve the overall lifestyle we want to lead. 

    If I wanted to be the fastest I could possibly be I'd aim for Horwill's target (about 49kgs for me), I'd ramp up the mileage towards 150km a week, get a very regular massage and try and have a nap in the afternoon. 

    But being the fastest I can be isn't that important to me.  So instead I'll probably try and aim for about 55kgs.  I know I'll still be healthy at that weight.  And I'll work up towards 60-70km a week.  I'll carry on working in the afternoon instead of napping (I think my employer would prefer it) and I probably wont bother with that sports massage. 

    But overall Horwill is almost certainly right and dropping a shed load of weight would probably make most people faster including me.  I've certainly benefitted form the 9kgs I've lost this year.  But when looking at his targets you just need to consider what his audience is - he coaches elite athletes.  His advice is probably not aimed at plodders like me.

  • Oh I agree it's a fascinating topic but I know from experience that at 49kg at 5'6" not only do I look absolutely minging, but even with optimum nutrition my periods are all over the shop and I just don't feel right in so many ways.  I love running and it's a big part of my life, but I guess it's just not THAT important for me that I'm willing to let by body and life be ruled by it.  Winning just doesn't mean that much to me.  image
  • Cheers for bringing this topic up Marmite.

    I know I am far too heavy (again) at the moment and this will inspire me (again), but hopefully for good this time. Just been looking at the June issue of RW and that has a good set of articles on this subject.

    I await with interest.

  • TRTR ✭✭✭
    Just over 9 stone at 5 ft 8” ?

    Who’s going to take the top off the toothpaste for you, or help you lift up the newspaper ?

    I weigh 12 stone at 5ft 10”, that gives me a BMI of over 24, when it gets to 25 I’m overweight.

    Fair play to you though, you’re a decent runner and I’m just a fit bloke who runs a bit.

    Each to their own.

  • I do 80/100 miles a week and ran 74.23 for a half weighting 11st 9. I'm 5ft 9. Clearly loosing weight would help me but I'm a lousy dieter so have concluded that I shall just train more.
  • The Horwill formula works for me (unless I've miscalculated) - he reckons my racing weight should be somewhere between 11st8 and 12st4lbs.   My lightest adult weight (well since I was 17-20ish) is 12 stone pus a couple of pounds which I maintained for about 6 months - currently closer to 13.    

    I think one problem with the UK is that we are such a fat society that people at the lean end of healthy are seen as being overly skinny - see some of the comments in this thread.     I've worked it out for my partner and her racing weight is about what she weighed when she was about 20 - same for mine then - so it's fair to say any additional is just accumulated fat.

  • Will read more and this is so interesting think if I read it right I need to be 7.8 I am 9.2 and 5.2" will see how I get on but never been lower than 8.8 and that was when I was 16.I have lost around 3/4 stone in last 8 weeks but it has been training more as been injured and watching my food, will give this a good go and see where it takes me maybe training more we shall see.I am the same weight as my good years 2004-2005 and never been lowerer since I started running.

    For me it is a fine line eating enough to sustain my training and going just a tad too far and feeling faint whilst running which has happened last 3 weeks when on a day I was busy before run I know keep gels in my Pouch so I can consumme one if I feel light headed on run.

    So will aim for 8 stone and see where it takes me .

    Live each day as if it was your last  give it all you have to reap the rewards.
  • I know that the combination of losing alot of weight and training hard brought me fantastic benefits.

    Here's my training and weight loss calculator if anyones interested... it's not update as I've been out for 19 weeks with a stress frsacture.

     Click For My calculated Spreadsheet


  • BTW, the above document was documenting my prediction of how much weight would give me so much performance and I'd say it's not far off bang on! It deffo worked for me..


  • no surprise to see you visiting this thread Pug.....

    Since the layoff I had at the end of the summer, I've been carrying a few pounds too many. Think I'm nearer 5'9" than 5'8", and weight has just crept above 11st (70-71 kg). I'm sure that getting down to 68-69kg would make a significant difference to my running and take me to around the weight I was at when I was going really well 3 years ago.

    But even then I was getting comments (irritating ones from mother-in-law, to be fair) about how "gaunt" I looked - and the sort of weight that I apparently should be targetting according to the Horwill articles really would involve a drastic loss....I want to make the best of my ability - but not by taking extreme measures like that.

    I do wonder also, with your weight well down on what you're used to, what effect it might have on your immune system. Can't help but think if there was any flu or other virus-type bugs going round, not only might you be a bit more vulnerable to picking something up, but also if you did, it would really knock you for six - could put you out for ages.

    I take on board a lot of what Horwill says about diet in general - there's stuff I could/should put into practice there - and maybe it's possible there are specific areas I could target for fat loss - but losing the amount he's recommending, for me, at any rate, is more trouble than it's worth. 

  • 'A runner weighing 14 st will have a VO2 Max of 50. He/She will probably be able to run a 10k in approx 41.20.

    'Each pound of weight loss will improve a 10k time by 11 seconds.'

    (These stats above are of relevance to myself.)

    This is from an old Runners World Booklet from about 1996.

    So by that reckoning if I lost approximately 2 stones (28 pounds) in weight then I would run a time of 5 mins and 5 seconds faster. 28 x 11 = 308 seconds.

    My 10 k time would therefore drop from 41.20 to 36.15 !

    Right, lets get serious about this !!

  • Well, apparently I'll run at my best weighing 46kg

    I currently weigh 50-51kg, which at 5'4-ish gives me a BMI of just 19 or so. I am extremely healthy (never ever have a day off work due to sickness), eat plenty etc and have had a stable weight for well over 10 years. I am however regarded and constantly told by those that know me that I'm extremely skinny...

    To lose 4-5kg (from where?) would be ridiculous. As a financially-challenged student around 15 years ago I was probably close to that 'optimum' weight for a few years - looked malnourished, had almost no periods, felt the cold bitterly and had no blood supply to my toes in winter, such that they usually went purple/black and shed the toenails...it was NOT healthy!!

    Surely being at an unnaturally low weight at which physiological processes such as reproduction, bone metabolism, and temperature control are jeapordised cannot be advocated?!

  • Doesnt it also depend on a number of individual genetic variables - natural body type and shape being one of them ..so someone with a bigger heavier skeleton would struggle to be at a lower weight than someone who has a naturally smaller and lighter build would?

    Doesnt this create a danger where people who are already at a good optimum weight for their distance who try to get lighter risk problems like those above

    Im not saying that losing weight isnt a good idea -its just that aiming to beat  too light a weight can be the wrong way - the worst case scenarios leading to anorexia athletica in people who may be be prone along with all the other well documented problems

  • Very interesting topic - thank for bringing it up.

    The figures related to me suggest I should shed around 5kgs - I'm in the middle of the non-exercise weight and the "recommended" weight.  Recently however I've started to notice my upper body hasn't been what it was and I'm spending the next month in the gym trying to beef up a little before training for next season.

    I agree with Nam and K9 etc  however in that if I lost those extra 5kgs - which I don't think I'd be able to do incidentally - I would be unhealthy, gaunt etc.  I know I wouldn't be able to keep up an exercise routine whilst trying for weight loss as I really need my food to be able to run / exercise.

    I've always been thin and the most I've ever weighed was 12 stone - which was for less than a year after I went through a weight lifting phase.  I simply couldn't lose the suggetsed weight.

  • At 5'1" and 7st 10lb, with a BMI of 20, I'm 3lb heavier than the "average" weight for my height and 18lb heavier than my theoretical ideal racing weight.

    I haven't weighed 6st 6lb since puberty and am absolutely not going anywhere near there, but the temptation to try to shed some weight and see what effect it has on my race times is hanging around. Trumped only by the temptation to keep enjoying my food and accept that running is just a hobby I'm not very good at image

  • Maybe the Horwill formula is working more for men than women - certainly seems to be a bit of a pattern that most women feel that their predicted race weight would be unhealthy if not impossible - whereas most men feel it would be attainable even if they don't fancy looking that thin?  
  • I can only get to Ideal-15%WHEN I'm ill!
    -10% is reasonable though! It's only a few pounds lighter than my lightest 'normal variation' weight

    And my normal 'resting' weight is  10lbs less than my "average" weight anyway!

  • I certainly think the figure given for women is a little on the unforgiving side. But then, I would, wouldn't I?

    And, as others (MikeS, K9, Buney) have pointed out, there are other health issues to consider when trying to lose weight from a baseline that's already relatively lean. At my present weight, I'm strong and healthy, have a bit of fat in all the places that I'm told a girl dinosaur ought to have a bit of fat, and can maintain a calorie intake so high (2,500-3,000 calories a day) that there's no danger of me becoming deficient in anything or being too droopy to finish a training session.  

    Ah, dammit. What I'm saying is, if I want to lose weigh I'll have to stop eating chocolate, and I really, really don't want to do that image 

  • I also usually disagree with most of what Horwill has to say, though I think he is right on this one, though I've long used the chapter in older editions of The Competiteve Runners Handbook as my guide, saying exactly the same thing years earlier, (I don't know where the original Stillman source is)

    Although most of the top distance runnering women look really skinny, it can't really be said that they are all unhealthy.  I think a really good indicator of this is that Paula got pregnant as soon as she tried, and Ingrid Kristiansen ran for several months not realizing she was pregant.  Although superficially they may seen as skinny as the size 0 models the well defined muscles are in my opinion the key difference to both their health and appearance.

    Although I find it very difficult to get down to 'racing weight', and even harder to stay there, my 'running history statistics' fit the theory extremely well: I'll use marathon times to illustrate-

     Oct 1988:     8st 9lb - 3:26   (W34 - age grade= 66%)
    April 1989:  7st 11lbs  - 3:08  (W35 - age grade= 73%)

    2004   8st 0lbs  -   3:27  (W50 - age grade = 77%)
    2002   8st 8lbs   - 3:30  (W48 = 74%
    2006   8st 8lbs  - 3:30  (W52 = 78%)
    + other marathons at 8:8 falling into the same pattern

    Well, that's been an interesting exercise!  Mostly I cite the winter of 88/89 when I lost over half stone to get down to sub 8st, and I really noticed the improvement in performance across the distances. Obviously different training regimes, and race day circumstances eg weather,  make a difference, and I do think I was well in shape for a better time in 2004,  but what surprises me is that at face value, on age-graded times the lower weight in 2004 did not produce a better performance than the heavier weight 2 years later.

    I usually manage about 8:7 for marathons, but train at 8:10-12.  Currently exactly one stone heavier, and my current pace/HR ratio suggest that I'm really in pretty good shape if only I was that stone lighter. But it's proving very difficult to shift, despite my upping my mileage to normal marathon training ie average 70mpw+.  I need to start getting serious about  portion control image

  • .. for the stastically minded, should have said I'm 5' 4"
  • hear hear regarding the chocolate V-rap image (and your other points)

    I'm sure body shape and build has a lot to do with what weight can be healthily maintained for any one individual. I'm not big-boned but neither am I tiny - I guess others my height could exist at a lower weight than me quite happily, but for me, I personally don't think I should be any lighter (and wouldn't have the willpower to get there anyway!)

  • The Horwill theory seems to come up with a more realistic weight for me than my runner's handbook. I'm 5'10" and 10st 2lb, and Horwill reckons I should be 9st 9lb. I was around this at the end of last year and probably would be now if I stopped eating biscuits all the time (and bought a pack of mince pies today - oops but yum). My runner's handbook puts my ideal weight nearer 9 stone, which I think might be iffy. I wonder if some of the theory comes from many top distance athletes being the 'perfect' shape naturally. Some people are very slim without looking ill, others aren't. And perhaps trying to be the same weight as someone with a body shape more conducive to a lower weight is a potential health risk. I'm slower than this time last year as well as heavier, but I'd put that down to the endurance focus of my training at the moment. Maybe once the season of mince pies has passed, I'll think about trimming down a bit. Maybe.
  • 9st at 5'10"??? image  Blimey....  image
  • I was just thinking that too - actually I thought 10 2 was pretty slim for 5 10.  i would be delighted to be that weight and I am only 5 5.

    yikes!!  should I just wire my jaws shut now and be done with it.

  • Just going back to elbees post - did Horwill say 15% under the "normal healthy weight" ?  I read it as between 5-10 % under, if it's 15 that might shed a rather different light on it - I thought it seemed pretty easy to hit his target !  

  • Does Horwill give a formula to estimate your 'ideal weight?
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