Physiological Factors

Quick revise

After studying this section you should understand the impact of the following


Age effects us all this is why there are age divisions in competitions. It would be unfair to expect a 50 year old to compete against a 25 year old.

Below are the effects of age on the body


  • You do not reach your maximum strength until you are around 20
  • This is when you are fully grown
  • In your 20s and 30s it is still easy to build muscle.
  • After this, protein levels and muscle mass falls, and strength declines, so its harder to build muscle.

Oxygen capacity

  • This falls as you get older, so less oxygen can be taken to the muscles

Injury and disease

  • Older people are more prone to injury, and it takes them longer to recover from one
  • Older people generally suffer from more diseases

Reaction time

  • These get slower as you get older


  • You are most flexible in your teens


  • This is a vital factor in sport
  • As you get older, you become more experienced


Somatotype means the shape of your body. This can affect your suitability for certain sports.

There are 3 basic somatotypes:

1. Ectomorph (thin body shape)

  • Narrow shoulders, hips and chest
  • Not much fat or muscle
  • Long, thin arms and legs
  • Thin face, high forehead
  • e.g. high jump, long distance running

2. Endomorph (dumpy)

  • Wide hips, but narrow shoulders
  • Lot of fat on body, arms and legs
  • Ankles and wrists slim
  • e.g. wrestling, shot putting

3. Mesomorph (muscular)

  • Wide shoulders, narrow hips
  • Muscular body
  • Strong arms and thighs
  • Not much body fat
  • e.g. swimming, gymnastics


Competitions usually split men and women, along with young and old.

Men and women have different bodies

  • Men have longer, heavier bone structure
  • Women have a wider, fatter pelvis (better for child birth)
  • Women generally have more body fat than men
  • The menstrual cycle can affect performance 

Girls mature earlier than boys

  • Girls reach physical maturity at 16 or 17
  • Boys mature at around 20

Men are generally stronger

  • Men have bigger muscles, due to higher testosterone levels

Women are generally more flexible

  • This is partly due to them having less muscle.



  • Affects coordination, speech and judgment
  • Slows reactions
  • Makes muscles tired more quickly
  • Eventually damages liver, kidneys, heart, muscles, brain and the digestive and immune system


  • Causes nose, throat and chest irritations
  • Makes you short of breath
  • Increases the risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis.
  • Every single cigarette damages your body

Performance Enhancing Drugs

Anabolic Agents (Steroids)

  • Increases muscle size
  • Allows you to train harder
  • Causes high blood pressure, heart disease, infertility and cancer
  • Women may grow facial and body hair, and their voices may deepen
  • Banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)


  • Makes you urinate, causing weight loss
  • Masks traces of other drugs in your system
  • Causes cramp and dehydration

Narcotic Analgesics

  • Kills pain so injury and fatigue doesn’t interfere with performance,
  • Can make you train too hard
  • They are addictive, with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms
  • Leads to constipation and low blood pressure

Peptide Hormones

  • Most have similar effects as steroids
  • Cause strokes, and abnormal growth


  • Speeds up your reactions
  • Increases aggression
  • Makes you feel less pain, which can make you train too hard
  • Leads to high blood pressure, heart and liver failure and strokes
  • They are addictive
  • Banned by International Olympic Committee (IOC)

Olympic Drug Restrictions

The use of the following drugs are restricted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC):

Beta Blockers

  • Medicine that lowers heart rate, steadys shaking hands, and reduces anxiety
  • Banned in sports where they may give an advantage, such as shooting, snooker


  • Sometimes used in snooker or shooting to calm nerves

Local Anaesthetics

  • Reduce pain, but may be allowed for medical reasons


  • Similar effect to alcohol


  • Reduces pain and inflammation from injury
  • Serious side effects, including diabetes, depression and weakening of the bones

Drug Testing

Can be done at any time. Urine samples are spilt into 2 bottles A and B.

A sample is tested. If drugs are found, B sample is tested to double check

Refusing to give a sample is as serious as failing a test If an athlete is found guilty of taking banned drugs, they are banned from competing, sometimes forever.

This video looks at the types of drugs which affect performance.

Blood Doping

This is used to simulate high altitude training, without going to high altitudes. Red blood cells are taken out of the athlete, so their body makes more to replace them

Before a competition, the red blood cells are injected back into the athlete, so that more oxygen can be carried around their body.

This is banned by the IOC