The Stillman Weight Tables

Introduction

Dr Stillman's weight tables were an attempt to suggest ideal weights according to height, sex and runner type. They were once very popular, appearing in publications such as British Milers' Club News, but are increasingly considered old-fashioned and too simplistic, and have been heavily criticised.

Feedback from site users tells us that most runners find the suggested weights are too low to be achievable, and would actually have an adverse effect on their performance, and even health. Our judgement is now that they are effectively useless as a guide.

There is no one formula that can determine any runner's ideal weight. Some modern "ideal running weight" calculators, such as that provided by Matt Fitzgerald, are more sophisticated, and take into account age, body fat percentage, and other factors in order to provide a more individualised suggestion.

Defenders of the tables argue that the values they produce are in line with what is seen amongst elite athletes. However, this is inevitable since it appears the suggested values were based on real-life heights and weights of professional runners. That's not particularly useful or informative for the majority of runners who exhibit a wide range of body types.

Our recommendation is that runners seeking their ideal race weight do not pay attention to the Stillman tables, and adopt a more modern approach to achieving their goals. We like the approach laid out in Matt Fitzgerald's Racing Weight.

The Calculations

Stillman argued that ideal weights for non-runners could be determined as follows:

For men:

  1. 50kg/110lbs is allocated for the first 152.4cm/5 feet of height (the tables do not consider heights below this)
  2. Then 2.45kg/5.5lbs is allocated for each subsequent 2.54cm/1 inch of height

For women:

  1. 45kg/100lbs is allocated for the first 152.4cm/5 feet of height
  2. Then 2.3kg/5lbs is allocated for each subsequent 2.54cm/1 inch of height

The Problems

The calculation suffers from several other problems. Some of these are specific to Stillman, others are common to most ideal or recommended weight calculators, such as BMI:

  • It delivers a single value rather than a range. Even amongst top-level athletes there is quite a lot of variation. And, importantly, success with variation.
  • It ignores the fact that body dimensions tend to be different for taller and shorter people and incorrectly works on the basis that the relationship between additional mass and height will be linear.
  • It can shift the focus from a healthy lifestyle and approach to running to an unhealthy and performance-reducing focus on weight.
  • It doesn't take into account the ratio of lean body tissue to fat.
  • It ignores not only the variation in healthy weights that occurs between individuals, but additional higher-level variation that's found between different populations.

Working on the basis that runners tend to be lighter than the non-running population, hurdlers lighter than sprinters, middle-distance runners lighter than hurdlers, and long-distance runners lighter still. Stillman argued that the following reductions should be applied to the calculated value.

  • Sprinters: 2.5%
  • Hurdlers: 6%
  • Middle-distance Runners: 12%
  • Long-distance Runners: 15%

Again, there is no consideration given to the variation that exists within groups of different types of runners. Most runners recognise that there is great diversity in the running world, even amongst top performers. 800 metres is probably the event most famous for demonstrating the ability of significantly-different athletes to perform well, but there are plenty of examples from other disciplines.

The Summary

So, to summarise, ignore Stillman. A person chasing their best possible times as a runner will of course have some ideal racing weight. But that won't be found by using a calculator.