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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003, 17(4), 664670

q 2003 National Strength & Conditioning Association

Muscle Strength Assessment From Functional


Performance Tests: Role of Body Size
ULRIKA AASA,1 SLOBODAN JARIC,2 MARGARETA BARNEKOW-BERGKVIST,1
HAKAN JOHANSSON1

AND

Centre for Musculoskeletal Research, National Institute for Working Life, Umea, Sweden; and 2Human
Performance Lab, Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark,
Delaware 19716.

ABSTRACT
The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that the body
size plays an important role in assessment of muscle ability
to exert force by standard functional performance tests.
Twenty-one male students were tested on maximal isometric
lift, one leg rising, vertical jump, and box lift tests, and the
maximal isokinetic strength of hip and knee extensors was
also recorded. When indices of the 4 functional performance
tests were related to the strength of each of the 2 leg extensor
muscle groups, only maximal isometric lift demonstrated
positive correlation with knee extensors strength. When
muscle strength was corrected for body mass, however, the
aforementioned relationship became insignificant, but the 1
leg rising performance demonstrated a positive relationship
with knee extensor strength. In addition, maximal isometric
lift and 1 leg rising test performance provided positive and
negative correlation, respectively, with body mass. The obtained findings were in line with the effects of scale applied
on the tested performance. We generally conclude that the
assessment of muscle capability to exert force based on some
standard functional performance tests could be confounded
by the body size effect.

Key Words: effects of scale, isokinetic force, movement


task, body mass
Reference Data: Aasa, U., S. Jaric, M. BarnekowBergkvist, and H. Johansson. Muscle strength assessment from functional performance tests: Role of body
size. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17(4):664670. 2003.

Introduction

erformance of various functional tasks have been


regularly tested not only to evaluate movement capabilities in sports, rehabilitation, ergonomics, and
other movement related areas but also to assess function of active muscle groups (1, 2, 20). Therefore, the
relationship between the movement performance observed in standard functional tests and muscle
strength has been also frequently studied. The results
664

proved to be inconsistent since both relatively high


and low correlations have been found (33). One of the
possible causes could be the role of body size within
the discussed relationship that has been rarely taken
into account. Because the relations among anthropometric, movement performance and muscle strength
variables could be rather complex (3, 17, 30, 33), within
the following paragraphs we will point out the possible role of body size in muscle strength as well as
the indices of various functional performance tasks.
It is well known that muscle strength is positively
related with various measures of body size, such as
body mass, lean body mass, or lean limb volume (6,
10, 27). However, muscle strength has also proved to
be affected by other factors, such as subject group and
type of test or methods applied (8, 15, 23, 24). Some
authors have also suggested that other factors, such as
gender or the level of physical activity, could affect
muscle strength more than body size per se (23, 29).
Conversely, the effect of body size on muscle strength,
power, and endurance could be more pronounced than
the effect of muscle composition (26). Nevertheless, authors usually present muscle strength corrected for
body mass applying either ratio standards (i.e., reporting strength per kilogram of body mass [19, 20,
30]), allometric scaling (i.e., strength divided by mass
on power 2/3 [8, 31]), or multiple regression techniques (4, 25). A recent review on the muscle strength
normalization pointed out a remarkable inconsistency
in the applied normalization methods (14).
Although the positive relationship between muscle
strength and body size represents a well-known phenomenon, possible relationship between body size and
various indices of movement performance proved to
be more complex. The effect of scale has been already
described in a number of standard textbooks as a standard theoretical tool applied when analyzing effects
of size on various functions of biological systems (2,
21). When behavior of isolated muscle groups is stud-

Muscle Strength Assessment and Body Size 665

ied under the assumption of geometric similarity, the


effect of scale predicts that muscle torque increases according to ratio standards (i.e., proportionally to m1),
and muscle force exerted against external objects increases according to allometric scaling (i.e., proportional to m2/3 [15, 21]). However, in movement performance tests performed under functional conditions,
the effects of scale predict that different indices of performance recorded under various movement conditions should be also differently affected by body size.
For example, a muscle force exerted against external
objects is expected to increase with body size, although slower than body weight. As a consequence,
tests based on recorded external forces (e.g., hand grip
or maximal isometric lift) should provide the performance measure positively related with body size. At
the same time, tests based on a success in lifting subjects own body under critical mechanical conditions
(e.g., the one leg rising, squats, or push-ups) should
provide performance indices negatively related with
body size since body weight increases with size at a
higher rate than the muscle forces exerted against the
weight. It has been also known for a long time that
maximal velocity of body limbs or velocity of entire
body should not depend of body size (11), or this effect should be rather subtle within the relatively narrow scale of human body size (21). Therefore, one
could assume that performance of various dynamic
tasks (e.g., jumping, running, or rapid repositions of
objects in various ergonomic tasks) does not depend
on body size. Nevertheless, the effect of body size has
been rarely taken into account when presenting results
of movement performance tests (14).
On the basis of the aforementioned consideration,
we selected a group of standard functional performance tests and related the obtained performance
with the strength of active muscle groups. Thereafter,
we examined the effects of body mass on the studied
relationship. It was hypothesized that the studied performance-strength relationship would be confounded
by the effect of body size on particular movement performance. The recorded confounding effects were also
expected to provide some basic guidelines when and
how to take into account the body size effect when
assessing muscle strength by various functional performance tests.

Methods
Experimental Approach to the Problem
To address the hypothesis presented in the Introduction, we designed a cross-sectional study. The testing
was performed within the Ergonomy Lab of the Centre for Musculoskeletal Research.
Subjects
Twenty-one right-handed male university students
aged between 20 and 28 years (mean 23.3 6 SD 1.7

years) volunteered in the study. Although none of


them was an active athlete, all of them were physically
active and without known recent injuries or history of
neurological diseases. Subjects received a complete explanation of the purpose and procedures of the investigation and gave their consent. The study was approved by the Ethical Committee of Umea University
(2000.02.08, dnr 00-023).
Functional Performance Tests
Four functional performance tests were recorded on
the same occasion and in the same sequence by experienced personnel. After giving instructions and
demonstration, subject performed 2 practice and 2 experimental trials with 30 seconds of rest between
them. The better result of 2 experimental trials was
taken for further analysis as the recorded performance.
Before testing, each subject performed a 10-minute
standardized warm-up and stretching procedure. The
rest between 2 tests was between 7 and 10 minutes,
and fatigue was never an issue. Unilateral performance
tests were applied on subjects right limbs.
The following is a brief description of all four tests.

1. Maximal isometric lift. The method was described


in details elsewhere (4). In short, the subject pulled
vertically a horizontal handle positioned at knee
height with both arms. Therefore, the body position
corresponded to a squat lifting technique with
knees and hips bent while the back was straight.
The subject was asked to exert the maximum voluntary force. The force was recorded by a calibrated
strain gauge dynamometer.
2. One leg rising. The test has been often used to assess function of leg extensors (9), but the applied
method was slightly modified from Ostenberg et al.
(25). The subjects were sitting on an adjustable
bench with knee angle of 1008 (1808 is full extension), with the heel of the right foot 10 cm in front
of the bench. The other foot was held in the air and
both arms aside the body. The subjects were asked
to rise on one leg without help of arms and without
swinging any part of the body. The bench was
gradually lowered in steps of 5 cm, and the subjects
continued to perform the test until they could no
longer rise from the bench. Two trials were allowed
at each height, if necessary. A longer distance from
the starting height was seen as a better result.
3. Vertical jump. The test has been already used for
several decades to assess strength and power of leg
extensors (32). The subjects performed the maximal
vertical jump from the upright standing position
with the preliminary counter-movement preparatory phase. Their arms were held akimbo in order
to avoid arm swings. The jump height was calculated from the flight time recorded by a contact mat
(Ergojump, Bosco system; see [5] for details).
4. Box lift. The test has served for studying postures,

666 Aasa, Jaric, Barnekow-Bergkvist, and Johansson

work strategies, lifting pattern, work style and


movement co-ordination but also as a functional
performance test in ergonomic context (see [18] for
review). The parallel handles of the box were 46 cm
apart and 21 cm above the lower edge of the box.
The mass of the box was adjusted to represent 20%
of the individual subjects mass. The box was positioned on the floor 20 cm from a table in front of
the subject. The table height was adjusted to 61%
of the subjects body height. Prior to the movement,
the subject was holding the box handles in the bent,
laterally symmetrical position (i.e., knees and hips
flexed and straight back), while the position of the
feet was self-selected. The subject was instructed to
lift the box from the floor to the table as quick as
possible. A FastTrack receiver (Polhemus, Inc., Colchester, VT) attached to the box served for 3-D
movement recording. Movement time was measured as a time interval from the movement initiation to the instant when box height remained unchanged. As a consequence, a possible sliding that
could follow placing the box on the table was excluded from the measured movement time. A low
score was seen as a better result.
Strength of Active Muscle Groups
The maximal concentric muscle torque of knee and hip
extensors of the right leg at the angular velocity of
608second was measured by an isokinetic test system
Biodex (Biodex, New York, NY). The applied experimental procedure was recommended by the Biodex
manual as well as the supplied set of lever and belts
for fixing the limbs was also applied. Movement ranges for hip and knee movements were 1201808 and 80
1808 (1808 corresponds to the extended joint angles in
standard standing posture), respectively. Each muscle
group was tested during the series of 4 consecutive
trials of maximal extension movements and the highest peak torque in newton-meters was taken for further analysis. On-line corrections were made for the
weight of the limb and lever using the standard Biodex
software. The actual testing was preceded by a standardized warming-up and familiarization procedure
consisting of 8 trials performed at 50% of maximal voluntary contraction.
Statistical Analyses
In addition to standard descriptive statistics, regression and correlation technique were applied. A Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was applied to test the normality of data distribution, and a linear regression was
employed to assess the relationship between logarithmic values of body mass and muscle strength.
To examine the role of body size within the relationship between functional movement performance
and muscle strength, 2 consecutive steps of analyses
were performed. First, the linear regression model was

used when determining the correlation between the


functional performance tests and the muscle strength
of each of the 2 tested muscles. Second, a multiple regression analysis with the recorded functional performance as dependent variable and muscle strength and
body mass as independent ones. The later step provided correlations between movement performance and
muscle strength corrected for body mass, as well as
correlations between movement performance and
body mass corrected for muscle strength. Statistical
significance was set at p # 0.05.

Results
Subjects height (mean 6 SD) was 182 6 8 cm, and
their body mass was 80.4 6 9.8 kg. The results obtained in the functional performance tests (averaged
across the subjects) were as follows: the force recorded
in the maximal isometric lift was 1440 6 220 N, the
minimal height of the one leg rising was 14.8 6 6.6
cm below the starting level, the height of the vertical
jump was 38 6 6 cm, and the movement time recorded
in the box lift test was 790 6 67 ms.
Maximal isokinetic strength of hip and knee extensors was 209 6 52 Nm and 231 6 45 Nm, respectively.
Linear regression was applied to test the relationship
between muscle strength and body mass on the loglog scale. For hip extensors, slope of the regression line
was b 5 0.16, and the correlation coefficient was r 5
0.32 (p . 0.05). The corresponding results for knee extensors were b 5 0.38 and r 5 0.64 (p . 0.01). Of 8
tested variables (i.e., 2 body size measures, 4 movement performance tests, and 2 muscle strength measures), the Kolmogorov-Smirnov D statistic was significant only in 1 leg rising (D 5 0.36; p , 0.01), suggesting a nonnormal data distribution.
Table 1 depicts the main result of the study: the
relationship between functional movement performance and muscle strength and body mass. Two findings deserve particular attention. The first one is based
on the comparison of Pearsons correlation between
functional performance and muscle strength, with
multiple correlations between functional performance,
and muscle strength and body mass. The obtained results proved to be inconsistent. Namely, the Pearsons
correlation suggested significant result in only one of
the 8 tested relationships (i.e., 4 functional tests times
2 tested muscles). In particular, the exerted force in
maximal isometric lift was positively correlated with
the strength of knee extensors. When multiple regression models that include both body mass and muscle
strength were tested, the results proved to be somewhat different. Significant multiple correlations were
obtained for both regressions related to the maximal
isometric lift as well as for the regression related to 1
leg rising and knee extensor strength.
Another important finding is based on the clear-

T 5 77 1 0.29
MS
0.59**

T 5 117 1 0.13
MS

0.30

0.27
0.40
0.45**

0.19

0.61**

0.43**

T 5 20 1 0.06 T 5 30 1 0.14
MS 1 1.4 BM
MS 1 1.0 BM

Knee ext.

Hip ext.

Maximal isometric lift

20.09

T 5 68 1 0.02
MS

Knee ext.

0.26

T 5 32 1 0.03
MS

Hip ext.

0.27

T 5 27 1 0.05
MS

Knee ext.

Vertical jump

0.11

T 5 760 1 0.14
MS

Hip ext.

Knee ext.

20.02

T 5 796 2 0.03
MS

Box lift

0.31*

20.55**

20.34
0.12

0.47*

0.06

0.09

20.12

0.28

0.17

20.33

0.41

0.01

20.02

20.02

0.01

20.03

20.03

T 5 24.0 1 0.01 T 5 24.1 1 0.12 T 5 33 1 0.12


T 5 38 1 0.08
T 5 769 1 0.14 T 5 783 2 0.06
MS 2 0.32 BM MS 2 0.68 BM
MS 2 0.02 BM MS 2 0.24 BM
MS 2 0.13 BM MS 1 0.26 BM

0.03

T 5 63 1 0.001
MS

Hip ext.

One leg rising

In the regression equations T denotes the functional test performance, MS is strength of the particular muscle group, while BM is body mass. Note that in the box lift
performance lower score means better performance.
* p,0.05.
** p,0.01 (N521).

Prediction of performance (functional


tests vs. muscle
strength)
Pearsons correlation
(tests vs. muscle
strength)
Prediction of performance (functional
tests vs. muscle
strength & body
mass)
Partial correlation (functional test vs. muscle
strength)
Partial correlation (functional test vs. body
mass)
Multiple correlation (R2)

Functional test
muscle group

Table 1. Relationship between movement performance tests, and muscle strength and body mass.

Muscle Strength Assessment and Body Size 667

668 Aasa, Jaric, Barnekow-Bergkvist, and Johansson

cut effect of body mass within the studied relationship.


We compared the relationship between each of the
functional performance tests and muscle strength obtained under the conditions when the correction for
body mass was not applied (Pearsons correlation) and
when the correction for body mass was applied (partial correlation). When the correction was applied, the
relationship between maximal isometric lift and knee
extensor strength became insignificant, and the one
between 1 leg rising and knee extensor strength became significant. The slope coefficients of the performance-strength regression indicate the expected rate
of muscle strength change with the change in tested
performance. These coefficients demonstrated a prominent decrease and increase in maximal isometric lift
and 1 leg rising test, respectively, when the correction
for body mass was applied.
It is worth noticing that the partial correlations also
suggest that body mass was positively correlated with
maximal isometric lift (when corrections for hip extensor strength were made) but negatively with 1 leg rising (when corrections for knee extensor strength were
made). Finally, all correlation coefficients obtained for
the remaining two tests (i.e., vertical jump and box lift)
remained below the level of significance.

Discussion
To test the hypothesis that the relationship between
performance of some standard functional tasks and
strength of active muscles depend of the effect of body
size on the tested performance, we employed one of
the simplest but also the most often applied techniques
(4, 7, 25), namely we applied a linear regression model
to relate movement performance with muscle strength
as well as a multiple regression technique to correct
the results for body size. Both the results of these two
approaches and the difference between them were expected to reveal the role of body size within the relationship between functional performance tests and
muscle strength. However, one should take into account that although the observed moderate correlation
coefficients were in line with previous studies (1, 6, 13,
16, 19, 22), they also did not allow for testing the
equality of the corresponding Pearsons and partial
correlations or serve for evaluation of different models
of scaling muscle strength and movement performance
with body size (21). Therefore, the findings of the present study were mainly based on the level of significance of the observed relationships as well as on the
obtained regression coefficients. In general, the Pearsons and partial correlation coefficients depicting relationship between the particular functional performance and the strength of the tested muscle groups
proved to be inconsistent. Both relatively high and low
correlation coefficients were obtained, and the difference between two sets of the coefficients depended

upon the applied movement test. To interpret the results, the possible effects of body size on the tested
performance will be discussed from the prospective of
the effects of scale (2, 21; see also Introduction).
Although the maximal isometric lift is also a
strength test per se, it represents a standard occupational task (4, 12) as well as a frequent task in our
everyday behavior. The recorded performance depicts
a force exerted against a static object. This force as any
other muscle force exerted under a standardized body
position is expected to increase with body size (2, 15,
21) because of a parallel increase in muscle size. As a
consequence, the effect of scale predicts that the relationship between the tested performance and muscle
strength could be partly a consequence of body size.
This prediction is supported by the experimental data
because the obtained Pearsons correlation between
maximum isometric lift and the knee extensor strength
decreases below the level of significance when corrected for body mass, and the role of body mass corrected for muscle strength becomes significant. Note
also that the correction for body mass is associated
with a decrease of the regression slope depicting the
performance-strength relationship. Finally, both multiple correlations obtained on the maximum isometric
lift were highly significant. These results generally
suggest that when assessing muscle capabilities from
the functional tests based on exertion of maximal force
against external objects, the positive effect of body size
needs to be taken into account. Exceptionally high correlations among these tests, such as static pull, static
lift, static forces exerted by arms or legs, and cable pull
(see [12] for review) speak in favor of this suggestion.
Although the 1 leg rising test has often been employed to assess hip-knee extensor strength in functional position (9, 25), our results provided no relationship between hip and knee extensor strength and
the tested performance. However, when the relationship was corrected for body mass, the tested performance proved to be positively related with the knee
extensor strength but negatively with body size. Also,
the regression slope depicting the performancestrength relationship increased.
To interpret the obtained result, both the effect of
scale and movement conditions have to be taken into
account. As already mentioned (see Introduction), the
effect of scale predicts that muscle strength increases
at a slower rate than body mass, and the recorded test
performance is based on the ability of muscle force to
overcome body weight under a strength demanding
body position. As a consequence, body size is expected
to be negatively related with the tested performance.
This way of reasoning has been already used to explain the smaller body stature of elite gymnasts (28)
or why smaller animals can overcome higher external
resistance relative to their body size (21). Therefore,
we concluded that a reliable assessment of muscle

Muscle Strength Assessment and Body Size 669

strength from performance of standard functional


tests based on overcoming ones own body weight under critical conditions (such as leg rising, push-ups, or
squats; see [12] for review), requires taking into account the negative effect of body size on the recorded
performance.
It has been known for quite a long time that according to the basic scaling principles, the maximal
movement velocity does not depend much on the body
size (11). From this prospective, the lack of the effect
of body size on movement performance observed in
vertical jump and box lift could be considered as expected. Nevertheless, few potentially important points
deserve to be mentioned. First, the insignificant relationship observed between the jump height and the
strength of leg extensors was in line with previous
findings suggesting either moderate or no relationship
between ballistic movements, such as jumping or running, and strength of active muscles (13, 14, 16, 19,
22). Moreover, the same correlations obtained for the
box lift test were virtually zero. One possible explanation could be that the tested task represents a complex movement that requires a high level of movement
co-ordination. Therefore, the importance of muscle
strength per se could be relatively low. This assumption has already been pointed out (19, 33, 34).

Practical Applications
The results obtained suggest that the effect of body
size should be taken into account when relating muscle strength with some functional movement performance. In particular, in the functional performance
tests that require exerting external force (e.g., lifting
heavy objects, pushing, pulling), the assessed muscle
strength could be overestimated and underestimated
in heavier and lighter subjects, respectively, if the affect of body size is not taken into account. The opposite effect could be expected in tests of supporting
or overcoming ones own weight (push-ups, chin-ups,
squats, keeping difficult postures) if the effect of body
size is not taken into account: the assessed muscle
strength could be underestimated and overestimated
in heavier and lighter subjects, respectively. Finally, it
seems likely that the effect of body size plays less important role when assessing muscle strength from the
performance tests based either on rapid body movements (e.g., running, jumping, kicking, throwing) or
on tasks that require complex coordinative skills.

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Acknowledgments
Authors wish to thank Ing. Per Gandal for computer
software development as well as Lena Soderberg, Majken
Rahm, and Monica Edstrom for participation in data
acquisition. The study was supported in part by grants from
The Swedish Sport Research Council (Centrum for
Idrottsforskning) and The Swedish Council for Work Life
Research.

Address correspondence to Dr. Slobodan Jaric,


jaric@udel.edu.