Physical fitness of young chess players

by ChessBase
6/23/2010 – You may have suspected it, but a study by two scientists has produced empirical proof: being physically fit is good for your chess. Their conclusions: organisers should provide facilities for active forms of recreation; parents and chess coaches, and the players themselves, should be aware of the significance of fitness preparation. Study by Agnieszka Fornal-Urban and Anna Keska.

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Physical fitness in relation to age and body build of young chess players

By Agnieszka Fornal-Urban, Anna Kęska

The study is supported by the University of Physical Education in Warsaw, the European Chess Union and the Polish Chess Federation.

The project was run within the statutory research of the Josef Pilsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw (Ds-90), financed by the Ministry of Education and Higher Schools. The fragment of this study was presented during the 8th scientific conference “ Progress in evaluation of the disorders of physical development” in Warsaw, 2009. The complete version of this article was published in Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, 2009, Vol. 15, 3, 177-182.


Childhood and adolescence are the periods of life characterized by the dynamic systemic changes. The outer manifestation of the proper development of the growing and maturing processes of the organism is the appropriate physical fitness level. This physical fitness is in turn one of the essential factors influencing the human adaptation to the environment. The motor efficiency is connected both with the physical fitness and health understood, in compliance with the WHO definition, as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

The available literature shows that there is a strict relationship between the physical fitness development and anthropometrical parameters - body height and body weight. The somatic structure's features and the age are considered to be the main determiners of physical fitness. In spite of the fact that the tests run so far did not allow to explicitly explain the relationships between the body built and the organism's functions,  they nevertheless showed the complex character of those relations.

The regular physical exercises have significant influence on both the motor abilities of the organism and its somatic structure. When the amount of exercises is limited, the motor skills of the individual is lowered and the risk of overweight and obesity  is increased. It was moreover stated, that there is a connection between the lowered physical fitness and the school failure. The literature provides many studies, which prove that the insufficiency of physical activity leads not only to the disorders in the development of physical fitness of a man in the initial period of ontogenesis but also to the decrease of the physical efficiency in older age. Furthermore the lack of movement decreases the adaptation abilities of the people to the changing life conditions. The specificity of chess as sport discipline and the character of the training process promote sedentary lifestyle of the chess player and may limit his participation in other kinds of physical activities. At the same time it seems, that within the group of these sportsmen there will be more persons with lowered physical fitness and improper weight-height parameters. Among the researches run so far there are no data describing the influence of the age and body build on the results of fitness tests of this group of competitors. The characteristics of the physical fitness level and the description of other aspects of chess players’ lifestyle are indispensable to form the recommendations for the people directly connected with this sport discipline, including mainly parents, caretakers, coaches, and tournament organizers. It is worth underlining  that the studies concerning the individuals playing chess are interesting also because of the fact, that this sport discipline has been taken up recently by several thousands of people in Poland and the number is still growing. What is more, the model of life of these sportsmen is more and more copied by the group of children and teenagers who do not play chess but spend their free time in front of the computer or TV set.

The aim of the study

The aim of this study was to evaluate the relationship between the physical fitness, age and body build in young Polish chess players.

Material and methods

73 persons aged 8-19 took part in the study, including 35 girls (47.9%) and 38 boys (52.1%). The participants of the research were the members of the Polish Chess Academy, medallists of the European and World Junior Championships, medallists of Polish boys and girls championships and the representatives of the national junior team.

The participants were divided into four groups, taking into consideration their age. Group I included 20 persons aged 8-10, group II – 31 persons aged 11-13, group III –14 persons aged  14-16 and group IV – 10 persons aged 17-19.

Body height and body weight of all the participants were measured. The European Physical Fitness Test–EUROFIT was used to evaluate the motor efficiency of all the chess players. The results of anthropometrical measurements and fitness tests were standardized on the average value and standard deviation in the functions of age, calculated for the overall Polish population examined in 1999. In order to evaluate the influence of age, body height and body weight on the results of given fitness tests,  the values of coefficients of multiple (R2) and partial correlation were calculated. The statistical analysis was run with the use of Statistica 7.0 program (StatSoft.USA).


On the basis of the analysis of the results it was stated, that the chess players participating in the study were characterized by the bigger body height and body weight in comparison with the data for the overall Polish population (fig.1).

The fitness tests' results were presented as the fitness profiles drawn for the whole group and for the girls and boys separately. In comparison to the peers, with the exception of one test, the chess players got better results in particular attempts of the EUROFIT test. Especially the results of female chess players were significantly different from the population data (fig.1). The chess players got the best results in the plate tapping test (1.209 SD), sit-ups (0.842 SD) and shuttle run 10x5 m (0.577 SD). Whereas the worst results were noted in bent arm hang (-0.19 SD).

Fig.1. Standardized values of anthropometric parameters and physical fitness tests of chess players; 1: body height, 2: body weight, 3: flamingo balance test, 4: plate tapping, 5: sit-and-reach, 6: standing broad jump, 7: hand grip, 8: sit-ups, 9: bent arm hang, 10: shuttle run 10x5m, 11: endurance shuttle run

On the basis of the analysis of the correlation between the age, body build and physical fitness of the research participants, it was confirmed, that there are significant relations between the analyzed variables (table 1). From among 9 fitness tests, included in the EUROFIT test, only the sit-and-rich test and the sit-ups test did not confirm the influence of age and anthropometrical  parameters on their results.

The factors such as age, body height and body weight analyzed together, had the biggest influence on the results achieved in the hand grip, standing broad jump and plate tapping tests. The same factors were less decisive in case of the results achieved in both running tests and flamingo balance test. There was no significant relationship between the sum of those factors and the results achieved in the bent arm hang test (table 1).

Table 1. Coefficients of multiple and partial correlation between age and anthropometric parameters and selected physical fitness tests (*p<0.05, **p<0.01, *** p<0.001)






Flamingo balance test



- 0.240


Plate tapping



- 0.780***


Standing broad jump




- 0.290

Hand grip





Bent arm hang


- 0.070


- 0.546*

Shuttle run 10x5 m


- 0.010

- 0.560*


Endurance shuttle run




- 0.460

 The age factor itself did not have important influence on the results of any fitness test used. The coefficients of partial correlation of body weight with tests results turned out to be significant only in two cases. The significant negative influence of this parameter on the results of bent arm hang (-0.546) and a positive influence of the body weight on the results of the hand grip test (0.347) were observed.

The analysis shows that the most important parameter, essentially decisive as far as physical fitness of examined chess players is concerned, was body height. In case of this variable there was the biggest number of significant correlations with the results of fitness tests applied /table 1/. It was proved that the body height positively influences the result of  standing broad jump (0.971), endurance shuttle run (0.827), bent arm hang (0.574) and hand grip (0.488) tests. Whereas the significant negative influence of body height was noted in plate tapping (-0.870) and shuttle run 10x5 m (-0.560) tests.

Taking into consideration the observed relations between anthropometrical parameters and the fitness tests' results, it seems to be important to analyze the changes of proportions of body weight and body height of chess players which occur with age. The data presented in table 2 show, that the percentage of the individuals with the improper weight to height proportions was increasing in older groups.

Table 2. Percentage of persons with weight-to-height proportions below 25 percentile, between 25 and 75 percentiles and above 75 percentile

Group I (n=16)

Group II (n=32)

Group III (n=17)

Group IV (n=8)

<25 percentile





25-75 percentile





>75 percentile






While making the analysis of the fitness tests, it was observed that the young chess players taking part in the study, contrary to the earlier expectations, showed higher level of physical fitness in comparison to their peers from population. It seems, that in the context of the specificity of the chess training (static training), the explanation of the results achieved by the examined sportsmen will probably be specific features developed during the training process: readiness to take risk, perfectionism, desire of success, effective performance while being in stress and the ability to concentrate and function in the situation of competition. Taking into consideration the current level of the chess tournaments, the mastering of those features at the highest level is indispensable to achieve significant success. It is beyond any doubt that the participants of the study, who are the members of the Chess Academy, gathering young players of the highest class, developed the above mentioned features to a very high degree.

The chess training is connected mainly with improving the functions of the central nervous system. The best results of chess players in such tests as: plates tapping, sit-ups and shuttle run 10x5 m prove this fact. Those tests verify the speed of upper limb's movements, trunk's strength and the locomotive speed respectively. The test, where the participants of the research achieved the lowest results – bent arm hang – serves the evaluation of the functional strength. As other authors state, better results in this test are achieved by the smaller individuals of lighter body weight. Whereas, as it was showed, the examined chess players were characterized by the significantly higher values of the anthropometrical parameters in comparison to those calculated for the population, which undoubtedly decided about the quality of the performance and final result of this test.

According to the works by other authors, it was proved, that the age and somatic changeable factors have influence on various aspects of physical fitness measured by the appropriate tests of EUROFIT.

The flamingo balance test allows for the evaluation of the important component of movement coordination, which is the feeling of balance. This ability is the outcome of proper functioning of the nervous and motor systems. Because of the development of the nervous system, the final level of the motor coordination is achieved after the age of 20. Therefore, the age is a very important factor which decides about the results of this test. Contrary to the age the anthropometrical parameters, as shown in literature, have little influence on the ability to keep balance. One of the researchers, while examining the chosen coordinative motor skills and their connection with the basic somatic parameters in 17 years old boys, stated that both the body height and body weight negatively correlate with the results of the test measuring the ability of static body balance. On the basis of the results achieved in his work, it was showed that the changes of body height and body weight occurring with age, in case of the chess players have significant influence on the results of this test.

The important component of physical fitness is the strength of muscles. The muscles' strength develops during the ontogenesis and its level depends on age, sex and physical activity. Within the EUROFIT test, there are four tests which allow to evaluate the muscles' strength of an individual: hand grip (static strength), standing broad jump (explosive strength), sit-ups (trunk's strength) and bent arm hang (functional strength).

In the case of the first test the results gained by the chess players allow to state that there is a strong relationship with age, body height and body weight of the examined persons. Among the above mentioned factors body height was the one which had the biggest influence on the results. Other authors also observed the positive influence of this parameter on the values of the developed strength, although according to the majority of scientists there is a stronger relation between the hand grip test result and age and body weight. The proved positive correlation of the body height with the hand grip test's results may be the effect of longer upper limb and its bigger musculature.

Age, body height and body weight also played an important part in case of the results achieved in the second test measuring strength – standing broad jump. According to what other authors state, body height has positive and body weight negative influence on the length of the jump. In the presented research concerning the chess players, the statistically significant relation between body height and the result of this test was proved, whereas body weight turned out not to have any essential influence in this case.

The third test – sit-ups - allows for the verification of the trunk muscles’ endurance. In the available literature on the subject, there are more studies which do not observe the relation between the age, the anthropometrical parameters and the results of this test. Although other researchers, while comparing the results of sit-ups test in 6-7 years old children with proper body weight and those overweight, revealed that overweight and obese persons achieved worse results in this test. It would confirm that there is a negative influence of body weight on this physical fitness element. While analyzing the above mentioned results, the statistically significant relation between body weight, body height, chess players' age and the way of performing the sit-ups was not observed. The lack of relationship between those variables may be explained by the fact, that in the tests where a given activity must be repeated several times, motivation and readiness to fulfill the task have a big influence on results. This, in turn, is indirectly connected, as showed by the data from literature, with the intellectual potential of a person doing an exercise. The psychological tests, conducted among the chess players participating in the described project, the results of which were not included in this article, show that the persons playing chess are characterized by the higher intellectual level than their peers who do not play chess.

Other authors state, that body height and body weight have negative influence on the results of the fourth test verifying the strength level of the person doing an exercise – bent arm hang. While analyzing the data concerning the chess players, it was proved that only body weight has a negative influence on the results of the test, because the value of coefficients of the partial correlation of body height with the results of the bent arm hang test was positive.

The tests included in the EUROFIT allow for the evaluation of the speed of the persons examined. This component of physical fitness is verified in plate tapping and shuttle run 10x5 m tests. The available data show, that the result of the plate tapping test depends on the age and body height of a person doing it. What is more, there are studies available, which  point out, that the ability to perform quick movements, especially in the opposite directions, requires good nervous-muscle coordination and is indirectly connected with the intellectual level. Once again, much better results achieved in this test by the chess players as compared to the population, confirm the advantageous influence of the chess training process on the functions of the nervous system. On the basis of the results gained in this project, one can state, that body height has significantly negative influence on the speed of the upper limb's movements. Statistically significant negative influence of body height was also observed in case of the second test, which allowed for the evaluation of the speed of the examined sportsmen, that is the shuttle run 10x5 m. It confirms the opinions of some authors, that smaller and lighter persons achieve better results in this test.

The sit-and-rich test included in EUROFIT allows to evaluate the suppleness. The flexibility, that is the mobility of body units in the individual joints, is connected with age, sex and physical activity. The proper level of suppleness protects the bones against fractures and allows to develop the appropriate strength and speed. The existing studies concerning the relationship of age and anthropometrical parameters with this element of physical fitness are contradictory. There are data showing the negative influence of body height and on the other hand positive influence of weight on the results of the sit-and-rich test. There are also works which do not state any statistically significant relation between the above mentioned variables. The analysis of the chess players' results gave the basis for the statement that age, body height and body weight do not significantly influence suppleness.

The last test – endurance shuttle run - gives the opportunity to evaluate the oxygen efficiency of the person doing this exercise. Similarly to the majority of the former tests, it was proved that the most important factor influencing the result of this test was the body height of the chess players.

Summing up the discussion of relations between the basic somatic measurements and various representations of physical fitness, it must be stated that the parameter significantly decisive about the majority of the results of the tests which verify chess players’ strength, speed or endurance was the body weight.

The important observation made in this project was, that the older the chess players were, the higher percentage of the persons with improper weight to height proportions became. As it is known, the excess in body weight in childhood increases the risk of obesity in adulthood. Furthermore, it was proved, that  overweight and obesity lead to disorders in cardiovascular and skeletal systems and cause the significant decrease of physical fitness. In spite of the satisfying physical fitness level of examined chess players, there is still a risk that it will get worse because of changes in somatic parameters of the competitors.


  1. It is worth obligating the organizers of the chess tournaments to make it possible for the chess players to participate in attractive and active forms of recreation in their free time.
  2. It would be advisable to undertake the efforts aiming at making the parents and coaches aware of the significance of the regular physical exercises for the health and high sport achievements.
  3. In the training process of the chess players, more attention should be paid to their fitness preparation, particularly to the exercises developing their strength.
  4. The results of the conducted study are significant not only for the chess players themselves, for their coaches and parents. The characteristics of this population of sportsmen can be used in much broader perspective, because of the sedentary lifestyle of children and teenagers who do not play chess.

Bibliography can be obtained from the authors.

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Information about authors

Dr. Agnieszka Fornal-Urban – adjunct in Department of Health Promotion, the University of Physical Education in Warsaw. She gives lectures on nutrition, dietetics and health promotion for students in the fields of: physical education, tourism and recreation, physiotherapy.

Organizer or co-organizer of many chess events, including them: the European Women Chess Championship'2001, the European Chess Championship'2005, the European Rapid Chess Championship'2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, match Karpov – Macieja’2003, PWPW S.A. Chess Cup’2004, match Buenos Aires-Calcutta-Warsaw’2007, tournaments for children.

She is Youth Director of the European Chess Union, Vice President of the Polish Chess Federation and Director of Chess Academy.


Dr. Anna Kęska – adjunct in Department of Biology, the University of Physical Education in Warsaw. She gives lectures on biology, physiology and nutrition for students in the fields of: physical education, tourism and recreation, physiotherapy.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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