Background: It has been postulated that depending on the type of exercise performed, 2 different morphological forms of athlete's heart may be distinguished: a strength-trained heart and an endurance-trained heart. Individual studies have not tested this hypothesis satisfactorily.
Methods and results: The hypothesis of divergent cardiac adaptations in endurance-trained and strength-trained athletes was tested by applying meta-analytical techniques with the assumption of a random study effects model incorporating all published echocardiographic data on structure and function of male athletes engaged in purely dynamic (running) or static (weight lifting, power lifting, bodybuilding, throwing, wrestling) sports and combined dynamic and static sports (cycling and rowing). The analysis encompassed 59 studies and 1451 athletes. The overall mean relative left ventricular wall thickness of control subjects (0.36 mm) was significantly smaller than that of endurance-trained athletes (0.39 mm, P=0.001), combined endurance- and strength-trained athletes (0.40 mm, P=0.001), or strength-trained athletes (0.44 mm, P<0.001). There was a significant difference between the 3 groups of athletes and control subjects with respect to left ventricular internal diameter (P<0. 001), posterior wall thickness (P<0.001), and interventricular septum thickness (P<0.001). In addition, endurance-trained athletes and strength-trained athletes differed significantly with respect to mean relative wall thickness (0.39 versus 0.44, P=0.006) and interventricular septum thickness (10.5 versus 11.8 mm, P=0.005) and showed a trend toward a difference with respect to posterior wall thickness (10.3 versus 11.0 mm, P=0.078) and left ventricular internal diameter (53.7 versus 52.1 mm, P=0.055). With respect to cardiac function, there were no significant differences between athletes and control subjects in left ventricular ejection fraction, fractional shortening, and E/A ratio.
Conclusions: Results of this meta-analysis regarding athlete's heart confirm the hypothesis of divergent cardiac adaptations in dynamic and static sports. Overall, athlete's heart demonstrated normal systolic and diastolic cardiac functions.