BACKGROUND The way in which a large size in anthropometric variables is achieved is a longstanding problem, since the pubertal spurt shows statistically and clinically little association with adult size (mostly studied for height). By analysing longitudinal growth of groups of subjects with a large or a small adult size separately for height, leg and sitting height, and bihumeral and biiliac width, we studied this problem in some detail. Of interest are growth patterns specific for these variables and for boys or girls. METHODS The data consist of 120 boys and 112 girls followed longitudinally from 4 weeks until adulthood. Statistically, structural average velocity curves were computed for each variable and each subgroup separately for comparison. This velocity curve represents the average intensity and the average tempo of growth. Since the area under the velocity curve is adult size, differences in the growth process can be visualized. RESULTS Both sexes show similar patterns in reaching a small or large adult size. The different variables, however, show marked differences. Only for legs is the pubertal spurt delayed for the large groups (with additional gains in prepubertal years). For sitting height and biiliac width, a slightly elevated velocity all along development (after 2 years) leads to a larger size and for bihumeral width the size of the pubertal peak is decisive. CONCLUSIONS The steering of growth to a certain target size is qualitatively similar for boys and girls, but quite different for different anthropometric variables. This leads to questions about endocrinological control for various parts of the body and differential bone growth in development.