Aug 30 , 2018

During a twenty year career of training, conditioning and coaching elite Female athletes I have observed that their response to exercise is metabolically & functionally hugely different from that of the male athlete.

Some women have avoided weight training for fear of developing bulging and unsightly muscles. However the female response is different from the male because of endocrine differences. Intensive weight training in women enhances strength and power with only a slight increase in muscle bulk.

Structural Difference: Women have a poorer strength-weight ratio because of the smaller proportion of muscle to adipose tissue in the female. (For swimmers, this means better buoyancy and less heat loss in cold water, however is a disadvantage for older women gymnasts where the small arm and shoulder muscles support the body or for jumping where body mass must be accelerated rapidly).

Chemical constituents within tissue are different - (e.g. 23% more sulphur in skeletal muscle).

Heart weight to body weight between men and women is different. Average H/weight for the female is 85% - 90% of the male. After age 60, the weight becomes equal.

Blood Constituents: For age group 20 - 30, men have 15% more hemoglobin per 100ml of blood and 6% more erythrocytes (red blood cells) per cubic millimeter. This means greater oxygen carrying capacity. Cardiac output can be up to 30% higher in the male.

Microcirculation: Resistance of the capillary wall to breakdown from an impact injury is greater in males which is why females bruise easier.

Metabolic Rate & Efficiency: When BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate) is measured against total surface the BMR is higher than the male but when measured against muscle mass it is the same.

Oxygen Uptake: For equal workload it is the same up to age 15. The male rapidly improves after age 15 to become much higher at age 21 - 25 while the female's oxygen pulse capacity improvement typically remains at the age 15 level.

Strength Training Effects: Muscle hypertrophy (size bulk increase) in the male develops with resistance training but when men and women used the same program bulking in women was less for the upper body of women. This is due to different hormone (testosterone) levels in women. At ages 20 - 30 women only achieve approximately 50% improvement in strength doing the same exercises.

Gynecological Effects when Running: Athletes tend to have more problems with dysmenorrhoea and menstrual irregularity. Higher stress or overtraining will increase dysmenorrhoea or amenorrhea. Also irregularity of period (this usually is related to overtraining).

Effect of Menstrual Cycle on Performance: Experiments have been inconclusive but generally agreed best performance is post menstrual and worst 2 or 3 days preceding menstruation and during menstruation (Women need more frequent testing for iron and Ferritin levels with higher deficiency than male runners).

Pregnancy, Childbirth & Slow Jogging ( Always consult the GP before jogging during pregnancy): Evidence suggests a reduced incidence of complications during pregnancy, 50% fewer Caesarean sections, shorter duration of labour in 87% of the subjects tested. Virtually all subjects agreed that after childbirth they were tougher and had more strength and endurance in their sports activity.

Athletic Injuries in Women: Bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments are more delicately constructed in women. (This doesn't affect body weight because of percentage of fatty tissue in the female. Injuries to women are 50% more common particularly overstraining contractures (fibrous muscle spasm) inflamed tendons, tendon sheaths, bursa, foot deficiencies, periosteal injuries

Emotional Factors: Women adjust to competitive stress to the same degree as men.

Mental Application: Generally attitude and determination in women equates to that of men. However the consensus among coaches is that women often will race within rather than try to overcome the pain barrier in elite competition. Women tend to be more cautious, and keep a "safety margin" to ensure they finish a race. In the marathon this is one reason for the consistency of fast times by men compared to the wide variation of slower women's' times in relation to a race record. This is evidence of the "safety margin" which often occurs in women's racing and is indicative of the fact that fewer women will "pull out" of a race through exhaustion that is more common with male runners.

Economy of Action: Skeletal appearances in the female particularly pelvic and hip area affect foot placement and movement. In most women this affects the economy of the running, although there are women with a very smooth action. The majority lack fluid running movement compared with a higher percentage of men with narrow pelvic structure and economical style. Generally women need more focus and training in running style to improve speed and endurance ability.

Conclusion: "The Training Must Be Different"
It is important to recognize these differences and vary the training and also racing tactics to achieve the best response from the female athlete.