“I’m not flawless. I have unattractive feet. unruly hair and oversized calves, but I push this body to its absolute limit and it has never let me down.” These are the words of Ironman Chrissie Wellington. Chrissie’s sport of choice is one which entails completing a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a full marathon, consecutively executed. Athletes staggering toward the finish line is not a rarity in this challenge. Wellington won the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2007, on her first attempt, easily outperforming many top male athletes. Talk about endurance.
Although women may never be a physically powerful as men in general, recent studies show that women can exercise at the same intensity as men for a longer time. Read on for what these studies show and what this means for ladies.
Why is This Important?
Knowing the differences between the way women and men perform may be helpful in determining which sports are best for each gender. A new paper published in the “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” journal reports that most studies on performance and activity are only done on men. However, the few that do involve women have shown that routines designed for men may not be well suited to women.
Men and Women Are Different
Sandra Hunter, PhD, associate professor of exercise science at Marquette University says, “The bottom line of training or rehab is that you have to fatigue a muscle in order to increase its strength. So if men and women fatigue differently, they should be treated differently.”
Research that women have more strength in their legs after cycling or running for a long time than men. Ladies can also hold isometric contractions (flexing a muscle, making a fist)for longer periods of time at maximum strength as their male counterparts. “We perform these types of subtle contractions all day long,” says Hunter. “They’re important for holding us up, for example, while we’re standing or sitting upright.”
Another reason for women’s increased endurance has to do with their metabolism. Women’s bodies burn fewer carbohydrates and more fat than men, which, as Hunter says, “sets them up to perform potentially for longer periods of time. But they have smaller hearts, smaller muscles and more body fat than men, so it can be hard for them to keep up with men in a sport like running, while in activities like swimming the differences are less important.” Hunter refers to Diana Nyad, “The first person to swim from Cuba to Florida was a woman.”
The Tougher Sex?
While it would be nice to claim it, there is still no hands down winner for the title of “The Tougher Sex,” but for now it is safe to say that women get more points when it comes to withstanding fatigue. However, it is a small victory for women in that they’re being recognized as a force in the athletic arena and that they’re specific concerns are being addressed. Thank you, Chrisse Wellington, et al.
So, what do you think? Does this give women the edge or are men still on top when it comes to sports? Let us know! And, if you’re a female athlete, let us know how you endure!