The Physical Potential of Women

There has been interest in women’s sports in regards to performance. One question that remains is how strong and muscular can a woman get? This is not simple to answer seeing as there have been improvements in records. There are a number of factors to consider in regards to performance. Endocrinology, genetics, and physiology are critical to accessing women’s capabilities in sports. Sports require speed, strength,and endurance. To understand how women perform all of these elements must be analyzed.

Speed is critical in some sporting events. One example is track and field. Women have more strength concentrated in the lower body. So, it is not an impossibility that women could achieve speeds close to men. A wider pelvis can pose a problem in terms of the angle of the legs. That can alter total speed.

Lenda-Murray-sprint-107

A wider pelvis can alter the angle of the legs. Lung size is also critical. 

Cardiovascular fitness is another essential element in attaining higher sprinting speeds. This can be measured by examining total oxygen consumed. The Vo2max  measures total oxygen consumption. Women have lower body mass, which means their maximum oxygen consumption. At some point, during exercise oxygen consumption will become steady. The maximum zenith  of consumption will be reached. It takes women longer to reach this, because of lower hemoglobin levels. However, women excel at long distance running. The reason is women have more fat to metabolize, which works in their favor. The most elite male athletes do have faster record times, but women’s times are still impressive.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/we-thought-female-athletes-were-catching-up-to-men-but-theyre-not/260927/

This is some data from Olympic records  in swimming and running events. Women show a 10 % difference in all events compared to men in Olympic competition.

             Physical strength can be defined as the capability of exerting force. This is the paramount element of sport performance. It involves not only the development of muscles, but the skeletal structure as well. Women have smaller bones. A smaller skeleton means that their is less room for muscle to be supported on the body. Ligaments are also smaller in women. The mechanical advantage of a larger skeleton is important for certain sports. Women produce more estrogen, which stores fat. Even the most muscular woman will maintain a higher fat percentage than her male counterpart. Testosterone is responsible for men’s greater strength and bone mass. Type II muscle fibers are essential for huge bursts of physical power. Women have more type I fibers, which are suited for endurance events. Some endocrinologists believe that estrogen helps women recover better after workouts. Besides hormonal levels, that is not the only factor. Genetics vary from person to person. A mesomorphic body type can be inherited. Some women are strong even before they started training seriously. Women do lag behind in upper body strength as weightlifting records reveal. Men and women who are on the same training program can see improvement. There is no difference between male and female muscle. Males will experience more muscular hypertrophy (growth). Women will see massive improvements, because they had very little strength to start off with.

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Even women this developed still carry body fat. Losing fat is harder for women because of basic endocrinology. She clearly would be stronger than many men, but a man who followed her training regimen would most likely end up stronger.

Then there are other routes to advancing potential. A controversial method is the use of performance enhancing drugs. This is a major issue in professional sports, because it raises bioethical questions. Many sports organizations have banned certain substances and impose strict punishments for athletes using them. The fact is they are a part of sports and will not be disappearing anytime soon. Although men account for the majority of the users, women use them too.  This can dramatically improve a woman’s strength. Anabolic androgenic steroids are synthetic derivatives of  testosterone. A small amount can increase strength immensely and allow for greater recovery after workouts. They have deleterious effects, which can harm both the circulatory system and liver. Women who abuse may even develop virilization. Fast progress comes with a price. For women who take the longer method, building strength and mass takes years.

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Marion Jones improved her performance with drugs, but it still took a huge amount of work. This was unfair to other competitors who did not take substances.

Even with pharmaceutical assistance, effort still needs to be put in. A pill or syringe will not build a champion. It would appear that women are disadvantaged  in the physical strength department. This is not true, because it can be acquired through other means. Resistance training,isometric exercise, and weight training are just a few methods that can build up women’s bodies. Emphasis should be put on the shoulders and knees. Women’s loose joints are prone to injury and building up these areas is pivotal. However, there is an advantage to flexibility. It allows women to be more skilled in gymnastics. This allows for the range of motion to be greater. A woman who gains muscle will not loose her flexibility. She will just become more flexible. The reality is there is no weaker sex. Men and women are just built differently.

         Endurance is the ability to maintain function and resist fatigue. This can be assessed by how efficiently the body is converting calories into energy. Women have the edge in endurance, because they process glycogen faster. When glucose lowers glycogen acts as a new energy source. This is why women and men can compete in ultra-running events. Women not only excel at this, but also long distance swimming. These are some of the few sports elite women can compete with elite men. There are of course shooting and equestrian events that are mixed.

        Women can obviously reach high levels of fitness. According to Olympic records performance for women has remained stable since 1983.  There have been predictions that women will one day catch up to men. The records do not show this ( see article above). The argument could be made that women have already caught up. Athletic and muscular women would be stronger than the majority of the average male population. When compared to elite male athletes, there is a 10% difference. If you compare women athletes of today with men of the past, they would surpass them.It is possible that women could improve by means of new training techniques. Now it is realized that women have far greater physical potential than previously thought.

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The Physical Potential of Women

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