A study from the University of Alberta produced some unexpected results. While it is true that men are on average stronger, women’s muscular strength increases and reacts better to training. The idea was that men would gain more strength as recognized by the data. Women showed a dramatic increase. Robert Kell conducted an experiment for twelve weeks with 20 men and 20 women. They performed numerous exercises like bench press, squats, lat-pull downs, neck press, calf raises, crunches, and many others. The subjects did have experience with weight training prior to the experiment. Subjects would train just four times a week.
The results should not be that shocking. When representing the results in percentages women showed a 38% increase in strength as compared to men’s 28%. Women’s muscles function the same way men’s muscles do. Hormones do effect the amount of muscular hypertrophy women can achieve. Robert Kell is guilty of having a confirmation bias assuming that men would automatically see larger increases.
Sports Science only in the past several decades has began to focus on women’s athletic performance.
The assumption is the female body is automatically weaker. Robert Kell seems skeptical about his own data. The article states : “Robert Kell does not conclude that women react better to strength training than men do, but that is a possible interpretation of his results. Other studies have shown that it becomes increasingly difficult for people to increase their strength, the better trained they already are.” This statement seems flawed. The more one trains the more strength and skill will be acquired. The reason added increases will not be seen is because an individual has probably reach their natural physical limit. Myostatin will regulate the growth of muscle and depending on an individual’s amount it determines much about possible athletic potential. The following claims seem to contradict the previous statements “The larger strength increase in the female group was likely a result of lower initial strength levels and less previous free weight training experience.” While it is true that women’s body composition is mostly fat, that does not limit them. There is more that factors into strength than just high testosterone levels. The hormonal differences just give men the potential to be stronger.
Being female does not limit your potential for strength.
With any experiment one should be questioning the results. The subjects used had experience with training, but it may have been better to use men and women with none at all. One should also question the women subjects. Did they have an athletic past? If so, this could effect the data. Comparing a woman with a long term background in athletic activity with an average man may demonstrate why the percentage increase is large. The article did say that they did have experience, but did not say how long. The amount of training is significant to an experiment like this.
An athletic woman like her could skew the study when compared to an average man. She already has more experience and potential to add more strength.
These are but a few factors to consider. Trying this experiment with elite athletes may produce different results. Depending on what stage they are in their careers, at some point athletes will reach their physical peak. This would probably yield the results that Robert Kell was looking for. The men would all show higher levels of strength in terms of aggregates.
The last section of the article seems the most revealing about certain biases. The texts proclaims ” But even this cautious conclusion surprises Kell. Because men make more testosterone than women, Kell had expected men to make more progression.” A real scientist never assumes first, but observes, experiments, makes hypotheses, collects data, and attempts objectively to make conclusions from the information. The subtle message that can be taken from the text is that testosterone makes men “superior.” A ludicrous assumption, but prevalent myth in sports science circles. A more bizarre claim illustrates the point : ” Japanese researchers published a study in March 2010 which may explain the unexpected outcome. The Japanese discovered in an animal study that training causes women’s muscles to start producing their own male hormones.” One thing we should remember is that women do produce low levels of testosterone. Calling it a male only hormone is not completely accurate, its just that men produce more. Simply being male does not make you a better athlete. Training, genetics, and elements of psychology are important factors.