There exists a gap in athletic performance between male and female athletes. Women were relative late comers to the world of professional sport having to deal with restrictive social and discriminatory barriers. While these sociological explanations are apparent for the differences in performance, the biological ones are being further studied. Women’s athletic performance has improved compare to earlier records, but has remained stable since 1983. There were predictions that women’s records would either reach or be equal to men’s by some. It is not impossible that some women may be able to perform equal to a male athlete. As a whole the athletic performance gap is large. The question still remains can women close the gap? This may seem like a simple answer, but it requires a scientific approach. Using biology, physiology, anatomy, and biomedical science can reveal a lucid answer. Many say women’s bodies are not designed for strength or durability, but it appears that is not entirely true. Exercise physiology has only recently began to examine female physical capability. The question may not be as simple as once thought.
If this question is going to be approached from the dimension of the scientific method, there are factors that must be considered. Precision should be the goal be may not be reachable in this simulated experiment. More men compete in sports, which distorts the sample size. A large number of potentially athletic women could be excluded from competition due to certain barriers. Then there is the presence of performance enhancing drugs. Men tend to be using more performance enhancing drugs than female competitors. This will again cause problems in the data. Also, comparisons in the experiment should be based on height and weight. Comparing a 180 lbs male athlete to 130 female athlete would not be accurate. Sports function on weight classes, for the sake of fairness. There for comparing an athletic female to an average man would not helpful to the experiment. The men and women in the sample would have to have the same training to give precise information on athletic performance. Boys get a head start learning physical skills early. Girls have to catch up in developing physical skills. Once these factors are established a hypothesis can be formed. Women as a whole may not be able to close the athletic performance gap completely, but individual women could reach the level of some of their male counterparts. The gap could be narrowed, but not erased.
This would not be a fair comparison. The man does train like Kana Ichikawa.
Women could narrow the gap that existed between average males in terms of strength. This would be harder for a woman who engages in similar weight training activities. Age and biological sex do play a role in the level of athletic performance.
It would not be hard to guess who is the strongest one among these two (top). Margie Martin would have difficulty beating these trained men (bottom).
With these factors under consideration one can proceed to expound upon what is known about male and female athletic performance. This will then result in a conclusion.
There is a point in which there is the athletic performance gap is non-existent. Before puberty boys do not have a strength advantage. Boys and girls can compete with each other on sports teams because the changes induced by the endocrine system and pituitary gland have not taken effect. A study by Indiana University conducted a study that examined boys in girls in swimming between the ages 6 to 19. This seems obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of the anabolic properties of testosterone. The sample was large collecting 1.9 million swims. This was done between the period of 2005 to 2010. The study found that boys and girls ages 8 to 12 did not show any difference in performance. However, around age 13 boys started to surpass girls in strength, height and speed. It seems odd that rarely boys and girls compete in mixed competitions, considering boys do not have the physical advantage at this stage. The study also showed that performance was not influenced by a specific form of training, but by muscle function. Estrogen does not provide the strength spurt that men get during puberty. Women will acquire more fat and their hips will widen. Examining the physical transformation of female teen athletes reveals the influence of sexual dimorphism. Rough estimations show that the strength measure gap widens by age. Girls ages 3 to 10 can have 100% the strength of a boy. Around 11 to 12 it still remains a close 90%. Girls around ages 13 to 14 can have 85% of boys strength. When boys reach their full strength spurt by 16 it will be only 75 %. These estimations are between similar sized male and female athletes.
It is true that weight training can increase strength in the female athlete. The extent of muscular hypertrophy may not reach the level of males. Girls hearts and lungs do not see a significant increase in size. This therefore limits aerobic capacity. Narrow shoulders means a smaller articular surface. It would seem that the physical maximum is reduced in women upon puberty, but there are advantages. Women gain more balance and flexibility which can help with skilled movements. It looks like at the early stages of childhood and adolescence the sexes are on a physically equally playing field. When look at the changes in female track athletes during high school, it shows physical changes to effect performance. Weight gain and the pelvis change reduces speed. Some girls get discouraged and drop out of competing completely. There are methods used to counter and circumvent changes. Building the hip flexor muscles can prevent injuries and provide much needed reinforcement for the pelvis.The women that continue to the elite level in track make it due to their individual genetics. When girls become women jumping over hurdles becomes more difficult. The average runner would struggle to remain competitive. The women of elite competitive caliber handle the physical changes of puberty better in relation to sports performance. Girls mature faster than boys and experience puberty between the ages of 10 and 14. It should also be understood some boys and girls could start puberty earlier or later . Wrestling also shows the dramatic physiological changes. Boys and girls wrestling shows that females are not at a disadvantage. The strength level is equal at that stage, but by the late teens and early twenties males gain more type II fast twitch muscle fibers.
There may be girls competing on boys teams in middle school and high school, but rarely at the university level. There are exceptions, but it means they will have to be reliant on technical skill to substitute for the larger male opponents. This means a woman in the same weight class would have less type II fast twitch muscle fibers.
The process of aging effects all organisms. Athletes do age and it effects performance. There is a point in which an athlete will improve and continue to do so. When there can no longer be improvements in strength, speed, or endurance an athlete will reach their physical peak. Men and women reach their physical peak around their late 20’s to early 30’s. Peak accumulation of muscle mass can happen between the ages of 20 to 30. When an adult reaches middle age muscle mass can declines 5% every ten years. As age progresses both men and women can lose up to 40% of their functional strength. This can be reduced by strength training. Athletes now can remain in competition longer by using different training methods. Bones are also critical and continue to build themselves until age 30. Women complete their bone mass development earlier and have a lower bone density. Women can lose a degree of bone mass due to menopause and lower bone mass means a higher osteoporosis risk. Metabolism changes also effect the body. It can decrease 10 percent as a result of the increase in fat and the loss of muscular tissue. The heart rate also decreases. Flexibility can also be lost from the hips, lower back, and hamstrings . These changes are part of the process of senescence.The changes in body composition, the pelvis, and general bone structure do not increase performance out put. Puberty does not benefit girls in terms athletic performance, like it does boys.
Muscular strength has importance in contact sports. Women have smaller muscles in comparison. Women can respond to weight training, but this leads to what is the muscular potential of women. This is dependent on age, level of fitness, diet, and specific body type. An average person can gain at least a half pound of muscle per week if training is consistent. Women can see at least a 40% increase in muscular strength after several months of consistent training. Women of mesomorphic body type will find this easier to achieve. Men have less body fat, which gives them a higher magnitude in total gains. The average untrained man can in rough estimates be capable of benching 135 lbs, squatting 125 lbs, and deadlifting 155 lbs. There are different stages to lifting which include untrained, novice, intermediate, and advanced lifters. Women could expect to reach the male novice or close to the range of intermediate level of records. Christy Resendes a strong woman and lifter has a 205 lbs bench press, 405 lbs squat and deadlift. The average male novice weight lifter can bench 175 lbs, squat 230, and deadlift 290 lbs. Christy surpasses that range and reaches apart the intermediate range. This range for intermediate male weight lifters includes 215 lbs ( bench press), 285 lbs ( squat), and 385 lbs (deadlift). Reaching the highest male range 290 lbs ( bench press), 390 lbs (squat) and 460 lbs ( deadlift).
It appears that men have more absolute strength even when the height and weight are the same. Determining strength depends on what test is given. To measure a specific item muscular strength must be defined. Muscular strength by definition is the total force generated by muscle when performing an action. When measuring tension of the cross section of muscle per square centimeter it shows that men and women have similar strength. When looking at it from the upper as compared to lower body the disparity becomes clear. Women have lower upper body strength even when weight and height are equal to her male counterpart. Lower body strength is closer, but not equal. This means that strength differences between men and women of the same weight are diminutive. The one method to determine strength is by static and isometric measurement. Dynamic measurement can also be utilized. The one repetition maximum, which requires lifting the heaviest weight one time in perfect form. These seem more precise than an analysis of hand grip strength.
A study was conducted that examined hand grip strength by The European Journal of Applied Physiology. This was known as “Hand Grip Strength of Young Men, Women, and Highly Trained Athletes.” The sample was not entirely perfect. Only 60 female athletes were used including 533 average women with no athletic background. Men out numbered women in the sample at a total 1,654. Already this shows how an experiment has challenges in precision. The conclusion was that the elite female judo and handball players only reached the 50 percentile of the male group ( untrained and specifically trained ). The study claimed that hand size was not a factor. This could not be the case. Men and women have differences in the size of there hands. The hand possesses bones and tendons that also play a role in strength.
The mathematics were correct in data accumulation. The results give only an estimation of strength in one particular part of the body. It becomes obvious that tendon and hand size did play a role in the results. While they selected mostly young people it leaves one to wonder what the results would be with female athletes 25 years and up. If this was about examining strength weightlifters would be better subjects. This only gives a rough estimation. One example would be to compare crossfit records as a more precise measure. This sporting event has men and women lifting weights utilizing all of the body.
The records show that male values are higher in terms of squats, deadlifts, snatch, as well as clean and jerk. These are values of a male and female crossfit competitors of the same age. The highest value 225 lbs for squats for our female subject. The male subject has a deadlift of 508 lbs as the highest value. Our female subject would have to lift a total of 635 lbs more to match the male subjects records. Regardless of sex athletes can improve their performance.
The records above show that women did improve, but did not reach the 635 lbs target. The aggregate reached was 623 lbs. Men did see improvement at a minimal level. Their values still remained higher. The explanation has to do with fat levels. Even the most muscular woman still retains more body fat compared to a man. While basic physics dictates force equals mass times acceleration fat does not contribute to strength. Muscle fibers recruiting one another do. This means that the strongest man would be stronger than the strongest woman. Basic anatomical differences also contribute to this.
Women on average have 11% more body fat. They store fat more efficiently despite consuming fewer calories. Women tend to burn more fat during exercise, but do not lose as much as men. This seems peculiar because the metabolism of muscle cells is the same in both sexes. The hardest part of bodybuilding is many women reveal, is getting body fat down from the off season. This conundrum can be explained by human evolution. Fat is critical for child bearing. The nervous system does play a role in muscular power. The nervous system activates muscle fibers for movement. Men can activate the electrical impulse to the fiber faster compared to women. This also relates to neuromuscular efficiency .
What this also includes is sex differences in metabolism in both the male and female body. Fat is stored in the form of triglycerides composed of three fatty acid molecules. Gylcerol has the responsibility of binding them. The adipocytes store most of human body fat. Fat can also be stored in muscle. This stored source known as intramuscular triglycerides. they can contain at least 3000 kilocalories. During a process known as lipolysis triglycerides are broken down. For women adding muscle and strength becomes a longer and more complicated process.
The skeletal stricture and tendons also contribute to strength. Women’s tendons may not respond as much to training as men’s tendons. Collagen synthesis in women appears to be far less pronounced in women. A study from the Institute of Sports Medicine found in a 2007 study that the mechanical strength of the collagen fascicles was higher in men. This explains why women have higher connective tissue injuries compared to their male counterparts. This provides answers to the high rate of anterior cruciate ligament tears. Hormones may have an effect. Oestrogen could reduce the total amount of collagen synthesis. Estodial which is a monitor of Oestrogen receptors and can influence tendon hypertrophy. A tendon is a flexible tissue composed of collagen matter connecting muscle to bone.
what also should be taken into consideration is the specific attributes of the male and female skeleton.The male skeleton is denser compared to the female skeleton. The shoulders are broader and add to mechanical advantage. The pelvis is wider in women which can effect running speed. Load bearing activities can come at a risk of musculoskeletal fractures.
The q angle of the legs is wider in women also due to how the legs are attached to the wider pelvis. The reason women have wider pelvises is for child birth. Bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments contribute to body strength.
Aerobic capacity is imperative to an athlete. Normally, when asking the question of the possibilities of male and female performance running records are used from the Olympics. Other events are recorded as well. The reason being the Olympics provide the highest number of female athletes in one setting and they are their nation’s highest caliber performers. The utilization of oxygen is important to running. Oxygen allows for the muscles to produce adenosine triphosphate which contributes to muscle contraction. Smaller lungs and hearts mean lower aerobic output. Hemoglobin has to transport oxygen from the lungs to other areas of the body. Women’s hemoglobin levels are 15 % lower than men’s. A woman has fewer red blood cells compared to a man.
Our respiratory system is not only important to athletics, but to sustaining our life. The problem with examining Olympics records is it may not give us the fullest sample. One problem is that there are still countries that do not send female teams to the Olympics. Saudi Arabia only recently began to do so. Then there is the problem of unequal resources. Nations that are of lower income may be at a disadvantage, when attempting to assemble teams in sports that require more capital. Women would be effected worse than men in this regard, due to past discrimination. Performance can be a product of both biology and environment.
When women were entering professional sport and international competition some exercise physiologist assumed that women would reach and even surpass men’s records. These claims when examining runners do not seem to be the present reality. During the 1970’s and 1980’s women were making new records in running events such as sprinting. One theory suggests that it was because of performance enhancing drug use. Testing was not as intricate as it was today. There were also nations that had state sponsored doping programs. East Germany was notorious for this giving athletes drugs without their informed consent. Marita Koch admitted that she did use drugs to reach that record under East Germany’s program. Florence Griffith Joyner’s record had been under suspicion as being wind assisted or drug use. She never failed a drug test and there was no evidence to prove this claim. Women when they do perform at high levels are normally suspect. The only difference Joyner made was adding weight training to her regimen. This was probably improved her performance.
There would be no other explanation for why Carmelita Jeter came close to Joyner’s record. She did not break it, however it leads one to assume that Joyner’s victory could have been partially wind assisted. If Joyner did use, then the women of the 21st century would not have come close. What it reveals is that individuals may have a unique physiology in terms of athletic performance. Women are training harder and may be getting more powerful, which may explain Genzebe Dibaba. She ran the fastest 1,500 meters of any woman in 2015. This may be unique to their genetics. Athletic ability or potential could be genetically inherited.
Although the anabolic steroid explanation may demonstrate that their was an increase in performance, women’s records still did not reach males levels. One must account for the fact that more men are involved in sports and also used more drugs than women. Professional athletes are not even the majority users of anabolic androgenic steroids. It is average people who want a fast solution to weight loss. Testosterone provides huge advantages in terms of muscular strength and steroids are a synthetic derivative from that hormone. A woman on steroids would probably not perform as well as a male athlete.Simply taking drugs will not ensure maximum performance. Anabolic steroids alter the endocrine and muscular system, but will not radically change genetics. The only way for that to happen is by gene doping or genetic engineering. It is said that women benefit more from drugs, but that does not seem to be the case. Men produce ten times the testosterone due to the testes. Hormones also explain the differences in swimming and running. However, endocrinology reveals that it is not entirely the total amount of testosterone. It the amount of free testosterone that is not bounded to a non-specific protein or sex hormone binding globin. Men have a total of 5% available which allows for a higher level of muscular hypertrophy. All these factors influence data.
When the 1990’s came to a close it appeared as if women were not catching up to their male counterparts. When examining the records women’s performances were 90% of men’s performances. There is a type of ratio that exists in various sports events. This golden ratio seems to project itself in rowing, swimming, track, and other athletics. The 90 percent ratio seems to hold after the 1983 stabilization. Comparing long distance runners show a 72.7 average fro women and a 82.1 average for men. The value of 72.7 is 89% of 82.1 meaning there is evidence of a the 90% ratio.Ira Hammerman a physicist presented these findings at the 2010 Wingate Congress of Exercise and Sport Science.
This again appears to be a marvel considering sex differences. The assumption would be that they would fall at least 50% or less. Hammerman examined 82 events in total, which gives more precision. The mathematics are correct which gives this examination more credibility. Compared to the men of forty years ago, it would appear that women of today would surpass men of the past. There are two possibilities. The first is that women are still not reaching their full potential. The second could be that men have to reached their stabilization rate in athletic performance. Some observers claimed that by 2031 women would be out running men. The 90% ratio demonstrates there is some room for improvement. If the women’s average record stands lower than .85 then improvements can be made, but men seem to remain ahead.
There were women who were running faster again after the more strict drug rules. Paula Radcliffe broke records in marathon events in 2003. The fact that such women continue to break records means that drugs cannot be the only explanation for the sudden surge in performance in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is thought that women would surpass men in ultramarathon events. Looking at the time differences there still is a gap. This results in another question about sex differences in fatigue. Research has suggested that women may manage pacing themselves better in marathons. Fatigue depends on the type of activity being performed. Women could be less fatigue prone than men, but it is still unclear if this is actually true. Type I muscle fibers, which women have more endurance. The trouble with type II fast twitch muscle fiber is that it has power, but limited endurance. This could explain why women are improving in marathon events including marathon swimming.
There are rare cases in which some athletic women can out perform athletic men. Unique genetic physiology and technique provide an answer. This can happen in swimming and gymnastics. Ye Shiwen’s performance was incredible in swimming events at the Olympics. Her record was faster than Ryan Lochte. Mckayla Maroney reached a high level in the women’s vault event. This means their biological sex does not hinder them in terms of athletic performance. There are instances that women in tennis even can serve as fast as men.
Sabine Lisicki gave a serve in tennis at 131 miles per hour. That is faster than some male tennis players. It seems that women may put emphasis on technique to substitute the lower levels of strength. However, there are women who are stronger than others. Sabine Lisicki or Serena Williams are more muscular and have longer limbs. That natural advantage contributes to their success. Athletic skill is just as important as the biological and physiological elements of performance. Women would have a better chance of out performing a man in an endurance event than a competition of pure brute strength.
It should also be understood there is a psychological aspect to performance. Competitiveness is essential to any sport. Some observers are convinced that women are not psychologically as competitive as men in sports. Motivation is also a factor. A study of varsity intercollegiate distance runners revealed that women trained less, having less competitive drive, and less of a desire to train for an event. Before accusing this finding of feeding into sex stereotypes, consider the sociological dynamics. Prior to Title IX the model of women athletic participation was to just encourage exercise, not athletic competition. Women were not encouraged to be competitive in school, public life, or get interested in a career. The biological factor is that androgens, which are higher in the male body make men more competitive. This may be a relic from human evolution over millions of years in which our early primate ancestors had to compete for mates. The question then becomes are women really pushing themselves to their full potential? They have come far in just a few decades in the sports world. There are a multitude of talent women athletes in the Olympics and professional arena. What it comes down to is risk. Men are willing to take more risk than women. This can be seen in distance running in which men use techniques that could be harmful in the long term. Although there may be a difference in competitive drive this still would not negate the sex differences in biology.
The athletic performance gap may not be closed. This does not mean that some women cannot outperform some men. Overlap can happen no matter how small. There is no way to predict the future or how other records will turn out. There could be a possibility of the narrowing of the athletic performance gap. It may also indicate that women have reached their maximum physiological output. Men are still attempting to reach theirs. Their are both environmental and biological factors that work in producing an athlete. It cannot be ignored that girls are not really taught physical skills at an early age. This does not explain all the differences in performance. Biology is never static, because evolution could be constant. It would not be outrageous to say that women of the future could become bigger in stronger. However, human evolution as demonstrated by australopiths takes millions of years. Women are not biologically changing themselves yet. Women of unique genetic ability can compete with male athletes, but they are the rare exception. The great aspect about the human species is that it has genetic diversity and variation. As long as there are differences in biology, physiology, and endocrinology the athletic performance gap will be difficult to close.
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