Do Female Athletes Have To Train Harder To Reach a Particular Physical Fitness Level ?

It is common knowledge that the body of the female athlete differs biologically and physiologically from male athletes. This has implications on training and athletic performance. Women have certain obstacles they have to overcome to achieve a particular physical fitness level depending on which sport they play. Due to differences in body composition, cardiovascular fitness, endocrinology, and bone density women have to work harder in terms of training. The assumption is sports are too rigorous for the female body to withstand. This is not true scientifically. While performance levels are not as high as a male athlete on the same regimen, relative to their starting point women can achieve immense physical fitness gains. The common misconception is that women train more and show little from it. At the cellular level, there is no difference between male and female muscle and bone tissue. Histology has proven this, but myths about the physical limitations of women’s bodies still remain. The only difference is women will have to train harder to reach their peak physical fitness level.

       The reason it becomes harder for women to reach a physical fitness target for athletic performance is related to puberty. Prior to puberty body composition and skeletal structure is not that different for women. Estrogen and progesterone are produced at higher levels resulting in more body fat rather than muscle mass. Girls see their growth spurt at ages 10 to 11. Girls by age 18 have reached their full height, while boys finish growing by age 20. Women do not gain the strength spurt that comes from androgens in males. Total muscle mass and bone density are lower, which means this has implications for training. When the pelvis widens this also effects women’s running speed. As girls mature into women, they may find they cannot run as fast before. However, once the body has done maturing it is possible to reach higher running speeds. Female athletes have to beware of the triad, which can effect health if one over trains. Although it seems puberty increases men’s physical fitness peak, there are advantages to higher body fat levels. Fat can be useful in long distance swimming allowing for more bouncy . When the this stage of the human life cycle is over, the female body will be rounder and smaller.

       Muscular strength is essential to athletic performance. A novice female athlete will have to incorporate weight training into her regimen to gain strength. Women have lower levels of natural strength to begin with, which means it will take longer to reach a particular goal. One would assume that women do not respond to training stimuli, but that is far from the truth. Seeing as the muscular system is the same for women and men, muscle fibers will respond to exercise resulting in muscular hypertrophy. The difference is in extent and initial starting point. Women start off with less muscular strength, but relative to their size they can make significant progress. Men’s absolute strength is higher due to function of testosterone in the body and generally larger size. Women in particular will find it more difficult to build upper body strength rather than lower body strength. The reason is due to narrow shoulders, which means less area to house muscle on the upper body. Sports that require upper body strength, women have to train this area the hardest. Biceps, triceps, and the pectoralis major are areas the female athlete will find the most difficult to develop. Women have a harder time building muscle due to endocrinology. To achieve a certain level heavy lifting is required for a long period of time  and  supplements. Women with mesomorphic body types are at an advantage in building muscle. Women of endomorphic and ectomorphic body types will struggle. This does not mean they cannot increase their physical fitness level. Depending on the sport there are certain types of muscle fibers that are more helpful. Type II muscle fibers are great for sports that require explosive power. Weightlifting and rugby would be great examples. Sports like marathon running type I muscle fibers are more helpful in maintaining the necessary endurance.

There is not a perfect system of training, but there are different methods that can be used. Isotonic training requires both free weights or machines. Doing concentric and eccentric muscle contractions happen during this type of training. Isokentic training involves overloading muscle at various points during a range of motion. The resistance can change on the force exerted. During the process the speed of contraction is controlled. This can either be done at slow or rapid pace. Women’s muscles due respond to training. Overload can cause micro trauma in the muscle and make it rebuild stronger. Metabolism differs for women,but more muscle will burn fat. However, even the most muscular woman still retains a higher body fat percentage. Women can build muscle, it just will be more of a challenge. The training sessions have to be consistent.

When the muscles are not trained they atrophy. This means women who do training irregularly would lose more of their gains strength due to physiological differences. At minimum, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends two sessions a week including 12 repetitions for each exercise. The number of repetitions can increase for a particular exercise, but it is suggested not to work the same muscle group two days in a row. If there is no struggle in lifting, then the muscle is not being challenged. The muscle must be gradually worked up to higher load volumes to increase strength. Women’s muscular potential and training effort  thus depends on several factors. Genetic endowment,  training methods, substances used ( supplements or performance enhancing drugs), and total time in training sessions. Women’s muscles can become stronger, but amount and  body composition are a factor in total strength.

          Cardiovascular fitness is also another challenge in regards to training. Women have smaller hearts and lungs, which means they would have to work harder for total aerobic output. Oxygen is essential to aerobic energy. Muscle cells need oxygen for energy. The heart is a beating muscle and its strength contributes to the delivery oxygen to the muscle tissues. Cardiac output is the product of both heart rate and stroke volume. Stroke volume shows the amount of blood pumped per beat. Oxygen transport can be modified through aerobic conditioning. A training regimen must focus on frequency, duration, intensity, and mode of exercise.

 

There is a difference is VO2max in regards to women. The female athlete must take into consideration certain factors. Body composition effects the VO2max  due to the fact body fat is not active metabolically. This causes more energy to be spent in the total body reserve. Hemoglobin levels are 10% lower in women runners. This protein is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs directly to muscle tissue. This means training frequency and intensity is essential to improving aerobic performance. Women through proper training stimulus could at least a 25% increase in VO2max. Women athletes may have to train at least six times a week to see a difference in aerobic levels. Training more than recommended will not produce better results. This comes down to the level of intensity during training sessions. Intensity describes how hard an athlete exercises. Exercise duration should range from 15 to 60 minutes. It appears in races women may be better at pacing themselves in the longer term. This could men men and women fatigue differently. A study released in 2015 discovered something about women’s fatigue during marathon races. When examining marathon paces women slowed down 11.5 % compared to men’s 15.6 %. The men tended to take rapid pace, while women adjusted to a slower pace causing slower fatigue. The problem is most research on athletic performance has been done on men and there are still discoveries to be made to see how to best train the female athlete.

         Generally athletic training requires the enhancement of  the muscular, cardiovascular, the skeletal system,  and nervous system. Movement requires the nerve cells to produce impulses for locomotion. The body using all these organ systems is out putting energy. Power out put is critical when performing a physically demanding task. This strength and cardiovascular reserve women have to use more of. The difference in javelin throwing is 30% according to Olympic records. Yet the 100 meter sprint is only a 10% difference. This demonstrates in which areas women have to use more of their physical power reserve. The upper body including the shoulders and neck have less muscle. So women would have to work harder to provide the necessary force in that area of the body.

Running would require less of the force output, because this area is only effected by the shape of the pelvis. This also reduces running speed besides differences in VO2max. What this means is that women would have to train their upper body more for sports such as tennis, golf, cricket, boxing, or weightlifting. Maximum physical force is needed to complete the athletic task. Having a reserve of energy, prevents exhaustion and fatigue. Women would have to use more of their physical potential to complete an athletic task. A woman running a 100 metres in 11 seconds would have to use 100 percent of her potential. To hit a gold ball a female golfer would have to use 90% of her maximum force compared to 60% of a male golfer. Given the same task in terms of athletic objective, women must utilize more force.

This means women have to use more energy to produce close results of a male athlete. The gap in physical fitness levels narrows in athletic populations, however sports performance of women does not match exactly that of men. There can be overlap, but is very small given the total aggregate. The physiological, biological, and anatomical differences explain why the athletic performance gap may not be closed. Yet, it could be in the future narrowed if there are not social or cultural barriers preventing women from gaining access to training facilities. Further study is needed to fully explore how to increase women’s athletic performance.

         Training stimuli has a different effect on the male and female body. The response differs sue to the function of the endocrine system. Men produce more testosterone from the testes and the leydig cells present in that organ of the reproductive system. A female athlete can acquire muscle and strength, but will still maintain a higher body fat percentage. One should not assume that men’s muscles are better, its just more present relative to body composition.

This difference also explains the difference in sports injuries. Women athletes have higher injury rates in the knees and shoulder areas. Less muscle and skeletal mass in the upper body makes it more vulnerable. Anterior cruciate ligament tears are common in female athletes. Looser joints may enhance flexibility, but make them susceptible to tears. The more demanding the athletic competition and higher physical demand the higher likelihood of injury for women. That is why weight training and general strength conditioning should be part of any female athlete’s training program. It is essential that bone and muscle mass be built to help with sustaining various forces and impacts from athletic competition. Tendons and ligaments are also strengthened through a weight training regime. Besides these sex specific considerations, female athletes have the same challenges as their male counter parts such as exercise associated hyponatremia, career ending injuries, and keeping motivated under stress.

        Women athletes have to train harder to reach peak physical fitness. Sexual dimorphism effects the physiological function of the body of a woman, which has implications of athletic potential. This does not mean the female body is biologically inferior, but different. As seen by the impressive women who have competed in various sports both internationally and in their native nation-states their bodies are far from frail. While some myths still persist, science has proven them incorrect. For many years it was thought that women were too physically weak to handle the demands of athletic competition. Now it is known that women can benefit from exercise and sports competition. Relative to women’s initial physical fitness starting point, they have more to gain. Physical activity benefits women in terms of bone and circulatory system health. Women may have to work harder, but the rewards are still just a plentiful. When the peak physical fitness level is reached an athlete has to focus on developing skill. When beginning competition certain factors must be taken into consideration. Training regimens should not only be designed in regards to sex specific differences, but tailored to an individual’s unique physiology.

 

References

Gurthie, Sharon. Women and Sport: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Long Beach,

CA : Human Kinetics, 1994 .

Netto, Kevin. “Should Women Athletes Earn the Same as Men? The Science Says They Work as Hard.” The Conversation, The Conversation , 9 Aug. 2017, theconversation.com/should-women-athletes-earn-the-same-as-men-the-science-says-they-work-as-hard-57210.

Netto , Kevin. “Female Athletes Work Harder than Men, and Science Can Prove It.” SBS.com, The Conversation , 1 Aug. 2016, http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/zela/article/2016/08/01/female-athletes-work-harder-men-and-science-can-prove-it.

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Do Female Athletes Have To Train Harder To Reach a Particular Physical Fitness Level ?

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