Dr. Barbra Semukula answers questions about women and weight training. This was an interview conducted by the Baltimore Sun. Dr. Semukula is a sports medicine specialist with the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Clearly a professional with much expertise,but there are some minor problems with her answers. There are no such thing as “bulky muscles.” Muscle development can very from person to person. Just like like the term toned it has little scientific basis to exercise physiology. Dr. Semukula is correct that women can experience health benefits from weight training, but do not experience the same level of muscular hypertrophy as males. She even advises that women can do some stretching to their workout routine. The reason this interview is important is that a female medical professional is giving advice. Women are more likely to trust the sports performance advice from another woman.There seems to be a large amount of misinformation about the human body and health. Women’s bodies are either misunderstood or subject to medical myths. Here Dr. Barbra Semukula provides basic explanations that do not require access to physiology or anatomy textbooks.
What’s different about men and women’s muscles ?
At the cellular level there is not difference between muscle of the sexes. The physiology and response is the same. Strength training is dependent on intensity, progressive overload, and a proper diet. Due to endocrinology and body composition men have higher amounts of muscle mass. It is more than just have large amounts of mass muscle fiber type is essential. These muscle fibers include Type I fibers, Type IIa fibers and Type IIb fibers. Which type a person has can var regardless of sex, but on average men have more fast twitch muscle fibers. These are required for explosive physical power. Slow twitch fibers help women have more endurance in the muscles. Dr. Barbra Semukula stated ” strength gains are the result of muscle recruitment and muscle hypertrophy, and women have the same capacity for achieving strength gains as men.” That is not entirely correct. A woman and man on the same strength training regimen will see a different magnitude in relation to physical fitness capacity. Women can produce two thirds the amount of physical force a man can. This is related to the physiology of the male and female reproductive system. The ovaries produce more estrogens and the testes produce more testosterone. Both sex hormones are in the bodies of males and females.
However a woman who trains seriously can surpass an average male in strength. If muscle cells from man and a woman were put under a microscope it would be difficult to tell them apart. The men and women in the pictures above could have biopsies of their muscle tissue and it would be impossible to tell which sex it belongs to. One of the biggest factors in muscular hypertrophy is somatotype. While endocrinology effects body composition, body type can be determined by genetics and nutritional consumption. The opening of the article explains ” Women won’t likely develop bulky muscles when they work out like many men do, and most probably don’t want to, says Dr. Barbara Semakula, sports medicine specialist at Anne Arundel Medical Center. ” Women with mesomorphic body types and low levels of myostatin protein can experience significant muscular development. There is no difference between “bulky muscles” or “toned muscles.” Everyone has muscle in their body the size of them depends on amount of exercise, fitness level, and individual health condition.
Do men and women exercise differently ?
Dr. Barbra Semukula reveals that women normally try to say away from weight training for fear of getting muscular. The physiques of athletes are developed through years of training and specific diet. Some athletes may resort to performance enhancing drug use to attain a certain appearance. This does not create a champion athlete. There is still an unfair double standard when it comes to women and body image. People may start exercise for the wrong reasons. Improving appearance seems to be the large motivator, but this could easily lead to body dysmorphia. Exercise should be made to be enjoyable and a stress reduction activity. It should not be sex specific either. There remains the attitude that men have the weight room and women have the cardio area. If weight loss or increasing physical fitness levels is your objective it will not happen with cardio only. Weightlifting may be a better solution in terms of efficiency. Women from an early age are not encouraged to be physically active, which can later on be detrimental to their health.
If women do begin to lift they remain with using lighter weights. While this may be exercising the muscles, it may not be as efficient in terms of time. Using lighter weights would be better for higher muscular endurance, but it would not significantly increase strength. The idea is too increase the amount gradually to cause microtrauma to the muscle tissue. When the recovery process happens, the fibers will grow stronger. The only way for women to be successful is to have a training program that is designed for their physiology and body type. Muscles on women is not a horrible thing. It can actually have benefits. Exercises can be done by both men and women. Women should engage in upper body strengthening exercise to prevent shoulder related injuries.
There seems to be conflicting evidence on stretching what does the evidence say ?
This topic is much debated among exercise physiologists. Stretching too much could be doing more harm to the body prior to a competition. Dr. Barbra Semukula explains that there is very little research that proves that stretching is good before workouts or prior to a sporting event. She does cite that it does have a benefit for flexibility. Dr. Barbra Semukula then reveals from patient studies that doing this daily can also increase muscle stretch. It can be debated whether or not it can dramatically improve performance. The only way to know this would be to conduct and experiment of athletes. They would need to be divided into two groups one set that does stretches and the ones that do not. Their performances would be measured and then analyzed to show if it truly is effective. It is even more confusing when attempting to determine at what point should stretching be done. One myth that never goes away is that having a certain amount of muscle with make you less flexible.
Some have even have made the erroneous assumption that too much muscle will harm your range of motion. Adding muscle to the body will not make you less flexible. Joint structure, ligaments,tendons, age, and sex can determine how flexible you are. Women’s bone structure is different, which enables them to be more flexible than men. If a large female bodybuilder can still do moves that require flexibility, this proves muscle mass does not have as a dramatic impact.
What muscles are important to stretch to avoid sports injury and are they different for women?
Muscle cells are the same for men and women. Men and women have the same muscles. The difference is in total amount in relation to sexual dimorphism. This element of it is flexible among individuals regardless of sex. There are theories on why sexual dimorphism emerged. One was that it was important for our early hominid ancestors to hunt. The other theory has to do with sex selection and mating. Men grew bigger to be fighters for mates because they were competing with one another. The more physically powerful males would have access to more mates, there by making the trait of strength naturally selected. These are mere theories,not facts but our bodies do provide evidence of the past of human evolution. Stretching will not do much for injury prevention. It could be a temporary solution to stiffness,but there are more efficient methods of preventing injury.
Dr. Semakula articulates : “The important muscles to stretch depend on the type of activity you will be performing.” She then delineates further “For example, basketball, football and volleyball players use both their arms and legs, so they should stretch the shoulder, especially the rotator cuff muscles, and the legs, especially the quads and hamstrings.” For these intense activities, stretching would not do much. Women do have higher rates of upper body, shoulder, and ACL injuries. One solution is to focus on building musculoskeletal mass in the upper body. Doing so strengthens not only bones, but ligaments and tendons. There are methods that also can prevent ACL injuries. Being consistent with training better prepares the body for certain physical activities. Building more strength in the quadriceps and hamstrings. Having the proper landing technique for jumps would be more effective than stretching. When pivoting knees and hips should be bent to reduce the amount of stress on the ACL. Exercises such as chest presses, bicep curls. pull ups, bench presses, and push ups can strengthen the upper body. These methods would be better than just doing stretching.
Are there times when women should or should’t stretch or should do the stretches like being pregnant or certain surgeries ?
If stretching is not as effective as other exercises,then it seems pointless in comparison. It can be useful in improving flexibility. Stretching is probably not a good idea during pregnancy or after surgery. Moderate levels of exercise are good for anyone. Pregnant women are encouraged to get at least some level of physical activity. Intensity obviously will have to be adjusted so no harm will come to the developing fetus. There is one error that Dr. Semakula makes in her statement : ” As the pregnancy progresses and the uterus enlarges, the belly is getting bigger, and there can be a relative blocking of blood return to the heart resulting in decreased cardiac output and hypotension — which may be perceived as lightheadedness. ” The organ’s of a woman’s body do not get smaller, they shift to accommodate an expanding uterus and growing baby. The stomach does not get bigger rather it is shifted upwards. Shrinking of the organs would imply some form of atrophy.
Some women may be susceptible more so to hypotension than others. That is why it is critical that one consults their primary care doctor before embarking on a new fitness program. If women joints also change during pregnancy yoga and stretching would not be advised. Some women experience joint pain from the increase in weight and hormonal changes. Dr. Semakula forgets to mention fertility may be effected when women compete in sports that require them to have low body fat levels. Fat is needed in the female body for the purpose of ovulation . Bodybuilders do compete at lower body fat levels. The concern goes away during the off season when women’s fat levels go back up. Women recovering from surgery would need some kind of exercise. Being bed ridden causes muscle mass to decrease. As we age it continues to lower. Some weight training after surgery can rebuild lost musculoskeletal mass. Women can regain their physical edge after pregnancy. The myth is that pregnancy means the end of a woman’s athletic career, because changes in endocrine function effect physical fitness capacity. Athletes like Serena Williams and Allyson Felix have returned to competition in just a short period after they have given birth.
Are There Differences in the way men and women recover from intense sports exercise ?
At the time when this was written in 2015, there was little information o sex differences in relation to recovery from training. It appears some studies conducted have shown that women actually may recover better after training sessions. Estrogen does help with protection of muscle from damage. This means that women can recover faster after a training session. There is a tendency to believe that men have all the physical advantages,but exercise physiology is disproving this. Men may have more absolute muscular strength, but women have the advantage of muscular endurance.
Depending on which sport a person is competing in endurance and strength could be more important than the other. A marathon runner would need endurance to run long distances over a certain period of time. A powerlifter needs as much explosive strength to lift heavier weight. Training must be adjusted to match what performance target an athlete is attempting to achieve. Unknown to Dr. Semakula, there is a difference in exercise recovery and it appears to favor women.
Muscular development does not differ entirely between the sexes. The divergence comes from the outcome in relation to total physical fitness capacity. Men have greater levels of muscular hypertrophy mainly due to endocrinology and a larger skeletal structure. This is not the only factor alters the outcome of a training program. Genetics and somatotype determine some aspects of a person’s muscular strength potential. Weight training and exercise sessions that are consistent. Metabolism and diet are also factors that Dr.Barbra Semakula forgot to mention. Diet and nutrition are pivotal when attempting weight management. Seeing as body composition is different, losing weight and gaining muscle is harder for women. It can be done if activity level is high enough to burn calories. What type of food is consumed is also essential. High sugar and fat diets can result in weight issues and other health conditions. The consumption of enough protein and vegetables can ensure that muscular gain can occur. Women’s sports exercise physiology is still relatively new, so there is still more to learn. Dr. Barbra Semakula is one of a small group of women involved in sports medicine. Only when the numbers increase and their is serious scientific investigation can certain questions about women’s physical capabilities can be answered. Women can obviously build muscle and it may have a health benefit for their bodies.
Diseases such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia become threats to the health of the muscular system. Women are at a higher risk seeing as the have less muscle mass in their bodies. Weight training can strength bones and muscle as well as act as prevention against such medical conditions. Besides these benefits exercise can also be good for heart health and blood pressure. One does not have to train to the degree of a professional athlete to improve health. Women may still hold the fear of “bulkiness” but this does not exist. The women on a bodybuilding stage weigh less than the average man. It should be noted they may appear large on stage, but their off season weights are higher. Even then with more body fat they are smaller in terms of weight to the average man. The women are tiny compared to their bodybuilding male counterparts. Men who compete can reach the 200 lbs range. Female bodybuilders are not “bulky” they have sculpted their physiques to a certain aesthetic. Myogenesis and muscular hypertrophy functions in the same way in both sexes. At the most basic level it means a person can exercise, have a response to that stimuli, and through rest have muscle grow. Biological sex is not a limitation to athletic performance or achievement.