Strength Comparison Between Untrained Men and Trained Women Athletes (1981)


Female Athletes versus Men

There was an exercise physiology experiment produced in 1981 by James R,Murrow. It was published in Medicine and Science in Sports. The intent was to see female athlete strength compared to average men. A total of 80 subjects were used all were college students. Basketball players and volleyball players were the types of female athletes used for the experiment. Female and male strength was compared as well as strength between athlete women. Relative upper body and lower body strength was compared in the experiment. This involved as the paper stated expressing relative strength in terms of per unit weight, height, and biacromial , and biiliac widths. The assumption was that the men were stronger than trained female athletes. The result was that men had greater upper  and lower body   strength compared to  women in both relative and absolute definitions. Women basketball players had more upper body strength compared to the volleyball players. Both were the same compared to absolute and relative strength. This was only one experiment and for it it be considered scientific fact it must be reproduced. There may be certain  factors that effected results. The mathematics was correct in terms of the use of  multivariate analysis of variance. The problem is simply measuring biacromial width would not give an indication of full strength potential. Biiliac width could be more helpful, but still misleading. Weight as a measurement can be helpful if analyzed from a perspective of body composition. The female athletes used do not solely train for strength. Some sports require also skilled  movements and  quick reaction time. The experiment would have worked better with weightlifters, bodybuilders, or crossfit athletes. The challenge was at the time there was little information on how best for the female athlete to train. Certainly it is now known that a female athlete depending on her height,weight, body composition, and physical fitness capacity can be stronger than the average man. The early studies are fascinating to look back upon for improving experimental methods.

             Volleyball and basketball players have to be reliant on a set of skills. While these sports use a degree of upper body strength, the goal is knowing how to concentrate power when needed. There are many different types of athletes from cricket players, soccer athletes, swimmers, or track athletes. Certain sports require more physical strength than others. Then sports like marathon running require more muscular endurance. Athletes that have more endurance based activities would struggle with sports that require more physical power. Speed, aerobic fitness, and endurance are also essential physical fitness indicators.

Training for athletes vary depending on the sport they compete in. Volleyball and basketball players may not do as much weightlifting compared to a strength athlete. Dribbling skills and hand-eye coordination would be more important than just brute force. The experiment was done at a time when it was being debated whether weightlifting was good for women’s sport performance. This was done with college students not professional athletes. This makes a difference because professional athletes take years to acquire the strength and skill to remain competitive. Their is a point in which an athlete will make physical fitness improvements and reach a peak. At that stage they can no longer enhance physical fitness capacity. Skills can still be learned and improved seeing as their is no physical limitation. Basketball and volleyball require cooperation seeing as they are team sports. Female strength athletes were not available for the study so the result does not give a precise picture. Their are many different types of athletes ranging from race car drivers, golfers, runners, and gymnasts. These require different levels of physical fitness markers. Certain female athletes would be stronger than others. So just using any female athlete from any sport could not give good comparison of maximum physical strength.

          Some understanding of anatomy is required to decipher the experiment. Biacromial width refers to shoulder size. This measurement takes the total length from the left to right acromion. The acromion is a process structure of the shoulder blade.   This is different between men and women, which has implications on strength potential. There is very little current data on  biacromial width. The CDC gathers data on height, weight, and BMI index. There is data archived between 1988 to 1994, which gives an average. The experiment was done in 1981, but it should be assumed that between the five years there was not a dramatic change. Women had on average 14.4 inch (36.7 cm ) should length  compared to men’s 16.1 inch (41.1 cm) total. That is only a 1.7 ( 4.4 cm ) difference. That is not as large as one would assume give the sexual dimorphism in skeletal structure. The data just comes from the United States. Other countries have not really invested in doing this type of measurement.





The only country that did a survey on biacromial with was Sweden. Conducting in 2009 it produced similar results. Women measured 14 inches compared with 15.5 inches of men. The sample was small, but what it did show was that women and men were getting bigger. This measurement is an indirect indication of  somatotype and physical strength capability. The upper body strength in men is more pronounced as indicated by biacromial width. More bone mass in that area enables more muscle to be stored on that section of the body. Biilliac width reveals another aspect of anatomy. Women have wider pelvises, yet one would assume using the previous examples women would have stronger lower bodies.  Women’s lower bodies do not surpass that of men. They can be closer to men in lower body strength,but the gap still is present. That would cause a distortion in the data showing that the female athletes in the study had stronger lower bodies than men. The experiment was able to get the right answer. The Billiac width was probably not as useful. This measurement could be more useful in showing possible running speeds, rather than physical strength.





Although measurements may be flawed, they reveal about an approach to training. Women will have to take special emphasis on increasing upper body strength. Lower body strength increase would be simple too attain in comparison. The measurement technique is just as important as the mathematical methods employed by an experiment.

          The use of multivartate analysis of variance and multivariate analysis of covariance  were used to test the hypothesis. Both fall under the general mathematical classification known as statistical analysis of variance. The mathematics was not done incorrectly, rather how it was utilized. The anthropomorphic measurements were not as good as examining height and weight. MANOVA by definition is a statistical method involved in examining several dependent variables. It is classified as analysis of variance designed to produce a model showing difference among sample groups (estimation procedures ) . MANCOVA  refers to when the conditions of covariates are used to reduce error in data collection. Covariates are the characteristics of  the groups used in the experiment.   Health condition would be classified as a covariate in this experiment. It could be assumed that all 80 subjects were in good health. The physical activity would vary between them seeing as the women would probably do more exercise compared to untrained males . MANCOVA is preferred because of its higher level of precision. That is not to say mathematics can sometimes be victim to human error or subject to interpretation.  Relevant to this experiment the use of MANCOVA was correct. Sample size, billiac and  biacrominon measures are what what threw off  a sound mathematical technique.  Weightlifting statistics would be better sample of data.

Volleyball players do not train specifically for strength. If Foluke Akinradewo did it would surpass an untrained man. She is 6′ 3” and 174 lbs (78.9 kg ).
The groups variance would be men and women. The error would be that variation within untrained men and fit women. The covariates are the characteristics of individuals.
Natlia Zhedik is 6’0 ” and 163 lbs (73.9 kg). It is possible that she is stronger than men who are smaller than that.
Women’s bodies do respond to exercise stimuli.

MANOVA and MONCOVA could still be applied giving  providing a conclusion that would be more precise. While this was done with college students, it would be fascinating to see how the untrained college men would do with professional female athletes. The conclusion would  be different. The relative and absolute strength aggregates would have to be adjusted.

          What needs to be known is how strong the average untrained man is. The only data that can be gathered is from strength training recommendations. These are not from Olympic or professional sporting events, rather from fitness and exercise science experts. The term average is general, because people vary in size, weight, and height which may give them a higher level of natural strength prior to training regimen. According to Livestrong an untrained novice lifter could be capable of lifting between the range of 135 to 175 pounds depending on their total body weight. This is not because the male body is better than the female body rather a difference in weight and body size. A woman who is 132 lbs could be able to benchpress 64  lbs. Theoretically, a woman who trains for years can either an attain the strength of an untrained man or close to it. Trained men are stronger than most women. Even under these conditions it is not impossible for overlap to occur. Genetics, methods of training, somatotype, nutrition, and diet contribute to athletic performance. Muscular hypertrophy and myogenesis operate in the same way physiologically in the female body.

Women have the same muscles. 
There are some men who do not have high levels of strength. 
iron chicks
Insulin like growth factor I and growth hormone play a role in muscular hypertrophy. 
Women have to train harder to attain a certain level of physical fitness. 

The biggest factor come to the size and distribution of Type II muscle fibers. These are designed for more explosive power rather than endurance. Males tend to have more fast twitch muscle fibers, however training can have an immense impact on women’s strength gains ( Muscle Fiber Type Can Vary Among Individuals). Women’s muscle fiber distribution can vary depending on individual physiology and body structure. What this means is that being female does not limit athletic endeavors or potential. Rather the fitness starting point is lower and will take more effort to increase. It would be incorrect to say that all men are stronger than all women. Some would misinterpret the study in this manner.

        Strength has to be measured in a precise way. The study used body measurements of the upper and lower body then used MANOVA and MONCOVA. The better method would be to have subjects use weights to determine strength. This would allow for seeing how much force  type II muscle fibers can produce. Arm wrestling is not a good measure. Technique and leverage can be used by smaller opponents to win matches. That means a smaller person would easily defeat a bigger one. Hand grip testing is better,but this once more is only an approximation. Seeing weightlifting records demonstrate that there are female athletes stronger than untrained men.  MANOVA and MONCOVA could still be applied and produce a correct conclusion to the experiment. It is possible that with some samples untrained males just have high degrees of  natural physical strength. Strength levels can vary among  individuals regardless of sex. The men in the sample most likely did not all have a uniform level of strength. That is why MANOVA and MONCOVA had to be adjusted for height and body size. Instead of relying on body measurements, the average men should be given lifting tasks along with the female athletes. Then analysis of variance should be used. Seeing as data was collected from the first method, compare it to the weightlifting statistics. The 1981 study was limited by the time it was produced. Women’s weightlifting did not become an Olympics sport until the year 2000. There were few women weightlifters that a college campus would have access to. The odd aspect is why they did not seek out female track and field athletes. If one really wants to see the full degree of female physical strength subjects would come from sports that require that the most. The method was slightly flawed, but the mathematical techniques could not negate them.


Strength Comparison Between Untrained Men and Trained Women Athletes (1981)

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