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Why are there so few mixed-gender sports? And why is there such an significant difference between men's and women's records? In short:why don't women run as fast as men? Obviously, there are many theories including:access to sport, training, facilities, role models and psychological barriers. But I suggest we start at the beginning and focus on physical and anatomical differences: heart capacity, morphology, hormones etc. We will explain their impact on sporting performance:
Firstly, there are differences that are visible to the naked eye, such as size and weight. And to take the analysis a bit further than visual impressions, here are a few figures:
Women are, on average, 13cm shorter and 16kg lighter than men. What's more, body fat is 3 to 6kg higher in women than in men.
The height difference can be partly explained by the length of the puberty period which is shorter for women: they stop growing before men.
And the difference in body fat and muscle mass is explained by hormones, which also start their sport at puberty.
Boys and girls have similar muscle mass until they are 12 or 13. It's when puberty arrives that inequality for sport begins:
Women generate more oestrogen, which develops the pelvis area and the growth of subcutaneous tissue, in other words, fat. Men produce testosterone which contributes to bone mass and lean body mass, in other words, muscle. And we're talking about much more testosterone: 7 to 8 times more.
The result is that fat represents 20 to 25% of women's body weight, compared with only 15 to 20% in men. It's not fair? That's true.
It's easy to understand that the difference in weight, height and muscle mass gives men an advantage for sports which require force and strength. But what is the impact on running and speed?
This is explained by the ratio weight/strength, and given the statistics mentioned above, unfortunately, men come out winning. Let's summarise the situation: women have less muscles and more fat. This difference has a double effect for each stride when running: women have less muscle for carrying more fatty tissue.
That explains the first part of the injustice. What's the second? It's the cardiovascular system. Because, as we all know, your muscles need oxygen to function.
If you practise sport regularly, or if you have already run because you are running late, you know that your respiration and heart rate accelerate as you exert yourself. The explanation is simple: your muscles consume oxygen to produce energy. And there are differences between men and women there too.
Firstly, there is the VO2 Max: the maximum oxygen consumption. Put simply, this is your capacity to stock, transport and consume oxygen when you exert yourself.It's your oxygen valve. And the rate is calculated in millilitres per minute and per kilo of body weight.The VO2 Max is between 45 and 50 ml/min/kg for men compared with 35 to 40 ml/min/kg for women.
One of the main reasons is the content of haemoglobin in the blood, which is lower for women. A little reminder: haemoglobin helps your body transport oxygen from the lungs to the other organs through the circulatory system.
A woman's body uses its heart rate to compensate for having less oxygen.This is called the MHR (or maximum heart rate if you don't like abbreviations): the number of times your heart can beat in a minute. The principle is simple: if there is less oxygen available to transport each beat, then the number of beats increases.
The MHR is specific to each person and varies with age and physical fitness. But the average MHR for women is 174 beats per minutes, compared with 169 for men.
But because this article is about inequality, you must be getting an idea of where we're heading: given their heart muscle is on average 30% smaller, women reach their MHR more quickly when running an average 10% slower.
You may have read running articles or magazines that often mention the VO2max. So, what is meant by this concept and what are the specific aspects associated with running? Overview of the issue in 4 points.
It is interesting to note that 10% is a recurring figure when it comes to differences between men and women .Such as in the studies conducted by Doctor Ira Hammerman, who has spent a lot of time and energy to explain - with A + B - why women don't run as fast as men. It's time to settle the score?
It's true, if you focus on world records and best performances in different sports, 10% is a standard threshold: women match men's records...of several years before. According to Doctor Hammerman, this trend can even be used to predict future records: if the difference is over 10%, it's possible that a female record will reduce the gap. On the other hand, if the difference is less than 10%, a new male record is likely.
If we look more closely at these records, there is clearly less difference between men's and women's performance when it comes to endurance sports:
Morphology, hormonal and heart rate differences give men a logical advantage for sports which requires force and strength, but the opposite is the case for endurance sports.
Let's turn the problem around: if you consume more oxygen and faster to feed your muscles, the effort is likely to become increasingly difficult over time.
According to a study by the Okanaga School of Health and Exercise Science in the United States, women are more robust and resistant to effort for both static (isometric) and repetitive exercises.
So when will there be an endurance test, for which the goal is not to run the fastest but for the longest time, to reverse the power ratio?
You now have some answers to the question: why don't women run as fast as men?
Fortunately, speed is not the only criteria in sport, and women have many other physical advantages: a lower centre of gravity, better balance and proprioception, more flexible muscle and tendons...qualities which give them an advantage in many other sports.
So why are there no mixed-gender sports for dexterity or precision?
What are your records, and your strong and weak points? Share your feedback and experiences with us. And don't forget to tell us if you found this article interesting!
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