When it comes to physical activity, whether it’s running, cycling or strength training, women have generally been treated differently than men. There has always been an underlying “rule” that men are more capable when it comes to sports and exercise, while women were weaker, slower and less able to compete.
We see this theme when we think of the term “girl push-ups” or notice the shorter races that women of the past competed in. Up until 1972, women were not even allowed to officially compete in many popular marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
However, in recent history, girls and women have had the opportunity to perform in more athletic activities, and the results have been shocking. No longer are women athletes considered to be highly outclassed by men.
Recent studies have shown that in most sports, there is only a 15 percent difference or less when it comes to female performance compared to their male counterpart, sometimes as low as 9 percent! This leads us to believe that there may not be nearly as big a difference between male and female performance, even when including the biological differences between the two.
In terms of strength, it should be no surprise that women are generally weaker than men. Women are approximately 20-30% weaker in their lower body strength when compared to men. However, you have to consider how much of that is due to the considerable size difference between the two sexes.
When we take the two sexes and compare their strength relative to their fat free mass (FFM), men and women showed very similar results! This means that while men generally have more muscle mass and have greater absolute strength due to their higher levels of testosterone, they are no stronger than women when strength is measured relative to how much muscle they have. The muscle fibers in both men and women are the same.
Similarly, research has shown that heart and lung adaptations resulting from exercise do not appear to be exclusive to men, nixing the belief that women are not able to adapt to physical activity.
Cardiac output, which is the term used to describe how much blood your heart pumps through your body in one minute, is significantly increased in both men and women during training at maximal levels. The higher the cardiac output, the more efficient your body is at getting oxygen to the rest of your body.
Resting heart rate was also shown to be lowered in both men and women who exercise, reaching as low as 36 beats per minute in several female distance runners.
Girl push-ups? No thanks. We can go the distance.