Men may have superior strength, but women last significantly longer when it comes to dynamic muscle exercise.
As more women enter endurance sports, more women are dominating. This is especially true for events involving extreme endurance, like the Badwater Marathon or Ultraman: the longer the race, the better likelihood women have at narrowing the gap to male competitors–or even winning races outright.
But this phenomenon is hard to explain–what is it, exactly, that makes women so well-suited to endurance events? Is it their aerobic capacity? Their smaller structure? A greater ability to withstand pain (they do, after all, survive childbirth)?
One study has unveiled a piece of the puzzle: muscular endurance. According to an article published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, men may have superior strength, but women last significantly longer when it comes to dynamic muscle exercise.
The study, headed by Dr. Brian Dalton of the University of British Columbia, compared muscle endurance and fatigability in the sexes. To test this, men and women performed 200 dynamic plantar flexion or calf muscle contractions at a set resistance of 30% or their maximal strength. As they performed the test, the researchers recorded data on speed, power, movements and electrical activity of their muscles. The results? Big and strong simply doesn’t last as long.
“We found that at the beginning of the task, the males were stronger and more powerful than the females,” says Dalton. “But by the end of the test, the females had less of an effect on their power and dynamic strength than the males,” says Dalton.
Though the men could complete the 200 contractions faster, their power declined more significantly than the women. They also showed greater signs of fatigue at earlier stages. This suggests women can outlast men by a wide margin.
“It would suggest that there are differences in muscle endurance and performance fatigability between males and females,” says Dalton, whose next step is to determine the exact mechanisms behind why females have greater muscle endurance than males. This research can help inform coaches and exercise physiologists in constructing training plans that account for the athlete’s physiology.
Much is still to be discovered in this field of study, but it’s good progress in finally dispelling the notion of “the weaker sex.” As it turns out, each have their unique strengths.