Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Military Women and Exercise

Via this post at Instapundit, I found out about this article in Wired:
"...a decade's worth of research suggests that women are hardly as fragile as critics once thought. A new study by military researchers found that many assumptions about female bodies are "astoundingly wrong.""
I downloaded the 39 page report and read the first twenty or so pages; so many quotes jump out at me. Unfortunately I can't copy and paste out of the pdf. I plan to read the whole thing as soon as my exams are done.


At 1:45 PM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...

My personal experience is that women can be very tough in the gym. If women were not tough, how would the species survive?

At 10:35 PM , Blogger JuliaMazal said...

I am curious about strength/stamina research. (remember a woman in a civil rights documentary or something once saying that women were never considered too weak to carry huge bales of cotton, or huge loads of laundry. do you remember the quote or who t'was?)

At 8:44 AM , Blogger M@rla said...

I love the two previous comments! Excellent points, both. I was going to chime in and say, "they call it LABOR for a reason!" Anyone who has witnessed a birth realizes how much strength and endurance that takes.

I'm going to read the report too. I didn't know about many of those assumptions, actually.

At 9:51 AM , Blogger john yeo said...

id have to agree that the thinking that women's bodies are fragile is unfounded.

however, women are not able to get as strong as men for two main reasons...

potential for FFM is less due to obvious lack of testosterone, and males have greater neuromuscular efficiency.

At 12:00 PM , Blogger Mich said...

Seems shorter posts get more comments... maybe I should take that as a hint. :-)

bud - I agree that women can be very tough in the gym. Unfortunately, too many women are still doing 20 rep sets with 2 lb dbs...

j.m. - may have been the PBS series Eyes on the Prize.

marla - Based on the report of a friend of mine who has three kids, I'd classify labor as an endurance event rather than a strength event. She described her pregnancy fitness regime as training for a marathon of unknown length.

john - the report was not about women getting as strong as men; it was about using what was learned about physiology to get rid of the counterproductive elements that hold them back. These include:
-incorrect training advice;
-incorrect nutrition advice;
-unrealistic body fat percentage targets; and,
-improperly designed gear.
Now, granted that lack of T and lower upper body muscle mass are critical factors in strength levels. However, could you refer me to a source for the lower neuromuscular efficiency claim?

At 1:13 PM , Blogger john yeo said...

i did read parts of the article, honest...

perhaps i should have qualified the previous statement with a "may" but ...

"...the individual mean serum levels of both total and free testosterone correlated significantly with the individual changes during the training in the time of force production and in the forces in the force-time curve of the trained muscles."

"Neuromuscular adaptations and serum hormones in females during prolonged power training."
Int J Sports Med. 1990 Apr;11(2):91-8.

disclaimer: i havent read the full text.

At 6:37 AM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...

Responding to John Yeo's comment, I understand the allure of attempting to go back to first principles, but a lot of these studies ignore that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

If testosterone explained it all, women should have about 1/10 the strength of men. Instead, they have about 70% in the lower body and close to half in the upper body.

At 7:50 AM , Blogger john yeo said...

the relationship between free testosterone levels and fat free mass is not linear, nor is the relationship between fat free mass and strength - but they are both correlated.

At 8:27 AM , Blogger Mich said...

john - thanks for the reference. I will check it out post-exams.

bud - do you have a source for the 1/10, 70% and close to half numbers? thanks!

At 9:34 AM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...


There was a whole article I had on this that I passed to my training partner Nancy and and our trainer Mary. But, I Think this quick citation from University of Florida sums it up best:

Q. In general, how much stronger are men than women?

A. Men are about 30 percent stronger than women, on average. This difference is mainly in the upper body, where men have an edge of about 40%. In the lower body the difference is only about 15%. This strength advantage is do to the fact that men are generally bigger and heavier. They typically have more muscle mass and less body fat. And their taller and wider skeletal frame provides a leverage advantage. But there are no inherent gender differences in muscle quality or capacity. Women can generate the same force per unit of muscle as men. And with training, they make the same relative strength improvements. Moreover, there is a considerable range among both sexes, and some women are stronger than some men.

Keeping Fit

Some of these differences may in fact be due to hormones at various stages in life, but it is clear that at a population level, there are going to be wide variations in how individuals of different genders develop.

As a man who was once woefully out of shape, I simply observe that preconceptions are the worst enemy for either sex. A lot of times, I think these preconceptions just serve as excuses for not making progress or as intimidation for stopping those who are.

At 10:15 AM , Blogger john yeo said...

there is no inherent difference between the muscle fibre or composition there of between the genders. but despite this males are stronger at equvalent levels of fat free mass.

purely out of interest here are some worldrecords in power events...

IWF Weightlifting world records:
Men's 56Kg Class:
305Kg (bodyweight@56Kg)
Women's 75Kg+ Class:
305Kg (bodyweight@124Kg)

IPF powerlifting world records:
Mens 60kg Class:
740Kg (BW=<60kg)
Womens 90+kg Class:
715kg (BW@122kg)

At 11:34 AM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...

John, the research suggests that the differences in performance you cite may well be due to sceleture. Some of the sceletal differences may be the result of different levels of hormone at different stages of development.

Given the lifts you provide, the difference in power could well be due to differences in leverage. If you remove the upper body from the equation, women are very close to men.

At 11:53 PM , Anonymous Bud Gibson said...

Mich, we just posted a follow-up to this post here. We're researching the issue to figure out how much muscle Nancy can gain as she prepares for another bodybuilding contest. There's an interesting Journal of Applied Physiology Article that we found via the link you provided. Very good.


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