Being a woman is wonderful. However, when it comes to sports and being a high performing athlete, women have their own set of concerns and problems. Contrary to popular belief, let’s take a look at the pros (yes, you heard it right) of being a female athlete.
The flexibility of muscles, tendons and ligaments is related to more efficient sporting performance: for example, longer strides, better hurdling techniques and better kick and arm movements in swimming. Females of every age group are more flexible than males. Greater flexibility of the joints and cartilage of the vertebral column, pelvic girdle and foot make women better adapted to springing, landing and extensions. The smaller tendons and ligaments, on average, in females may account for the greater mobility of some joints.
2. Training responses
Research has shown that women demonstrate the same training response and percentage improvement as men when they train at sufficiently intense levels. Therefore, women can achieve their full physical potential provided they are not restrained by a variety of social-cultural reasons.
Muscular Strength and Endurance
Muscle fibres may be designated as slow-twitch (ST) or fast-twitch (FT) depending on their composition and metabolic potential: ST fibre is suited to prolonged aerobic exercise and FT fibre to explosive power. Thus, individuals (of either sex) with a higher percentage of ST fibres are predisposed to greater success in endurance activities. Since ST/FT ratio is determined by heredity, it does not change with training although training increases the size of fibre area. There are no significant sex differences in the ST/FT ratio for athletes in the same sport. There are sex differences in the size of fibre area and these are reflected in differences in the strength of males and females. However, if values for specific areas of the body are expressed relative to body size or lean body mass, sex differences are greatly reduced, especially in terms of leg strength.
It is difficult to determine the extent, if any, to which inherent characteristics (for example, biomechanical faults) are responsible for existing injury patterns among females. If girls were encouraged to develop their full physical potential from birth, and if their coaches and trainers were fully informed regarding the best methods of conditioning and injury prevention, present injury patterns among female athletes might change dramatically and the incidence reported reduced.
4. The dreaded Female Triad(RED-S Syndrome)
The Female Athlete Triad is defined as ‘the combination of disordered eating (DE) and irregular menstrual cycles eventually leading to a decrease in endogenous oestrogen and other hormones, resulting in low bone mineral density’(BMD). It is evident now that the clinical phenomenon is not a triad of three entities of energy adequacy, menstrual function and bone health, but rather a syndrome resulting from relative energy deficiency that affects many aspects of physiological function including metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, cardiovascular and psychological health. Additionally, it is evident that relative energy deficiency also affects men.
When men and women exercised at the same relative intensity, in hot, dry environments, there were few differences, while in hot, humid conditions, women's higher skin surface area/weight ratio facilitated heat loss and gave them greater heat tolerance.
So all the women out there eat right, train hard and conquer the world because there’s no limit to what you can accomplish!
FISA Coaching Development Programme Course - Level III, Section 5 - Problems of High Performance Female Athletes. Author: Moira O'Brien (IRL).