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Running, differences between men and women

Training

Men and women clearly have a different engine when it comes to sport, including running. But that’s not the only difference – there are many others.
Failing to appreciate this results in the all-too-common error of suggesting women do the same type of training (perhaps at a reduced percentage) as their male colleagues. This can hit performance negatively, especially running, a discipline in which the inequalities between the sexes play a key role.

Anatomical differences…

Mechanically, women have a large pelvic area, resulting in a running style that favours frequency over strength.

A women’s thigh bones and quads are positioned such that a female runner cannot push like a man nor use the same stride.

For men, the theoretical line of the tibia, thigh bone and hip joint is more vertical, compared to the ground, than in women. This allows men to better exploit the power from their quadriceps and glutes, which are extension muscles. The result? Men run with a higher knee action, a longer stride and greater push. Such an action does provide plenty of power, but it also requires significant muscle strength, which women cannot afford since their strength is slightly less. These are not negatives, merely aspects to take into account.

 

Such differences also have an impact on running technique. For example, when running the lower part of the body works in opposition to the chest and arms, such that the harder one pushes, the greater the pressure on the abdominal area. Since men exploit their greater muscle mass in their lower limbs, they must be far more careful than women to keep their arms alternating properly. This means women can be more relaxed when running.  Just watch a marathon on TV to understand this. Good synergy between legs and arms makes running more efficient and less wasteful, optimizing the amount of energy saved.

 

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… and the physiological ones

When it comes to the energy needed, the differences between men and women are not only mechanical.

Physiologically, women’s metabolism is different and, at the same effort levels, they are better able to burn fat, letting them conserve glycogen.

This is beneficial because women have less muscle mass, so they have slightly lower concentrations of glycogen stored in their liver and muscles. As men go faster, they burn far more sugars. At the same intensity, men consume less fats and so run a greater risk of depleting their energy reserves more quickly.

Menstrual cycle? An opportunity

All too often, the menstrual cycle is still seen as a major disadvantage for women. Sport is no different.

But in reality, this physiological event, creates a real opportunity in sport: the ability to set monthly goals for physical preparation.

This is based on the ability of the female body to handle the most appropriate stressors for that moment in the month, that is, for her physiological state. This creates opportune adaptations that can produce concrete performance gains while respecting one’s body.

Difference in eating

The differences between the sexes even extend to eating, especially carbohydrates. The instinctive feeling of hunger at the end of training would seem to be a clear invitation from the body to replenish its sugars.

As women are better at maintaining glycogen reserves, shorter times and reduced quantities suffice to restore these.

Likewise for hydration. Runners with more muscles generate more heat and, consequently, sweat more, potentially resulting in a greater loss of minerals.

Laureata in Scienze Motorie, ha conseguito un PhD in Attività Fisica, Nutrizione e Benessere. Da atleta, ha ottenuto risultati a livello nazionale e internazionale, gareggiando nel canottaggio e nel triathlon. Docente a contratto di Teoria e Metodologia dell’Allenamento presso la Facoltà di Scienze Motorie all’Università degli Studi di Pavia (PV). È anche consulente nutrizionale della FIDAL per il “Progetto Sviluppo” avviato dall’olimpionico Stefano Baldini. In Equipe Enervit dal 2009, è stata allieva del professor Enrico Arcelli.