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•Size, speed & strength aren’t everything

By Sola Ogundipe

The outstanding performance of Nigerian female athletes during the recently concluded 22nd Commonwealth games in Birmingham is not in question.

At the end of the games, the women outperformed the men in all categories, winning all 12 gold medals for Team Nigeria in addition to setting new Commonwealth and African records.

The women’s splendid performance at the games was not one-off or limited to Nigeria as women all over the world have consistently excelled in competitive sports through the years, and in some cases, narrowed the gap between the men.

Most sporting categories have separate categories for men and women, essentially because men are generally taller, heavier, stronger, and quicker than women which means that competing on an equal basis isn’t really possible in most sports.

It is not unusual that when it comes to direct competitive sport, men and women are traditionally separated into gender categories. Most sports segregate men’s and women’s competitions to ensure the sport is competitive and entertaining.

Size and strength aren’t everything

However, height, weight, size, speed, and physical strength are not everything. Men do not always have the winning advantage over women because athletic performance is not governed by the physical factor alone. There are also physiological, psychological, emotional, and socioeconomic factors to consider.

Women possess some favourable biological factors that come into play. With their smaller and lighter structural frames, women are able to tolerate hot and humid conditions better.

Women don’t usually outperform men in endurance sport but are often a close match in ultra-endurance sports in which they can compete fairly and even perform better. They are more suited at coping in ultra-endurance situations, unlike the men who possess greater maximal capacities.               

More muscle endurance

Going head-to-head, women can’t compete with men in sprints or short-distance marathons because men are more muscular, stronger, and have greater maximal capacities and aerobic power.

But while women have less physical strength, they are endowed with more muscle endurance than men. This is supported by research.

In a study at the University of British Columbia, men and women were asked to flex their feet against a series of sensors as quickly as they could 200 times.

The speed, power, and rotational force of their movements and the electrical activity of their muscles were recorded.

During the study, carried out in collaboration with the University of Guelph and the University of Oregon, and published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers measured foot movements that make use of calf muscles on the back of the leg.

These muscles are used for everyday actions such as standing or walking.

Greater stamina

The results showed men were faster and more powerful at first but became more exhausted much faster than women. With better muscle endurance, women are considerably less tired after natural, dynamic muscle exercises than men of a similar age and athletic ability.

Women are also less prone to muscle fatigue and have a higher pain threshold as an evolutionary advantage over men. Their physiology, anatomy, and psychological differences play big roles in their muscular endurance.

Less fatigue

 ”Women can outlast men by a wide margin,” said Professor Brian Dalton, the study author.

We’ve known for some time that women are less fatigable than men during isometric muscle tests – static exercises where joints don’t move, such as holding a weight – but we wanted to find out if that’s true during more dynamic and practical everyday movements.

 ”We know from previous research that for events like ultra-trail running, males may complete them faster but females are considerably less tired by the end. If ever an ultra-ultra-marathon is developed, women may well dominate in that arena,” he explained.

So, while men may be quicker at completing endurance activities such as marathons, women are usually less tired once they have completed the task.

 Burn more fat, less carbohydrate

Women store more glycogen than men and utilise it more efficiently during tasking periods such as endurance exercises. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates.

Women also tend to burn more fat and less carbohydrate than men during endurance exercises. According to the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology and the American Journal of Physiology, women’s supply and storage of liver and muscle glycogen outlast that of men.

Reasons for this are not unconnected to the hormone estrogen’s effects on female metabolism.

Women may finish ultra-marathons in times similar to those of men who can beat them in shorter marathons, but when men and women with equivalent marathon times are pitted against each other in ultras, the women tend to win.

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