Do women perform better than men in endurance sports and why?

perfomance for men and womenFor a very long time, women have been considered to be not as strong as men, which is why they were not allowed to participate in some sports.

For example of this, the marathon for female athletes wasn’t introduced to the Olympics until 1984.As it turned out, women were able to participate in pretty much all the events and sports that men participated in.

Women now take part even in the so called ultra endurance events, while there are even female weightlifters, rowers and cross country skiers.

There is one problem though as far as sports are concerned.There is a pretty significant between the best performance of men and women in pretty much all sports.

Sure, in some sports, like the 100 or 200 meter dash the difference might be a few milliseconds or seconds, but on others, it is pretty significant. This gap for example, is very obvious in endurance races.

The current world record for women is 2.26.00, while for men it is 2.06.50. There is almost a twenty minute gap between the two performances and keep in mind that we are talking about the best athletes in the sport.

Just the example above should be enough to convince you of the existence of this so called performance and endurance gap between men and women in sports. The real question however is, why does it exist? Also, will it ever disappear or decrease? This is a very complicated question and in order to answer it, we must delve deeper into the physiology and psychology of men and women and see
what they have in common and where their differences may lie.

Physiological study

According to many sports and fitness experts, there are three main factors that govern and define performance in sports as far as physiology is concerned: Oxygen consumption, Lactic acid production and efficiency. Let’s take a look at each one and see if there any differences between men and women

1.Oxygen consumption

Straight off the bat, we are hit with one of the biggest physiological differences between men and women.An untrained male will have a maximum Oxygen intake of 3.5 liters per minute, while an untrained female will have a maximum consumption of 2 liters per minute.

That’s a whopping 43% difference! There are some ways to diminish the percentage of this difference, but they are too complicated and I won’t bore you with them.

The bottom line is that there is a significant difference between the maximum oxygen intake of men and women.What causes this difference? Well, for starters, it has been proven that women have lower hemoglobin levels in their blood than men, which means that their blood doesn’t need the same amount of Oxygen.

Furthermore, women also have smaller hearts, relative to their body size than men. It has also been proven that endurance training won’t make their hearts grow bigger, as it does for men. The heart is essentially a pump, so the smaller the pump,the less it can move. In other words, women don’t move around as much blood as men do with each beat of their heart.

Combine that with the lower hemoglobin levels, and it’s pretty obvious that their bodies simply don’t need as much oxygen as men’s bodies do.

Although I mentioned untrained men and women in the beginning of this segment, It should be noted that those difference persist even between elite male and female athletes who practice the same sport.

2. Lactic acid production

Lactic acid is a substance that your muscles secrete when you train, which make you feel pain and fatigue.In other words, through Lactic acid nature tells you that it’s time to stop exercising for today.

The so called lactic threshold, is the amount of time it takes for a muscle to start secreting lactic acid when it’s being exercised. The lactic threshold of a muscle changes, it rises, the more to gets exercised. According to many studies and sources, there are no differences in the way or the rate in which the lactic threshold changes between men and women.

3. Efficiency

Here things tend to be a little complicated, since efficiency is defined in different ways for each sport.

On those sports that studies looking for differences in efficiency between male and female athletes have been carried out,the results have shown that there are none or they are very miniscule.It should also be pointed out that women may be slightly more efficient than men in some sports due to the way their bodies are built.

For example, because of their narrower upper bodies,women are slightly more efficient than men in sports where the athlete has to deal with wind or water draf, such as swimming or cycling.

 for men and women

Psychological study

Athletes however are not just bodies, they also have minds too! Believe it or not, psychology can play a very big role in an athlete’s performance. So, just how different are men and women athletes from a psychological point of view and how bad can those differences affect their performance? Do they play a significant role in the formation of that performance gap between men and women?Let’s find out!

  • Men are quantitative when training, while women are qualitative

Go to any gym and take a look at the treadmills. I can bet that you will see men looking intently on the readings on the screen of their machine, while women will be talking, listening to music or even reading books.Men like to track their progress while working out by watching numbers increase or decrease, while women generally prefer to feel the differences in their bodies.

They don’t need numbers to tell them that their bodies are getting more fit. They can feel it. Believe it or not, but this is a much more approach to fitness and working out than those preferred by males, because it addresses the bigger picture and it doesn’t lead to obsession.

  • Men are usually better at training as a team than women

Men are more hierarchical in nature than women. This means that they operate within an established hierarchy and this makes them excellent team players, because each member of the team knows his role and place and doesn’t challenge the others.

Men simply don’t challenge each other once the hierarchy is established. They will be highly competitive during the tryouts for each place on the team, but once the hierarchy is defined, they all accept their roles.

Women on the other hand, tend to be more competitive and they are always trying to prove how good or better than the others they are. This makes team training really difficult and stressful: each member of the team is not trying to improve her performance, she is trying to perform better than all other members of the team.This also leads to overtraining.

Many female athletes simply can’t handle training in team, since they find it too stressful.Once those women leave their training teams and start training on their own,their performance skyrockets.

perfomance for men


What does this all mean then? well, it means that men and women are quite different as far as sports and training is concerned.The gap in performance and endurance levels could be caused by differences in the ways they train or view sports in general, but for me,the greatest cause is the difference of maximum Oxygen intake.This just shows how different the male and female bodies actually are.

There is however another factor that is diluting our data: female participation in endurance sports. To put it mildly, it is way smaller than that of men. The small numbers of women practicing endurance sports and professional and elite levels,definitely plays a part in the way that gap is formed. If more women practiced those sports, the gap could be smaller.

More elite women athletes means more competition, and we said that women love competition, and more competition means better performances,which will be getting closer and closer to the best performances of male elite athletes.In other words, we need more female elite athletes in order to reduce this gap.Do I think that this gap will ever disappear?

Well, I think that this difference in maximum Oxygen consumption is far too significant to allow that. I do believe however that this gap will keep getting smaller and smaller as time goes by and more women start competing at an elite level in endurance sports.

To close, I should note that I was happy to read that according to recent studies and surveys, it is younger girls that get their parents to work out and take up sports. This means that girls are getting into sports and fitness at very young ages and that is definitely encouraging as far as the closing of the gap is concerned. Oh, and in case you were wondering,boys have to be talked into taking up sports by their fathers and they usually take up a sport that their father was good at,carrying on the family tradition, in a way. In the words of Bob Dylan: “The time’s they are a-changin”!