On the eve of the opening of the Olympics games in Japan, my youngest daughter Alizé asked herself why can’t girls play on the boys’ team? She figured out the answer straight away i.e. because men are biologically different than women, but she wanted to look into this subject a bit more and offered to write a blog article about it. So here it is.
In Ancient Greece, women were not allowed to watch the competition, let alone participate in it! Doing sport was a ‘men only’ activity and women stayed far away from it; until the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a change of mentality in Europe and North America allowed women to make an appearance in the sports’ arenas. The differences in physical strength and stamina were acknowledged and led to the creation of female versions of male sports.
You can’t play on the boys’ team, reason 1
Sorry! You can’t play on the boys’ team. Men are biologically stronger than women, which does give them an advantage over women. I found out through my reading that there are two key factors that make men stronger than women. The first factor is the size of fibers, and the second is body mass index, men have a higher lean body mass percentage than women.
Let’s talk about fibers. Men have larger muscle fibers than women. Remember fast twitch, slow twitch? If you don’t, fast-twitch relates to the fibers in your muscles that are responsible for bursts of energy in a short amount of time, whenever you sprint or participate in HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) training, or anything else that’s high intensity, you are activating your fast-twitch fibers, also known as type 2 muscle fibers. When you work out and continue to activate these fast-twitch fibers, they will grow in size, resulting in bigger muscles.
Type 1 muscle fibers or slow-twitch fibers are those fibers that we are using when we practice a physical activity over a long period of time. If you run a marathon or participate in Le Tour de France, you will activate your slow-twitch fibers. Exercising these type 1 muscle fibers regularly and for long periods of time will increase your type 1 muscle fiber efficiency. In contrast to fast-twitch fibers, slow-twitch fibers don’t grow in size but allow you to use your muscles for extended periods of time. I am sure you have noticed the difference in shape between a sprinter who looks very bulky and muscular with a marathon runner who looks very lean.
It’s important to take note, however, that increasing the size of either slow-twitch fibers and/or fast-twitch fibers will increase your athletic ability. Having said that, Men biologically have larger muscle fibers. Fast-twitch fibers in men are 7700 microns2 in size, while fast-twitch fibers in women are 4040 microns2 in size. This explains why men will grow larger muscles. Likewise, slow-twitch fibers in men are 4597 microns2 in size while slow-twitch fibers in women are 3483 microns2 in size. This explains that generally, men have an advantage over women in terms of strength and stamina.
You can’t play on the boys’ team, reason 2.
Over the last two decades, the number of cases of obesity in the US has increased more than 50% (from 14.5% of the adult population to 22.5% today). The primary cause of weight gain is an energy intake that constantly exceeds the amount of physical activity or energy expenditure of an individual. Studies have shown that it is a decrease in regular physical activity and not an increase in energy intake that is responsible for the recent increase in obesity prevalence.
But coming back to the section of the population who do regular exercise such as athletes, current research shows that, although exercise and training increase the amount of fat metabolized, there may be gender differences in the way we store and metabolize fat during rest and exercise. It is well established that women have a higher percentage of body fat than men. A healthy range of body fat for women is 20-25% and a healthy range of body fat for men is 10-15%.
There are many benefits of having a high lean body mass percentage including increasing muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance, increase in agility and balance, better joint movement, plus strength and power development. To be a successful athlete you need to have power, speed, agility, reaction time, balance, and coordination. If you carry additional weight in the form of non-essential fat, it will hinder your performance by providing greater resistance to athletic motion. The additional body fat can also limit endurance, balance, coordination, and movement capacity Different athletes have different body types which fit their discipline.
Strength and power athletes such as American football players, wrestlers, powerlifters benefit greatly from high levels of body mass. Endurance athletes such as distance runners, cyclists, and triathletes benefit greatly from having low percent body fat. Gymnasts, pole vaulters, and high jumpers have to maintain healthy and lean body weight to obtain athletic success. This summarizes that even though you can change your own body fat index, this does put women at a slight disadvantage compared to men.
But you can play in a mixed team if you wish.
Generally, most sports segregate men’s and women’s competitions to ensure the sport is fair and competitive. However, not all sports completely segregate male and female competition. In some sports, men and women can compete together and they do this in two different ways. Some sports have mixed events. This is when men and women form a team (usually a duo) and compete against another mixed team. Men and women compete together and against each other in a fairway as both teams feature the same number of male and female players. You can play and compete in mixed teams in badminton, tennis, and ice skating.
There are a small number of sports such as equestrian and sailing where men and women can compete against each other regardless of sex. In these sports, the physical differences are deemed not to have an effect on the outcome of the competition. Generally speaking, girls can’t play in the boys’ team, but some sports allow mixed events to take place as long as there is the same number of boys and girls in both teams. But if you really want to play on the boy’s team, go for it! Or choose equestrian activities or sailing.
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