The rise of women in sports started years ago, and it is expected to continue growing at all levels. It now corresponds to science to respond to the specificity necessary to apply, in order to adapt its performance. It has been keeping in step with this process for some time, with many steps already started and taken, and many others to go. Let’s not forget that in an example analysis of a magazine, in the first 5 issues of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance (IJSPP) published in 2019, only 19% of the studies included a female sample and only 4% were exclusively female athletes 1.
There are great researchers who have been trying to walk this path for decades, such as Dr. Anthony Hackney and his two books 2, 3 that allow us to dive deep into the study of the endocrine system that, together with the nervous system, regulate the functioning of the human body, specifying in the exercise, determining in the woman. Besides anatomical differences so evident that we will not highlight them, we can think of the biomechanical and hormonal parts as two important ones in performance, in that load control and recovery of systems that seek to recover homeostasis… or better yet, allostasis.
At the biomechanical level, there are several studies that clearly expose the difference between men and women in muscle activation patterns in basic motor skills 4. We find research on how sex and fatigue influence control strategies when buffering or comparing gestures as necessary as a change of direction 5. During and after sexual maturation, women land and then slow down with less buffering (less hip, knee and ankle flexion) 6. Therefore, it is relevant that, appropriate to our context, we find tools for controlling the muscles more involved in these abilities and more sensitive to fatigue (adductors, hamstrings, etc.). The scientific literature offers us many different tests 7-11. Let us not forget that strength, the cornerstone in training, must be even more fundamental in women’s training.
At a hormonal level, women show responses to training to be taken into account as knowledge, education and establishing the most appropriate recovery strategies, the contribution to the dynamic balance of the load and recovery can be of added value. We can list aspects like:
- Less capacity to dissipate heat (accentuated in the luteal phase together with a greater tendency to dehydration) 12. Consequently, the need to focus on strategies of hydration and heat dissipation (precooling, cryotherapy, etc.).
- Earlier inflammatory response at muscle level 13. Nutrition plays a fundamental role in being able to contribute to these processes, besides strategies such as pressotherapy, cryotherapy, etc.).
- It is important to monitor the immune system, as it can be more exposed after moderate-intense exercises. Matters like nutrition, or proper clothing at the right time, can make a difference.
- Greater decrease in post-exercise blood pressure 14. Active recovery (hydrotherapy, MD + 1 sessions, ergometers, myofascial release), the pressotherapy that we mentioned earlier are effective strategies again.
- Worse quality of sleep in phases of premenstrual syndrome and/or menstruation. The importance of sleep in performance is a fact that science in recent years has been highlighting. It is possible that some athletes suffer alterations in situations of premenstrual syndrome and/or menstruation, the same as other symptoms. Any of the strategies mentioned above can be contemplated with special stress on those players who suffer more.
Studied in both men and women, we must mention the concept of RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports) 15, which in women should be paid special attention so that, with objective and subjective measures, take the best possible control of the entire map that outlines an athlete’s daily life. As Dr. Emma Ross (EIS-SmartHER) would say, “track and talk”.
Esther Morencos Martínez
- Mujika, I., & Taipale, R. S. (2019). Sport Science on Women, Women in Sport Science. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 14(8), 1013-1014.
- Hackney, A. C. (Ed.). (2016). Sex hormones, exercise and women: scientific and clinical aspects. Springer.
- Constantini, N., & Hackney, A. C. (3rd). (2020). Endocrinology of physical activity and sport (pp. 437-53). New York: Humana Press.
- Shultz, S. J., & Perrin, D. H. (1999). Using surface electromyography to assess sex differences in neuromuscular response characteristics. Journal of athletic training, 34(2), 165.
- Gehring, D., Melnyk, M., & Gollhofer, A. (2009). Gender and fatigue have influence on knee joint control strategies during landing. Clinical biomechanics, 24(1), 82-87.
- Fidai, M. S., Okoroha, K. R., Meldau, J., Meta, F., Lizzio, V. A., Borowsky, P.,… & Makhni, E. C. (2020). Fatigue increases dynamic knee valgus in youth athletes: Results from a field-based drop-jump test. Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, 36(1), 214-222.
- Sanchez-Medina, L., & González-Badillo, J. J. (2011). Velocity loss as an indicator of neuromuscular fatigue during resistance training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(9), 1725-1734.
- Freckleton, G., Cook, J., & Pizzari, T. (2014). The predictive validity of a single leg bridge test for hamstring injuries in Australian Rules Football Players. Br J Sports Med, 48(8), 713-717.
- Tiernan, C., Lyons, M., Comyns, T., Nevill, A. M., & Warrington, G. (2019). The relationship between adductor squeeze strength, subjective markers of recovery and training load in elite rugby players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(11), 2926-2931.
- Matinlauri, A., Alcaraz, P. E., Freitas, T. T., Mendiguchia, J., Abedin-Maghanaki, A., Castillo, A.,… & Cohen, D. D. (2019). A comparison of the isometric force fatigue-recovery profile in two posterior chain lower limb tests following simulated soccer competition. PloS one, 14(5).
- Brasch, M. T., Neeld, K. L., Konkol, K. F., & Pettitt, R. W. (2019). Value of Wellness Ratings and Countermovement Jumping Velocity to Monitor Performance. International journal of exercise science, 12(4), 88.
- Giersch, G. E., Charkoudian, N., Stearns, R. L., & Casa, D. J. (2019). Fluid Balance and Hydration Considerations for Women: Review and Future Directions. Sports Medicine, 1-9.
- Clarkson, P. M., & Hubal, M. J. (2001). Are women less susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage?. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 4(6), 527-531.
- Hausswirth, C., & Le Meur, Y. (2011). Physiological and nutritional aspects of post-exercise recovery. Sports medicine, 41(10), 861-882.
- Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., Ackerman, K. E., Blauwet, C., Constantini, N.,… & Sherman, R. (2018). International Olympic Committee (IOC) consensus statement on relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S): 2018 update. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(4), 316-331.