Can Women Sprint or Run Faster than Men? Yes!

>> January 23, 2016

In early 1990's, scientists (Whip & Ward) said women will perform better than men in all running events by 2050.

Another scientist claimed that in 150 years (around 2150), a woman will run just slower than 8 seconds at 100m and it would be quick enough to beat the winning time of men's 100m at the Olympics.

So these are the two examples of extreme conclusion derived from the results of the model that they used, linear regression. By using the same model, you can predict that humans will eventually run the 200m in 2 seconds. Historical trends are important but they are not guaranteed to continue into the future.

World record holders at 100m, Usain Bolt and Florence Griffith-Joyner

One possible reason to see such data that women will do better than men could be because of the "performance revolution" or higher rate of improvement seen in women's sports performances in 1980's and 1990's after women's sports have grown in popularity and participation in 1960's and 1970's. They did not get the same opportunity as men in the past. In other words, women "started late."

But current opinion suggests that the world records have reached 99% of the human performance limits that can be reached within one generation.

It has also been reported that gender gap in the Olympic sports performance has been stable or unchanged since early 1980's.

Sprinting velocity is a product stride "length" and "frequency". But in maximal velocity sprint, the "frequency" (foots contact per second) is more relevant than the "length". Ben Johnson would produce similar steps (46.5) (stride length) to run 10.44 (1983) and 9.79 (1988) at 100m. The "frequency" can be influenced by the ground contact time that is determined by the speed of contraction (of muscle fibres contractile properties).

To run 8 seconds in 100m would require a huge (double?) change of muscle fibres (the contractile properties) that will influence the force generating capacity, which will then determine the production of the required (huge) amount of power. This increment (double!) is only possible with a significant increase of muscle mass. If Usain Bolt weighs 94kg, this 8-second sprinter (a woman) would sprint with a body mass of 115kg. The average body mass of the women's 100m Olympic finalists is 56kg.

In elite level, even with the most systematic training provided to athletes, the muscle fibres are nearly unaltered or altered very very little.

Men are apparently more powerful than women because of muscle mass (greater). This is because men have ~10 times higher testosterone concentration than women.

Because we are probably near to "upper end" of human performance limits, for sprint and running (to limit the scope of this discussion), women can surely run faster than men athletes, but the fastest men athletes will always superior than the fastest women athletes. Women performance at high level will not match those of men.

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Dietmar Schmidtbleicher on Interference Effects of Concurrent Training

>> January 11, 2016

Strength and power specialist, Prof Dr.Dr. Dietmar Schmidtbleicher was invited in a 2-hour discussion about conditioning-related topics with a small group of conditioning coaches in January 2016. For a record, this German scientist has published ~500 scientific journals and articles since he started his sports-related research in 1970's. One of the topics we discussed was interference effects of concurrent training.

Concurrent training is a structure of training combining endurance (aerobic) and strength training during a single training session. The structure is usually applied by coaches for reducing the number of training sessions the athletes have to do in a week, and also to attain certain mileage goal of running endurance for a particular week. So they have athletes to perform aerobic endurance first and then followed by strength session with the conditioning coach. Despite these reasons, the structure may not be the best training arrangement according to Schmidtbleicher.

One example of arrangement that has been used by coaches is to have his athletes to perform endurance training such as long slow distance for 10km, and followed by weight training (e.g. 3 sets x 10 reps bench press) after some period (~20 mins) of recovery.

The first point that highlighted by Schmidtbleicher sounds like this, “neuromuscular condition is good if you’re not fatigue”. The neuromuscular system will certainly at best for performing many athletic movements when the condition is "fresh". In contrary, it can be a problem for athletes to execute a sound technique of strength exercises when they are in a state of fatigue. Thus, Schmidtbeicher suggests the athletes to perform running endurance and strength training not at the same session.

by Hawley (2009), A Physiol Nutr Metab

One reason for "splitting" the two types of training can be justified when we look at the “interference theory” which explains the “competing effects” occur at cellular level associated with performance of aerobic endurance and strength training simultaneously at the same session. The activation of enzymes (i.e. AMPK) important for the process of energy production (i.e. mitochondrial production) in aerobic endurance are not compatible, and in fact can possibly impedes the enzymes (mTORC1) that should be activated during strength training for controlling the protein synthesis (for cell growth). The “blocking” of signalling pathways can minimize the adaptation of training. Hence, the athletes may not getting an optimal specific training benefit in concurrent training. Moreover a long-term performance of high volume or intensity of concurrent training may promotes overreaching (while getting minimal training gain), then a possible occurrence of overtraining .

Nevertheless, it is still important to scrutinize or make an in-depth inspection on this topic. We may want to look further at the dose-response relationship, specific objective (body composition et.?), type of endurance training (running, walking, cycling, swimming?), type of strength training (hypertrophy, strength, power), training structure for optimal training adaptation (lesser interference effect) while maintaining sports-specific requirement (for endurance-strength sports), and current research looking at these variables on the magnitude of interference effects from concurrent training. This allows one to ascertain if the aerobic endurance and strength training can be performed together at some degrees.

Jad Adrian Washif

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