The outdoor fitness market caters for a varied range of clients, including men and women. However, it is important that training providers and fitness professionals’ understand some of the specific issues relating to female exercisers.
There are certain physiological, bio-mechanical, and possibly psychological, differences that may affect a female’s physical performance.
Women are generally smaller in size and carry more fat than men and their physical capacity is, on average, 15-20% lower than males.
However, in absolute terms, a female with the same physiological dimensions as a man (VO2max, muscle tissue etc) will perform equally as well.
Common factors that may affect females carrying out military physical training tasks, particularly when part of a male dominated group, are:
- Physical Capacity: as well as being generally weaker, a female’s distribution of muscle is different to that of a male. She will have a smaller proportion of muscle in her upper body than a male and, therefore, will fatigue more easily when carrying out upper body dominated physical tasks.
- Body Composition: a female averages 10% more fat than a male. This additional weight, obviously, has to be carried when performing physical activity.
- Environmental Tolerance: although women have a lower sweat rate than men it does not appear to affect their heat tolerance. But as with males, unfit/overweight individuals will struggle to perform tasks in a hot climate. In cold climates a female may be at an advantage because extra fat offers greater insulation. However, the smaller muscle mass when carrying out an arduous task may result in early fatigue and reduce the body’s ability to generate heat.
- Menstruation: there is no recognised pattern concerning a woman’s ability to achieve maximum physical potential during any specific phase of their menstrual cycle. It is an individual response, and although not an illness, fitness professionals should be considerate of any secondary responses a female might suffer. Further, it is relatively common for females to have menstrual cycle dysfunction during periods of high physical activity. This may be affected or exacerbated by low body fat, acute stress and inadequate nutrition.
- Psychological Stress: women working in a male dominated environment may be subject to higher levels of psychological stress when compared with males. Factors that may increase stress, which fitness professionals should be aware of, are:
- Lack of social support: as a result of fewer females in their group (although, on average, more females attend ‘civilian’ boot camps than males).
- Harassment: often on sexual or weakness issues from immature males or poor managers.
- Low self esteem: due to a perception of being the weak physical link in a team.
- Injury Risk: in comparison to men, women are 1.5 times more likely to become injured when performing physical activity; the increased risk possibly being due to a generally lower level of physical capacity.
Did you know?
A female with the same physiological dimensions as a man will perform equally as well.
- Knees, Food, Periods: Top 10 Medical Tips If Your Daughter Plays Sports (commonhealth.wbur.org)