Advertisement

Sports Medicine

, Volume 35, Issue 12, pp 1017–1024 | Cite as

Running Performance Differences between Men and Women

An Update
  • Samuel N. CheuvrontEmail author
  • Robert CarterIII
  • Keith C. DeRuisseau
  • Robert J. Moffatt
Current Opinion

Abstract

More than a decade ago it was reported in the journal Natures that the slope of improvement in the men’s and women’s running records, extrapolated from mean running velocity plotted against historical time, would eventually result in a performance intersection of the sexes across a variety of running distances. The first of these intersections was to occur for 42 000m before the 21st century. Most of the error in this prediction is probably explained by the linear mathematical treatment and extrapolation of limited performance data, since including world record-setting running performances for women before and after 1985 results in a non-linear data fit. The reality of early, disproportionate improvements in women’s running that gave the appearance of an impending convergence with men is best explained by an historical social sports bias. Women’s times have now reached a plateau similar to that observed for men at comparative performance milestones in the marathon. Sex differences at distances from 100 to 10 000m show similar trends. The remaining sex gaps in performance appear biological in origin. Success in distance running and sprinting is determined largely by aerobic capacity and muscular strength, respectively. Because men possess a larger aerobic capacity and greater muscular strength, the gap in running performances between men and women is unlikely to narrow naturally.

Keywords

Sport Participation Lactate Threshold Aerobic Power International Olympic Committee Stride Frequency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Bryant Stamford, PhD, University of Louisville, Lynn Panton, PhD, Florida State University, and Krista Austin, PhD, Florida State University, for reading and remarking on this manuscript. The views, opinions and/or findings contained in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, or decision, unless so designated by other official documentation. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited.

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

References

  1. 1.
    Cheuvront SN, Moffatt RJ, DeRuisseau K. Body composition and gender differences in performance. In: Driskell JA, Wolinsky I, editors. Nutritional assessment of athletes. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press, 2002: 177–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kuscsik N. The history of women’s participation in the marathon. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1977; 301: 862–876CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hymans R. Progression of world best performances and IAAF official world records. 5th ed. Monaco (FR): International Association of Athletics Federations, 2003Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) statistics [online]. Available from URL: http://www.iaaf.org/statistics/index.html [Accessed 2004 May]Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cheuvront SN, Haymes EM. Thermoregulation and marathon running: biological and environmental influences. Sports Med 2001; 31 (10): 743–762PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Whipp BJ, Ward SA. Will women soon outrun men? [letter]. Nature 1992; 355 (6355): 25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tatem AJ, Guerra CA, Atkinson PM, et al. Momentous sprint at the 2156 Olympics? Nature 2004; 431: 525PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ryder HW, Carr HJ, Herget P. Future performance in footracing. Sci Am 1976; 234: 108–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Noakes TD. Lore of running. 4th ed. Champaign (IL): Leisure Press, 2003Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sparling PB, O’Donnell EM, Snow TK. The gender difference in distance running performance has plateaued: an analysis of world rankings from 1980 to 1996. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30 (12): 1725–1729PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bam J, Noakes TD, Juritz J, et al. Could women outrun men in ultramarathon races? Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997; 29 (2): 244–247PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Coast JR, Blevins JS, Wilson BA. Do gender differences in running performance disappear with distance? Can J Appl Physiol 2004; 29 (2): 139–145PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Speechly DP, Taylor SR, Rogers GG. Differences in ultra-endurance exercise in performance-matched male and female runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28 (3): 359–365PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Holden C. An everlasting gender gap? Science 2004; 305 (5684): 639–640PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Sparling PB, Nieman DC, O’Connor PJ. Selected scientific aspects of marathon racing: an update on fluid replacement, immune function, psychological factors and the gender difference. Sports Med 1993; 15 (2): 116–132PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Peronnet F, Thibault G. Mathematical analysis of running performance and world running records. J Appl Physiol 1989; 67 (1): 453–465PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Nevill AM, Whyte G. Are there limits to running world records? Med Sci Spots Exerc 2005; 37: 1785–1788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Drinkwater BL. Women and exercise: physiological aspects. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1984; 12: 21–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sparling PB. A meta-analysis of studies comparing maximal oxygen uptake in men and women. Res Q Exerc Sport 1980; 51 (3): 542–552PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Sparling PB, Cureton KJ. Biological determinants of the sex difference in 12-min run performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1983; 15 (3): 218–223PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Pate RR, Branch JD. Training for endurance sport. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1992; 24 (9 Suppl.): S340–S343PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Joyner MJ. Physiological limiting factors and distance running: influence of gender and age on record performances. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1993; 21: 103–133PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Cureton K, Bishop P, Hutchinson P, et al. Sex difference in maximal oxygen uptake: effect of equating haemoglobin concentration. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1986; 54 (6): 656–660PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ruby BC, Robergs RA. Gender differences in substrate utilisation during exercise. Sports Med 1994; 17 (6): 393–410PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Dennis SC, Noakes TD. Advantages of a smaller bodymass in humans when distance-running in warm, humid conditions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1999; 79 (3): 280–284PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Dotan R, Rotstein A, Dlin R, et al. Relationship of marathon running to physiological, anthropometric and training indices. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1983; 51: 281–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Wells CL, Hecht LH, Krahenbuhl GS. Physical characteristics and oxygen utilization of male and female marathon runners. Res Q Exerc Sport 1981; 52 (2): 281–285PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Davies CT, Thompson MW. Aerobic performance of female marathon and male ultramarathon athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1979; 41 (4): 233–245PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Maughan RJ, Leiper JB. Aerobic capacity and fractional utilisation of aerobic capacity in elite and non-elite male and female marathon runners. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1983; 52 (1): 80–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, et al. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89 (5): 1991–1999PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Cavagna GA, Kaneko M. Mechanical work and efficiency in level walking and running. J Physiol 1977; 268 (2): 467–481PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Armstrong LE, Cooksey SM. Biomechanical changes in selected collegiate sprinters due to increased velocity. Track Field Q Rev 1983; 3: 10–12Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Prince FP, Hikida RS, Hagerman FC. Human muscle fiber types in power lifters, distance runners and untrained subjects. Pflugers Arch 1976; 363 (1): 19–26PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Costill DL, Daniels J, Evans W, et al. Skeletal muscle enzymes and fiber composition in male and female track athletes. J Appl Physiol 1976; 40 (2): 149–154PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Alway SE, Grumbt WH, Gonyea WJ, et al. Contrasts in muscle and myofibers of elite male and female bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol 1989; 67 (1): 24–31PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Sale DG, MacDougall JD, Alway SE, et al. Voluntary strength and muscle characteristics in untrained men and women and male bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol 1987; 62 (5): 1786–1793PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Schantz P, Randall-Fox E, Hutchison W, et al. Muscle fibre type distribution, muscle cross-sectional area and maximal voluntary strength in humans. Acta Physiol Scand 1983; 117 (2): 219–226PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Miller AE, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA, et al. Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristics. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1993; 66 (3): 254–262PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Abe T, Brechue WF, Fujita S, et al. Gender differences in FFM accumulation and architectural characteristics of muscle. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30 (7): 1066–1070PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Abe T, Fukashiro S, Harada Y, et al. Relationship between sprint performance and muscle fascicle length in female sprinters. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci 2001; 20 (2): 141–147PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Tesch P, Karlsson J. Isometric strength performance and muscle fibre type distribution in man. Acta Physiol Scand 1978; 103 (1): 47–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Alexander MJ. The relationship between muscle strength and sprint kinematics in elite sprinters. Can J Sport Sci 1989; 14 (3): 148–157PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Komi PV, Karlsson J. Skeletal muscle fibre types, enzyme activities and physical performance in young males and females. Acta Physiol Scand 1978; 103 (2): 210–218PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ford LE, Detterline AJ, Ho KK, et al. Gender- and height-related limits of muscle strength in world weightlifting champions. J Appl Physiol 2000; 89 (3): 1061–1064PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Wilmore J, Costill DL. Growth, development, and the young athlete. In: Physiology of sport and exercise. 2nd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1999: 516–535Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Herbst KL, Bhasin S. Testosterone action on skeletal muscle. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2004; 7 (3): 271–277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Willoughby DS, Taylor L. Effects of sequential bouts of resistance exercise on androgen receptor expression. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004; 36 (9): 1499–1506PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Gooren LJ, Bunck MC. Transsexuals and competitive sports. Eur J Endocrinol 2004; 151 (4): 425–429PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Bahrke MS, Yesalis CE. Abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids and related substances in sport and exercise. Curr Opin Pharmacol 2004; 4 (6): 614–620PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    IOC approves consensus with regard to athletes who have changed sex [online]. Available from URL: http://www.olympic.org/uk/includes/common/article_print_uk.asp?.id=841 [Accessed 2004 May]Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Fee E, Brown TM, Laylor J. One size does not fit all in the transgender community. Am J Public Health 2003; 93 (6): 899–900PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel N. Cheuvront
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert CarterIII
    • 1
  • Keith C. DeRuisseau
    • 2
  • Robert J. Moffatt
    • 3
  1. 1.US Army Research Institute of Environmental MedicineNatickUSA
  2. 2.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Personalised recommendations