Women have an advantage when running short distances • Earth.com


It has long been established that men outperform women in medium and long distance races. However, speed over shorter distances is determined by the amount of force athletes can apply relative to body mass. The muscle strength to body mass ratio is higher in shorter individuals, and women tend to be shorter than men.

Understanding gender differences in performance for short sprint events has received little attention. Understanding the comparative strength, speed and endurance abilities of male and female athletes is a challenge for modern sport.

In a new study, doctoral candidate Emily McClelland and Peter Weyand, director of the Locomotor Performance Laboratory at Southern Methodist University, set out to investigate. The team used data from international competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships, between 2003 and 2018. McClelland speculated that gender differences in sprint running performance may be relatively small and increase with distance.

The data revealed that the difference between men’s and women’s performance times increased with event distance from 8.6 to 11% from the shortest to the longest sprint events (60 to 400 meters). Analysis of each 10m segment of the 100m event revealed a trend across the distance – gender differences increased from a low of 5.6% for the first segment to a high of 14 .2% in the last segment.

This would suggest that women are advantaged for shorter sprint distances compared to men. Unlike other running species like horses and dogs, there is a significant variation in height between males and females. Differences in body size lead to higher muscle strength to body mass ratios in smaller individuals.

Since sprint speeds depend on mass-specific forces that runners can apply, higher force-to-mass ratios for shorter individuals provide a theoretical advantage. During the acceleration phase of a run, a woman’s shorter legs result in more steps and push cycles per unit time. These factors offset the advantages of males (longer legs and greater musculature) becoming more influential over longer distances.

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce is a Jamaican track and field star who is 5-foot-0, weighs 115 pounds and holds two Olympic gold medals and five world championship gold medals in the 100 meters. His time at the 40-yard bar of a 100-yard run was estimated at 4.51 seconds. That was faster than half of all wide receivers and running backs that were tested in the National Football League’s Scouting Combine in 2022. Most of these aspiring NFL football players are over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds.

The research is published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

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By Katherine Bucko, Terre.com Personal editor

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