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How We Are Failing Our Female Athletes
The Role of Strength Training in Bridging the Gap
False narratives need to stop now, especially when surrounding females and sports performance training.
Did you know that in 1989, the National Strength and Conditioning Association released a position paper recommending that male and female athletes be trained in a similar manner? That was 31 years ago.
When this position statement was released, it was recommended that females and males train by utilizing similar modalities (barbells, free-weights, sleds, etc.) and have similar programming (frequency, duration, intensity). So, why do females continue to be trained differently?
While reading a recent article published this year, a few things stuck out to me. Coaches still believe that females should train differently due to their “body type and structure.” Also, 70 percent of coaches in this study believe that training programs should be designed differently for males and females. With close to 60% of the vote, it was due to “differences between muscle fibers, tendons, bones, etc. between the sexes.” While reading, I had quite the theatrical face-palm reaction.
There is an abundance of false information out there, whether it be through magazine articles or ancient facts our mothers or their mothers once told us. Can we always believe the tabloids or what great Aunt Mary says about her neighbor? I do not think so. Things need to change, and they need to change now.
There are still many shortfalls in the world of female athletic development. Many of them due to under-educated coaches, parents, and young athletes. Did you know that most female athletes have minimal experience with weight training until they start their first year of college?
Pre-conceived notions such as females need to train differently due to their body structure, women only need to work on low-weight, high-rep activities to prevent injuries, and that young female athletes only need body-weight training, need to be thrown out the window. What if I told you it is GREAT for female athletes to start weight training as early as nine years old?
Unlike the male pubertal spurt during which a young man will experience increased height, muscle mass, muscle strength, and power, an adolescent female will tend to only experience an increase in height in conjunction with breast development causing significant change to a female’s body structure.
The changes that occur in the female body during this time often cause her to re-learn what was once well-coordinated and developed movement patterns. Unlike their male counterparts who seem to thrive during puberty, females often fall behind on the athletic spectrum. The girl who once outran their male classmate during field day can no longer do this. It is often a shock and often a disappointment.
Why does this happen? There are many theories behind it. However, there is something to be said about the lack of muscular strength, power, and mass females experience as compared to their male counterparts.
If females do not experience the same strength and muscular gains as males during puberty, why don’t we help decrease this lapse in development with external training? Why do we sit here and let young females believe they do not need to strength train, or that strength training would make them too bulky and decrease athletic performance?
Strength training early allows developing females time to understand their changing bodies and improve their neuromuscular development (movement patterns, coordination, muscle firing, etc.)! In the long run, it helps create better athletes and decrease injury risk! On a side note, females respond to weight training stimuli very similar if not better than their male counterparts!
So, what if, instead of telling young girls it is their body structure, hormones, or any of the gamut of falsified things they are told that cause injury, we do not tell them any of these things. Let us stop failing them, start strength training earlier, and bridge the gap in development and athletic performance!
Here’s to creating strong female athletes from this day forward! It certainly should not have taken 31 years…
As always, if you have any questions or want to learn more about this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!