CrossFit is very popular among women. Due to variances in strength training and conditioning earlier in life, some suggest that CrossFit training may result in greater individual changes in female strength and fitness than in males. However, aside from the obvious differences in male and female anatomy, there are functional and mechanical differences as well, and the potential for injury in men and women may be different. In the sports medicine community, we are now seeing new injuries in women that were previously only seen in men. We are more similar than we are different, by far, but the uniqueness of our differences is noteworthy.
In my practice, I see equal ratios of injuries in males and females. However, women pursuing CrossFit need to be aware of the strengths and weakness that relate to their unique physiology and anatomy as females, as their injury rates in certain movements or body parts, may be higher. (like ACL injuries in the knee). They also need to be aware of the potential impact of different physiologic phases they pass through: puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, etc. Estrogen-containing contraceptive use can even impact the musculoskeletal and vascular systems. Physiologic changes in hormone levels, elasticity and body fat ratios can influence connective tissues in ways that impact everything from regularity of menstrual cycles to ligament tension to urinary incontinence.
Some female CrossFitter’s or patients have asked me what accounts for the different abilities in men and women in workout performance?… beyond the obvious that men are generally stronger than women. Obviously, there are many women who are much stronger than any man you know. What sets them apart? Well, it’s multifactorial.
Generally speaking, women find strict (proper) pullups and strict pushups more difficult than men do – when age and weight adjusted. The New York Times Magazine had an article on the subject, “Why women can’t do pullups”
"More than half of female Marines in boot camp can't do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement, part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs."
Some took offense to it. Of course women can do pullups, and some men cannot, but that’s obvious. The point is, the average female upper body strength makes the movement more challenging than for age and weight-adjusted males.
Why are WOD’s scaled at 70% for women? (eg 65 lbs for women, 95 lbs for men or 14lb Wallballs for women vs 20 lbs for men)
The National Strength and Conditioning Association finds that women are about two thirds (66.6%) as strong as men, in general. Women tend to have a higher percentage body fat than males and since they are usually lighter in overall weight, tend to have a smaller cross sectional area of muscle mass. This leads to less strength. Most off us have legs which are stronger than our arms. But while women may have less upper body strength in general, 50-65% of male strength, they may have proportionately higher lower body strength, 65-75% of strength of male counterparts.
I've noticed on push-ups, many of us don't touch our chest to the deck, just lower ribs, and even when we do a chest to deck push up, we sometimes let our hips or thighs touch, ie ‘no rep’
The challenge women, tall people, or heavy people face with pushups, has to to do with the length of lever arms of the Pectoralis muscles (pec major and pec minor), and arm and torso length, and overall height, ie your length in plank position. The pectoralis minor may be underdeveloped. The pectoralis major has two ‘heads.’ The sternal head and the clavicular head. Women have more fatty mammary tissue, ie breasts, but less pec muscle tissue, in general. Women with submuscular breast implants may likely have altered muscle pull vectors which impact the ability of the pec muscle to exert it’s maximal effect. Speculation: this may be part of the reason why, along with diet, women loose breast contour as they develop pec muscle, and why some women with boob jobs may find doing pushups or muscle ups more challenging.
Doing proper progressions to develop the pec from multiple angles seems to be a good way to improve ones chance of doing proper push-ups, even if she's strong in many other ways.
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