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Women Athletes Run Behind Men

November 08, 1989|JEAN MARBELLA | THE BALTIMORE SUN

As remarkable as women's athletic gains have been in recent years--what with their records and achievements inching closer to those of their male counterparts--experts believe that there will always be a gap between the sexes in this area.

"Everything else being equal, say a woman had inherited the same genetic stuff and trained as much, there would still be a 5% to 10% difference in her performance," says Rudy Dressendorfer, professor of human performance and sport at New Mexico Highlands University.

The difference stems mainly from two factors: muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity. And those two factors underlie the speed, strength and endurance so many sports require.

Women are generally smaller than men. But even a woman who is the same size as a man most likely will have less muscle mass because she has a higher percentage of body fat.

"The quality of muscle is the same," says Robert Stauffer, director of physiological research at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (N.Y.). "If you look at a muscle fiber under a microscope, you can't say, this belongs to a woman, this belongs to a man. The difference has to do with muscle mass."

Less muscle mass means less strength, he says. This is true even among cadets, who rank in the top 2% for their age group as far as physical fitness, he says. The academy has found that female cadets have 30% to 35% less upper body strength than their male counterparts.

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