Listen up, ladies! Want to live faster, stronger, longer? Time to join the distance women runners who cross more finish lines than men in 26-mile US marathons. Here’s some info to get you started.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
Women are more flexible than men. Our hips are wider, our tendons stretch for childbirth, and we have less muscle mass. This allows our bodies to move more freely, providing better protection against injuries. The down side of flexibility is that your looser connective tissues return less energy with each stride, which can cause you to run slower.
Most runners are heel strikers (they land on their heels). The down-side of landing on your heels is an increased risk of injuries. However, when scientists studied 249 experienced female runners (all of whom were heel strikers) they found that 21 of those women managed to land softly, and did not become injured. Three ways of getting a softer landing are: 1) Increasing the number of steps you take per minute; 2) Trying to land mid-foot, rather than on your heels; and/or 3) Imagining that you are running over egg shells.
Although men, over all, are stronger and faster, women have more body fat reserves and seem to be physiologically better suited for an endurance race like a marathon. (For shorter races, however, a woman’s extra body fat can slow her down, making her have to work harder to run at a given pace.) A 2015 study of 14 marathons showed that men slowed down at the midpoint of long races much more than women did.
A man’s heart is bigger than a woman’s, and a bigger heart pumps more oxygenated blood around the body. This, in part, accounts for why men can run longer at top speeds. With proper training, a woman’s heart will enlarge as much as a man’s does. If the man and woman train the same amount, however, the man’s heart will still end up bigger, because it starts bigger.
Women tend to have less strength in their hips, core and hamstrings. These things can affect the way in which a woman runs, making her less stable during her early, high school years. In general, however, most women tend to get stronger and more stable as they age, and have fewer injuries than men. This may be because, in addition to greater flexibility, women also take shorter strides.
Pregnancy and motherhood tend to improve competitive running for women, both physically and psychologically. Although the physical changes are not permanent, the psychological ones often are—especially in the area of mental toughness.
STRENGTH TRAINING IS ESSENTIAL
Strength training is important for any physical program you decide to take seriously. A valuable source of exercises directed at strengthening runners' specific areas of weakness and instability can be found at the VCU Run Lab.