#3 Women Runners
I am ABSOLUTELY convinced that Women’s Training should be different than Men’s Training.
In my close observations of the coaches of with both the Shenendehowa Girls High School Team (Nike National Cross Country Qualifiers) coached by Rob Cloutier and College of St. Benedict Women’s Cross Country Team (Two National Cross Country Division 3 Qualifiers) coached by Robin Balder-Lanoue, I witnessed the unique differences in training a female versus male body. Not only were these successful coaches training their female athletes’ bodies differently but also their minds.
I took my observations and compared them to the coaching training I have received over the years through the governing body of the running sport in America, USA Track and Field, in their coaching certification classes, Level One and Two, and the countless coaching, running, and training books, articles and seminars. Perhaps 95 % of training literature is based off of training the male body, leaving female training unknown or forgotten within literature. When observing coaches of female teams, a stark contrast appeared between the approach of training the general athlete and female athlete. Both of the coaches that I listed above developed successful methods of training females, less from the available training literature and more through their experiences as coaches. There are nuances to training the female body that once known can unlock success.
I do agree that there are the basic similarities in energy systems and adaptations between the male and female body. However, the difference in hormone level changes and body composition of a female make training different than a male’s training.
In my research I have found one book in which these differences are extensively discussed. Roar by Stacy T. Sims, PhD presents research on the different aspects of a women’s body and her training. “The menstrual cycle not only has a profound effect on your fertility and moods (and chocolate cravings), it also can significantly affect your training and performance. Yet, very few coaches and trainers take it into consideration with their athletes - even those in the most elite competitive spheres.” Obviously there are hormonal level differences in females versus males. Estrogen and testosterone levels impact the bones, muscles, blood cells, body size and amount of fat tissue. Sims continues on throughout her book to outline the effects of female’s different levels of progesterone and estrogen within strength and recovery. She discusses the differences of fat and carbohydrates as a fuel sources for female versus male athletes. Included on her list of differences between the different body types is the origination of strength. “As a woman, you generate the lion’s share of your strength and stability from your hips. And though women do have powerful legs, we tend to have relatively poor core strength by comparison.”
My LIST on HOW to Train
Use cross-training. Women are prone to overtraining and creating a balance of training and recovery can lead to consistent improvement. This is especially useful for young females or those within their first five years of running.
EAT- Don’t use running as a weight loss tool. Consume the same amount of energy you use.
Aim for a toned body not a lower number on the weight scale.
Females can be very competitive. Don’t underestimate a female on a mission.
Get your long runs in, as females have a greater proportion of type I (slow twitch) endurance muscle fibers and development of those fibers can increase your fitness.
Drop the fasting protocol, it can make you fatter by elevating your cortisol levels and promoting fat storage.
Plan your strength training challenges during the first two weeks of your cycle (cycle starts the first day of bleeding) when your hormones levels are lower. You can get more bang for your buck when performing strengthening exercises during this time of your cycle.
Strength train your glutes and core for better stability and balance. (core = everything but your limbs) Think about the exact muscle you are using while you are performing the strengthening exercise.
Stress Fractures can be linked to low calorie intake and indicate an imbalance in the hormone levels.
During the PMS part of the cycle it can be harder to perform high intensities and recover from hard workouts. Plan accordingly.
Menopause age and beyond training should include high-intensity power training, helping to prevent muscle loss and weakness.
Muscle loss is more of a concern than muscle bulk. Use high weights with low numbers of repetitions after knowledgable instructions on correct movements.
See Sims’s book for how to use protein intake to get more out of your training.
30 minute rule: Eat 25-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run for increased muscle adaptation and repair.
Reduce GI stress by avoiding maltodextrin and fructose during exercise. Drop the coffee habit before exercise.
Be serious about your cooling strategies while training and racing, since you start sweating later and less than men.
Prepare to hydrate more when flying during the latter part of your cycle.
Cool-downs are more important for women. Compression socks and arm sleeves can help to encourage blood flow and muscle repair.
Be relational. It will improve your training and racing. Make connections with your family and friends. Listen and share your thoughts with others.
I recommend women and coaches of female athletes read Sims book, Roar, and expand their knowledge of the female body and mind. Another helpful article from the USA Track and Field coach’s newsletter details training with female hormone levels in mind.
If you are worried about race day remember:
The great news for females is that “You can stop worrying about having your period on race day. Everyone worries about having their period for a big event, but in reality, your hormones are favorable for performance once your period starts.” (Sims, p 19)
Embrace the greatness of a female body. Women are STRONG.
This 30 day series is a quest for me as a writer, coach, and runner. I promise to write about running for 30 days in a row. In doing so I intend to gain in knowledge and expression of running and daily life. My hope is that we all grow together.