Sunday, February 9, 2014
Physical differences between men and women regarding training
There are obvious physical differences between men and women but the first ones that come to mind are actually not the ones creating a difference in physical abilities. The fact that I do not punch as hard as a man is not because I have breasts and a uterus.
Since I am mostly interested in biomechanics and kinesioly, let’s look at things from a musculoskeletal point of view.
What is the biggest difference between men and women? When asked, a forensic expert can tell you what differentiate a female and male skeleton. And what is the biggest telltale? The hips and pelvic girdle.
. The female pelvis is adapted for gestation (pregnancy and birth): it is not as high and is proportionately wider than that of the male. The sacrum (see above photo) of the female is wider and the pelvic ring is wider and more circular to facilitate the passage of the newborn. It is also more flexible.
As the pelvic ring is wider in the female, the distance between the right and left hip is greater. Greater hip width in women influences the position of the femurs, which are often more angled than in men, giving them a slight X shape.
It is very important to take into account the individual morphologies and to remember that women are more often prone to genu valgum (knock knee, see photo below) pathologies, whereas men more frequently suffer from genu varum (bow-legs). People with very noticeable genu valgum should therefore work out carefully, avoid training with heavy weights, and always perform the movements so as to avoid impacts that would aggravate knee and ankle problems.
As children, females generally have more lumbar flexibility than males until the age of nine when males catch up. Range of motion equality generally ends between ages 18 and 35 as males develop more lumbar extension (bending backward) than females, and females more lateral flexion, or sideways movement of the spine.
During puberty, females undergo bone and muscle changes that often create laxity, or joint instability, that limit neuromuscular control in lower extremities. To compensate for this lack of control, female knee joints tend to rotate inward as weight is applied. This places strain on tendons and ligaments, and increases the risk of tear and injury. According to Dr. Michele Kettles (In the book "Women's Health and Fitness Guide,"), male knee joints do not rotate and rely solely on flexion and extension (see above photo). It also appears that female athletes move using greater hip internal rotation. Thus females exhibit a signiﬁcant diﬀerence in leg and hip body mechanics, when compared to male.
This is also apparent in the human gait. : Females walk with lesser step width and more pelvic movement. Which basically translates into the fact that females walk with hip sway, and males walk with swagger in shoulder. You can also notice the position of the shoulder and elbows during a typical gait. Check out the following links as they give an excellent visual.
This all means that women will be at greater risk for knee injuries while performing in sports or physical activities than their male counterparts, especially anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. It also explains why we throw differently, be it a ball or a punch.
Since all power comes from the core and the hips, this also explains why women in general will have a weaker striking mechanism then men. Imagine walking on a tight rope, now imagine trying to punch while you are walking on a tight rope. Difficult to generate a lot of power isn’t it? This is because you are working from an unstable base. Most women will have a tendency for inward knee rotation during physical activity. This creates a very instable base. This unstable base will rob their power. To throw a proper strike, it has to come from the hips then the core through the shoulder and at last through your fist or hand. If our body is not properly grounded, your leg will act as a shock absorber instead of a well grounded piston that will drive the power all the way to your hand.
Beside the skeletal differences there is also a difference in the muscular structure. The major differences between female and male skeletal muscles, includes differences in energy metabolism, fiber type composition, and speed of contraction. Male muscles have a higher capacity for anaerobic metabolism and are generally faster and have higher maximum power output than female muscles. Female muscles have been found to be more fatigue resistant and to recover faster than male muscles. Thus male equate to more power and female more so to endurance. The mechanisms behind these sex-related differences in skeletal muscle are not known, but it appears likely that they are a consequence of different sex hormonal status. Studies have show that consistent physical exercise will help change the ratio of the slow-twitch vs the fast twitch muscle fibers. So this too can be altered by proper conditioning.
Women that train on a regular basis can overcome some of the aforementioned differences by drilling the proper motion. Women that do not, will have more difficulty punching when the lead hand and the lead foot are opposite of each other. They will find they have more power if they strike when the lead hand is on the same side of the lead leg. They need to understand and properly use the “drop step” mechanic. They can also strike with their feet on an even keel using a “hip twitch” and whipping arm motion. Proper punching power is not generated by the muscles; it is generated by harnessing the body weight. Knowing how to do so, will make the difference between a good strike and one lacking power.
Of course this is not valid 100% of the time as nothing really is, there are always exceptions. I have many female friends whose hips are as narrow as their male counterpart, and some that have more testosterone than a lot of men, but the rule can be applied to the majority of women.
All of these explanations are not claims for women’s inability to defend themselves but more so to explain why they will need a different approach to their training so they can maximize their morphology and kinesiology. Men have been leading the training world for a long time. For centuries the role of protector has befallen on them. They assume they have the best training methods and approaches since it has served them so well in the past. After all if it has saved their lives, this is what is worth passing on to future generations. But in our modern days and age, women have faced the need to be able to protect themselves. Men should look at it through different eyes if they are planning on training women. They should in the least train them to the best of their physical, mental and emotional abilities.
Men put a lot of power through punching while stepping in with opposite lead foot. This permits them to use their core and be properly grounded. Look at baseball pitchers; they are a perfect example of a powerful throw. Throws and punches have the same basic mechanics. Most women will find that punching this way will lock their hips at the peak of the /punch, thus preventing them from using all their power. The hip lock comes mostly from foot positioning. Men are naturally able to turn their lead foot outward, which in turns open up their hip. As we have previously read in this article, this external rotation of the knee is a bit more challenging for women as it puts their knee joint and ligaments at greater risk of injury.
I have found it much easier to punch while stepping in with the same side leading foot. If you can do this while using proper weight drop and hip twitch, you now have something. Otherwise punching and stepping with opposite hand and foot motion is better achieved if one goes directly in a straight line, using proper weight drop and bone alignment, so the entire body will back up the strike. Remember that you cannot make someone stronger overnight but you can remove what makes them weaker so they can be the strongest they are physically capable of being.
Mas Oyama gives a great display of “hip twitch”
Even though women can pack a very powerful punch this way they still will not match the physical strength of men. They need to stack the deck in their favor. Standing toe to toe and duking it out with an enemy larger and stronger than them is just plain stupid.
First they have to start with a very important frame of mind. If women want to learn self defense, they are obviously not in it for tournaments or for the sport aspect of it. If they are, they need to re-evaluate what they want/need. When you seek self defense, you cannot be taught how to fight, you have to be taught how to hunt and kill. Before anyone goes crazy about this statement, know that what I mean here is to seek the best way to put yourself in a situation where you can re-negotiate on your terms why this person is trying to hurt, rape or kill you, instead of just reacting to an already happening attack by an enemy. Second, women have to learn how to properly strike, and just as importantly where to strike. They need to put an end to a conflict IMMEDIATELY. Be so by running away and leaving any possibility of getting hurt behind them, or by pre-emptively striking an enemy to add the element of surprise in their court. To be able to achieve the latter without any legal ramifications, they need to know the pre-attack indicators, they need to be able to read the circumstances they are either about to embark or are stuck in. Next they need to give themselves permission to use what they know with power and conviction. Every attack on their part should be done with bad intentions.
As we learned in a previous blog, most women’s first reaction will be thinking and talking, trying to reason a way out of the situation they find themselves trapped in. This line of thinking will make them produce a half ass strike, where there is no bad intention. This will do nothing but aggravate the situation. Since thinking and reasoning would not work on an attacking bear, it will NOT work on an attacking enemy or predator. They are not dealing with social violence but with an asocial predatorial attack. This is why recognizing danger is so important. Whatever their trigger is, it needs to flip the switch into instant action. We need to by-pass the OODA loop, by going from observation into action. This part of the training is much more important than anything else. This is why it needs to be done by someone who actually knows what those signs are, not someone who watches too many movies or someone who only understand social, monkey brain violence.
As always, be smart, stay safe.