Ride Your Life training tips
Each bike tour includes climbs, sometimes even long ones; to fully enjoy the experience of cycling and not get worn out at the end of the day, strength training is essential for both men and women.
Women often want to know how they should train as opposed to men. Indeed, there are certain common traits between the sexes, but there are also different characteristics and needs.
In this article, by our coach Daniele Bazzana - Athletic and Biomechanical Trainer - written with the collaboration of Matteo Scainelli - a specialist in Sports Science and Performance Coach - we will specifically discuss the differences between men and women in strength training. This is an increasingly popular topic for athletic training for cycling. Some time ago, training procedures included weights and barbells for widespread use exclusively by men; today, there is an increasing use of strength training protocol among women.
MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN IN STRENGTH TRAINING
One of the first distinctions concerns muscle fibers.
Man is known to succeed in force majeure levels mainly for genetic reasons. Men have about 45% muscle mass compared to the 36% usually present in women, which means an average of 23 kg of muscle for women and 35 kg for men in absolute values.
A further aspect is linked to the difference of the greater muscle fibers in men, particularly regarding the fast fibers' amplitude (Type II). This factor affects performance as if two fibers contract at the same speed, the one with greater volume will express higher levels of force.
Research has also shown that men have better muscle contraction efficiency than women, generating a better timing of the same force expression in the unit of time (RFD - Rate of Force Development) (Hannah et al. 2012).
Women, on the other hand, due to muscular genetics, have a greater predisposition towards aerobic training, which means that they can sustain more work for a longer time, resisting fatigue better and recovering faster.
WOMAN IS ABLE TO RESIST FATIGUE BETTER AND RECOVER FASTER.
Therefore, from a genetic point of view, we can say that men and women have a similar composition regarding the type of muscle fiber. The former, however, have a greater predisposition towards anaerobic metabolism better related to strength and power, while the latter have a better propensity to aerobic metabolism.
This does not mean that women must dedicate themselves only to this activity. All the more so, they must include strength training sessions in their schedule, either to reach competitive goals or simply for personal well-being.
There are also some interesting aspects worth analyzing on a structural level.
The length of the torso for women represents about 38% of the entire body, while it represents 36% for men. Women have more narrow shoulders; on average, the shoulders' width is only 3 cm higher than that of the pelvis, while it is about 15 cm in men. The pubic symphysis is lower and the small pelvis wider than in men, with a larger pelvic diameter.
Furthermore, in athletic training, it is essential to know what in the jargon is called "Q angle." This angle can be seen visually between the patella and the SIAS (anterior superior iliac spine). Women have a greater angle, and this functional aspect leads to a greater tendency of the knee to translate medially (dynamic valgus) during hip flexion.
Introducing training for strength in cycling, especially by resorting to eccentric exercises, can be a winning choice to better balance the relationship between agonist and antagonist muscles,
ensuring better functionality and stability of the knee itself and preventing the onset of any injuries.
The hormonal aspect is undoubtedly crucial when we speak of differences between men and women training.
The first consideration is about the main anabolic hormones. Men have much higher testosterone levels, responsible for more remarkable protein synthesis. Thanks to testosterone, men are led to have significant muscle mass and express higher strength levels than women.
Concerning body weight, the strength in the lower part of the female body is similar to that of men, while there is a more significant difference in the upper part.
In women, on the other hand, there are higher estrogen levels, which are more effective in recovering quickly after intense exercises and in regenerating muscle fibers.
Factors related to the menstrual cycle
The period is undoubtedly an interesting aspect to consider.
Even if the scientific literature does not yet provide a completely unambiguous answer, adapting the type of exercises according to the cycle's different phases can improve training planning and optimize their effectiveness.
In the follicular phase, the significant presence of anabolic hormones has positive effects on strength, the ability to metabolize carbohydrates, and pain tolerance. Training in this period can be centered on strength sessions with medium-high loads (from 70% to 90% of the maximum), performing from 3 to 6 series with large recoveries, and using exercises involving large muscle masses.
On the other hand, the secretion of estrogen and testosterone is at maximum levels; therefore, the hormonal profile is the most suitable for full testing strength (or endurance).
During the luteal phase, progesterone increases at the expense of estrogen, the body temperature is higher than usual, and there is more significant fatigue during physical activity. In addition to this, water retention due to PMS can probably also occur, making high-intensity activities even more impactful. Training planning in this period shifts to cardiovascular exercise with medium-low commitment and low loads in the weight room.
Finally, with the more intense flow during the menstrual phase, discharge days can be programmed to allow optimal recovery and a trauma-free transition to the new ovulatory phase.
SO, HOW TO TRAIN STRENGTH IN WOMEN?
Some might be disappointed, but since the physiological muscular characteristics in the sexes are the same, there is no concrete reason that justifies the diversity of anti-resistance programs for women and men for biking training.
Women should train strength as men do.
Indeed, we must consider the biomechanical and hormonal differences mentioned above. Still, in summary, the drafting of a strength training program must not be upset when interfacing with women.
Also, for women, it is therefore essential to respect some principles at the base of a self-respecting training plan.
Define the starting point
Before starting, it is essential - as per each athlete - to understand what the athlete's starting point is.
What does it mean? Understanding if an athlete already has previous experience with the world of weights or if she/he is a neophyte, but not only!
It is essential to evaluate any motor deficits and restrictions in terms of mobility and to collect information on lifestyle (work, nutrition, sleep, etc.).
A strength phase following a linear progression can be a simple and effective solution. On the other hand, if an athlete has some experience behind her/him, she/he can undoubtedly evaluate different ways (Blocks, Wavy, etc.) (this applies to both women and men).
Cool Down: cool down on an exercise bike or spin bike, static stretching, myofascial treatment.
Men and women are different in countless ways, including physical and physiological aspects.
Genetically, women have more excellent resistance to fatigue and better recovery.
On the other hand, men have more significant and efficient muscle mass and more steroid hormones that favor them in anaerobic stimuli.
However, even taking into account these differences, there must be no upheavals in preparing a program on strength training in women.
Furthermore, cyclists must follow the general basic principles for a correct training setting, which are also valid for men. The main difference will lie in the modulation of loads and work volumes.
Periodizing the type of training stimuli based on the menstrual cycle phases can be a valid option for optimizing and improving the effectiveness of a strength training program aimed specifically at women.
"Periodization of sports training" - T. Bompa, C. Buzzichelli, (Calzetti and Mariucci) 2017
"Manual of physical conditioning and strength training" - G. Gregory Haff, N. Travis Triplett, (Calzetti and Mariucci) 2020
"Explosive neuromuscular performance of males versus females" - Hannah et al., 2012
Daniele Bazzana - BC Training
Athletic and Biomechanical Trainer
with the collaboration of Matteo Scainelli
PhD in Sports Science and Performance Coach