If any women out there are struggling to keep up with their husbands, boyfriends or sons while doing the same exercise as them - you aren’t alone.
In fact, it’s an issue that has formed the basis of study for Dr Stacy Sims, an international exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist and well-known for her Ted Talk, Woman Are Not Small Men.
Sims has been looking into the differences between male and female physiques and exercise programmes for decades, after finding her and her female teammates were not keeping up with their male counterparts during rowing training as a college student.
Speaking to Francesca Rudkin and Louise Ayrey on the NZ Herald podcast The Little Things, Sims said that there are endemic issues in sports science and the exercise industry of shaping plans and programmes around the male physique.
“Everything we see in the research that it’s been done on the default, which is the cis male, usually 18- to 22-year-old college-age male, and then generalised to women.
“I think about the Bronco tests that we see with rugby players. How is that specifically appropriate for women when we know that there are different fatigable rates, there’s different neuromuscular firing patterns, different fuel utilisation, and so is it really an accurate depiction and accurate test for women to achieve their performance?”
Part of the issue has been a lack of consideration from male researchers to accommodate female biology - such as the menstrual cycle - into exercise plans, and that patriarchal standpoint has been passed on to women.
“We’ve been taught from such a young age that we should be delicate flowers on our period, and we shouldn’t talk about it,” Sims said.
“But from a physiological standpoint, when our estrogen progesterone dropped to their lowest levels, which is during the bleed phase and the week leading up to ovulation, this is when our body is really resilient to stress. Our immune system is fighting fit. We can access carbohydrates. Our core temperature is lower. We have more water available for sweating. We have better mojo, we have more motivation.
“So there’s all these changes that invoke powerful and empowerment within our bodies, but yet we’ve been told from the social and cultural construct that we should be hiding.”
One thing that all women need to pay attention to is what they eat - perhaps even more so than how they exercise. Sims said that there’s a lot of issues with women eating at the wrong times, skipping meals early or during the day, and then eating a lot of calories in the evening that can lead to more body fat.
“Let’s make sure that you’re having food in and around your activity and when your body needs it in the day. And the adage of working with your circadian rhythm, where you’re feeding your body when it needs it during the day, and then you’re tapering off as it’s preparing for sleep, has huge implications for improving sleep, architecture, body composition, metabolic health - and that’s without exercise.”
However, she said that women shouldn’t be concerned about calorie counting as it simply takes the fun out of eating, and doesn’t factor in the specific concerns of our individual bodies.
Listen to the full podcast for more tips from Dr Stacy Sims on the exercise women should be doing, from resistance training to working on mobility, what your menstrual cycle says about your fatigue levels, and general advice on the best way to tailor common exercises for your body and ability.