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Physical Differences Between Female and Male Athletes

Most of us have a general understanding of the physical differences between males and females: Females tend to be a little smaller with less muscle mass and have wider pelvises and breasts. These physical differences arise due to differences in hormones. Males gain their physical traits due to higher levels of testosterone, whereas female traits develop due to estrogen and progesterone. In males, testosterone levels remain fairly constant over time, whereas estrogen and progesterone levels in women fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. 


Hormones: These hormonal differences and the existence of the menstrual cycle are one of the biggest distinctions between female and male athletes. While there are no clear impacts of the menstrual cycle on athletic performance on a population level, there can certainly be individual influences of the menstrual cycle on athletics. For example, some female athletes may perform better or worse at different times of the month depending on where they are in their cycle. Some girls and women may not be able to participate in sports at all while menstruating due to conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, or adenomyosis. 


Breasts and sports bras: Breasts are also an important factor in athletics. While breasts are a natural part of the female anatomy, they can affect everything from biomechanics to comfort levels during physical activity. Breast bounce can sometimes lead to embarrassment and even lead some girls to drop out of sports during puberty. It can also increase injury risk if sports bras with proper support aren’t used. Speaking of sports bras, finding one with a proper fit is even important for your breathing when doing sports - a too tight sports bra can restrict your breathing.


Injury risk: There are other anatomical and physiological factors that influence injury risk in women as well. Female anatomy makes us more at risk for ACL injuries compared to our male counterparts. Hormonal fluctuations also make us slightly more susceptible to ligament injuries at different times in our cycle. 


Pregnancy and postpartum: We would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the one of the most obvious differences between female and male athletes: women can bear children. Not every woman will bear a child, of course, but for those who do, pregnancy and the postpartum period become very important considerations in athletics - not to mention the social pressures that come along with the title of “Mom.” This could be a blog all on its own! 



Psychosocial Differences Between Female and Male Athletes 


The difference between female and male athletes goes beyond just the physical. Women in sports experience unique stressors related to societal expectations, body image concerns, and gender stereotypes. And lurking underneath it all is the knowledge that, not all that long ago, women were barred from most athletic activities. 


Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, was not passed until 1972. This was the same year women were first allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon. To this day, despite the remarkable achievements and contributions of female athletes to their respective sports, they often receive significantly lower salaries, sponsorships, and endorsement deals compared to their male counterparts. This disparity reinforces harmful stereotypes about the value of women's sports.


Women have faced numerous barriers in the world of sports, often being underestimated or sidelined. However, the tide is turning, thanks to female athletes who continue to shatter glass ceilings and redefine what it means to compete at the highest level. From Serena Williams dominating the tennis court to Simone Biles defying the limits of gymnastics, the girls and women of sport epitomize resilience and determination, inspiring us to believe in the power of perseverance. 


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