Another gender stereotype bites the dust. It has pretty much always been assumed that women are not as strong as men. A recent study calls that into question.
Each type of human muscle fiber, or myofiber, has a different kind of myosin heavy chain (MHC) protein, the so-called ‘motor’ that powers muscles. These MHC proteins include MHC I (slow twitch), MHC IIa (fast twitch) and MHC IIx (super-fast twitch). Fast twitch fibers are important for quick and powerful movements, such as “clean and jerk” lifts in weightlifting.
“Despite no high-level data, people thought that women had fewer fast twitch fibers and that was seen as a negative thing,” James Bagley, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. The results of the study suggest that it is an athletie's caliber — Olympic/world level versus national level — and the number of years spent competing that determine the percentage of each myofiber type, not gender. These findings dispel a long-held myth that female athletes had fewer fast twitch fibers than male athletes.
The number of years spent competing are what determine the percentage of each myofiber type, not gender.
One reason for the misconception, Galpin, an associate professor and codirector of the Center for Sport Performance at California State University, suggests, has to do with the fact that women in general are underrepresented in research on exercise science and strength, and female athletes are also underrepresented.
The team plans to do additional analyses on the data they collected. “We want to look at more factors in the muscle cell that explain why they contract the way they contract and how they produce power,” he said. The researchers also hope to use what they have learned to help female athletes in strength and power sports train better.
Women had as many, if not more, fast twitch muscle fibers as men.
Fast twitch muscle fibers play an important role in muscle health, said Galpin. Sarcopenia, a condition characterized by the loss of skeletal muscle mass and function, is due in large part to the loss of fast twitch muscle fibers. Now that the Cal State team knows strength and power athletes excel at training fast twitch fibers and more about how to target those fibers, the findings could have implications for those who want to age well.
The study was published in PLOS One.