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Strength Training for Female Athletes

Special consideration is also required with regard to female athletes, concerning the more pronounced pelvic width and inward femur angle, or "Q-angle," in females, and its contribution to knee injuries.

First, let's identify the differences between males and females when considering muscle groups. There are 4 main muscular differences which directly affect training and sport.



          Females demonstrate a lower Hamstring to Quadricep ratio. This means females typically have weaker hamstrings compared to males.


          Females demonstrate different muscle activation patterns compared to males. Females are typically Quadricep dominant athletes. This means females use their strong Quadriceps muscles and do not use their weak hamstrings. How does this affect Anterior Cruciate Knee injuries? The hamstring muscle group act to protect the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and the Quadricep muscle group places STRESS on the Anterior Cruciate Ligament. Therefore, Quadricep dominant muscle work demonstrated by females places excessive stress on the ACL.


          Females demonstrate strength weakness comparing one leg to the other. Studies show that 20-30% of female athletes have one leg significantly weaker than the other leg. If a female has a muscle weakness of 15% or greater from one leg to the other, they are 2.6 times more likely to suffer a leg injury.


          Females demonstrate a slower speed of muscle contraction. The typical female takes 0.3 of a second longer to generate MAXIMUM contraction of the hamstrings. This may seem insignificant, however realize that a sprinter spends less than a 0.1 of a second balancing on one foot before pushing off and landing on the other foot. If the hamstrings do not contract fast enough the Anterior Cruciate Ligament may be in jeopardy.



Using these 4 differences we would have to place the emphasis on functional strength training with special consideration in mimicking the sport, or activity movement patterns. In the case of a Track athlete exercises including  Squats, Lunges, Dead-Lifts,Hamstring Curls,Single Leg Squats, Single Leg Extensions and Core Stability should be the basis of any conditioning programme.

Weight training is important to the female athlete. Women need to balance upper and lower body work to achieve a balanced overall body strength. Weight lifting programs that are done 2 or 3 times a week increase bone density, decrease fat, and improve muscle definition. They can improve sports performance, as well.

Because of the much lower levels of testosterone in their bodies and the smaller muscle mass, the problem the female athlete has, is on cessation of strength training she will lose her strength very rapidly in comparison to a male athlete. When I attended a BMC weekend 1994 with Dr. Norman Poole stated that he had kept weight training going with his female athletes while in the Olympic Camp in Barcelona.

This highlights the fact that a female athlete is better to continue with a strength maintenance programme right through the competition season. 




Graham Smith B.A.F. Senior Coach

Level 4 Performance Coach

Level 4 Strength & Conditioning Coach


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