Physiological differences between genders. Implications for sports conditioning

Sports Med. 1986 Sep-Oct;3(5):357-69. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198603050-00005.


It is commonly accepted that there are physiological and morphological gender differences. These differences become evident in the specific responses or magnitude of response to various training regimens. Very little difference is seen in the response to different modes of progressive resistance strength training. Men and women experience similar relative strength gains when training under the same programme. The evidence on body composition changes that occur with strength training is equivocal at this point. Researchers, however, suggest that there appears to be less muscle hypertrophy with strength improvement in women when compared to men. The data suggest that there are no differences between genders in central or peripheral cardiovascular adaptations to aerobic training. However, women in general have a reduced O2 carrying capacity. Another factor that may be responsible for the sex differences seen in the metabolic responses to exercise may be the greater, essential sex specific fat of women. Sparling and Cureton (1983) have shown that differences in similarly trained male and female distance runners are due largely to percentage body fat, less to cardiorespiratory fitness and least to running economy. Pate et al. (1985) determined that men and women who are capable of similar performances, in this case a 15 mile race, do not differ in body composition, cardiorespiratory response or metabolic response. There appear to be no differences in relative increases in VO2max for men and women when they are trained under the same intensity, frequency and duration. Mode of training also appears to elicit no sex difference. Hormonal factors lead to greater initial levels of high density lipoproteins in women. This appears to cause a smaller change in the total cholesterol-high density lipoprotein ratio than occurs with aerobic training in men. Generally, the menstrual cycle phase makes no difference to performance in women. The special cases of exercise in hot and cold environments present conflicting evidence. When men and women are matched for surface area:mass, VO2max and percentage body fat, the major disadvantages women have in the heat disappear. The question of gender differences in the cold has yet to be fully explored. When the general population is compared, men appear to have an advantage over women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Body Composition
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactates / blood
  • Lactic Acid
  • Lipids / blood
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Endurance
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Physical Fitness
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sports*
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors


  • Lactates
  • Lipids
  • Lactic Acid