Difference in strength between men and women?

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    Difference in strength between men and women?

    The new article "Think yourself fit" reminded me of a question that I once asked myself when I read, that people who thought they had been given steroids performed a lot better than their control group. That question is: Has anyone ever researched if the observed difference in strength between men and women could be explained by their difference in height and the fact that everyone assumes that men have natural steroids and women are naturally weak?
    Does anyone happen to have information (preferably with a link to a study or scientific article) about this?

    (Sorry, I'm not sure wether this belongs into the help desk section or this one)

    I was at a fitness workshop where we did a bodyweight workout, at the end was a push-up circle. 2 mixed groups would get into push-up position with heads towards the middle, one person would do a push-up the tap hands with person on the right and keep going round. It was to see who would outlast, 3 remained, 2 women and 1 man.



      I think, it depends, what level of fitness you compare. A fit woman can totally be able to outrun or win a fight against an unfit man.

      But I heard - and believe since it makes sense to me - that comparing a man and woman at the same level of their fitness and in the same category of physical activity the man will always be stronger.
      Because e.g. men have testosterone that is basically a steroid for muscle growth.

      Therefore the experience that men are stronger does not come from nowhere. In general they are.

      Specialisation and technique can influence such tests therefore it might be harder to find a fair comparison, but looking at all the world records in sports, men are basically faster and stronger.
      And I don't think that in 2018 this is only based on the mind-set of the women athletes.

      Edit: you can see this also in some transgender athletes who compete in the gender-category they were not born into.
      I apologise, if my speech is wrong at this point, but the born males are basically better than their female competitors.


        I'm specifically interested in scientific studies, because I don't think that the testosterone argument alone will work (human growth hormone is very important in muscle growth (and recovery) as well and the average woman has more of that than the average man). And male-to-female transgender athletes in professional competitions should be on hormone therapy (that's what my research came up with, at least).

        If I were to research this, my ideal test-setup would be to take groups of men/women with the same hight and fitness-level. Then I'd tell the men that they have a rare gene that makes them physically weak and give the women a placebo and tell them it was a completely safe steroid that only works on women and enables them to become way stronger than the average man while making them look even more female. This would, basically, be the opposite of what we have today: Men who train are told/learn that they have natural steroids and will look manlier through training. Women who train are told/learn that they can never be as strong as a man who trains as much as them and there is the lingering stereotype that they will look unattractive if they train too much (this may lead to self-sabotage).
        Then, I'd have them train for a few weeks/months. Of cause there would need to be a control group of men/women (again same hight and fitness-level) who trained in the same way and didn't receive any placebos or "important information" about their genes.
        I'm relatively certain that the observed difference would not be as much in favor of men as the one we observe in reality. Any studies that even remotely go into this direction would interest me a lot.


          I will look for a study I read once that went over the density of muscle fibre in men and women, similar to chimps and humans and the density of muscle fibre, which is considered the major factor in why chimps ultimately pound for pound are like 5x stronger than us.


            Here are a few relevant studies folks might find interesting: (I apologize if some of these have paywalls - also apologize for the funky c&p - I'm not sure how to render these as plain text.)

            https://journals.humankinetics.com/d...jspp.2017-0196 Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018 Jan 1;11):2-8. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2017-0196. Epub 2018 Jan 2. Sex Differences in World-Record Performance: The Influence of Sport Discipline and Competition Duration.

            Sandbakk Ø, Solli GS, Holmberg HC.

            the difference in performance by the world’s best male and female athletes has remained relatively stable at around 8% to 12%. The exceptions are events involving relatively large contributions of upper-body power, where this difference is larger (>12%), and ultraendurance swimming, where, in contrast, the gap is now less than 5%. In the longest swimming events, women may even outperform men.

            Women’s muscle mass is generally 25% to 40% less than men’s, and men generally have relatively more muscle mass located in the upper body.

            The physiological advantages that men possess include a larger body size with a higher proportion of skeletal muscle, a lower percentage body fat, and greater capacities for delivering anaerobic and aerobic energy. The greater strength and anaerobic capacity in men normally disappears when normalized for fat-free body mass, whereas the higher hemoglobin concentrations lead to 5% to 10% greater maximal oxygen uptake in men with such normalization. The higher percentage of muscle mass in the upper bodies of men results in a particularly large sex difference in power production during upper-body exercise.

            While measures of exercise efficiency of men and women are usually similar, women metabolize fat more effectively and demonstrate better hydrodynamics, better ability to float on water, and enhanced tolerance for cold water. Moreover, women tend to pace themselves differently, choosing a more-constant speed throughout long races.

            https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF03262294 Sports Medicine September 2012, Volume 42, Issue 9, pp 769–790

            Unique Aspects of Competitive Weightlifting

            Performance, Training and Physiology Adam Storey, Heather K. Smith
            weightlifting training has been shown to reduce the typical sex-related difference in the expression of neuromuscular strength and power. However, this apparent sex-related difference appears to be augmented with increasing adult age demonstrating that women undergo a greater age-related decline in muscle shortening velocity and peak power when compared with men

            https://www.minervamedica.it/en/jour...0Y2017N06A0859 The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2017 June;57(6)59-64

            DOI: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06290-3

            Copyright © 2016 EDIZIONI MINERVA MEDICA

            language: English Is muscular strength balance influenced by menstrual cycle in female soccer players?

            Marília, dos SANTOS ANDRADE 1, Naryana C. MASCARIN 1, Roberta FOSTER 2, Zsuzsanna I., de JÁRMY di BELLA 2, Rodrigo L. VANCINI 3, Claudio A., BARBOSA de LIRA 4

            Thirty-eight soccer athletes (26 women and 12 men) took part in this study. Athletes participated in two identical isokinetic strength evaluations for both knee (non-dominant [ND] and dominant [D]).

            Women had significantly lower hamstring-to-quadriceps peak torque strength balance ratio during the follicular compared to luteal phase, for the ND limb (P=0.011). However, no differences, between luteal and follicular phases, were observed in the D limb. In men, no difference in strength balance ratios was found between the ND and D limbs.

            https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/...1111/cen.13350 Sex differences in athletic performance emerge coinciding with the onset of male puberty

            David J Handelsman
            First published: 11 April 2017

            The similar timing of the gender divergence in each of these settings to that of the rise in circulating testosterone to adult male levels strongly suggests that they all reflect the increase in muscular size and strength although the impact of other androgen‐dependent effects on bone, haemoglobin and psychology may also contribute.

            It is concluded that the gender divergence in athletic performance begins at the age of 12‐13 years and reaches adult plateau in the late teenage years. Although the magnitude of the divergence varies between athletic skills, the timing and tempo are closely parallel with each other and with the rise in circulating testosterone in boys during puberty to reach adult male levels.
            Circulating Testosterone as the Hormonal Basis of Sex Differences in Athletic Performance

            David J Handelsman Angelica L Hirschberg Stephane Bermon
            Endocrine Reviews, Volume 39, Issue 5, 1 October 2018, Pages 803–829, https://doi-org.proxy.library.cornel.../er.2018-00020

            The strongest justification for sex classification in elite sports is that after puberty men produce 20 times more testosterone than women, resulting in circulating testosterone concentrations 15-fold higher than in children or women of any age. Age-grade competitive sporting records show no sex differences prior to puberty, whereas from the age of male puberty onward there is a strong and ongoing male advantage. The striking male postpubertal increase in circulating testosterone provides a major, ongoing, cumulative, and durable physical advantage in sporting contests by creating larger and stronger bones, greater muscle mass and strength, and higher circulating hemoglobin as well as possible psychological (behavioral) differences. In concert, these render women, on average, unable to compete effectively against men in power-based or endurance-based sports


              Thanks a lot compostablespork. Gathering all that together must have take quite some effort!
              The citations alone made for interesting information and I'm looking forward to some in depth reading these next few days. I hesitate to ask, but …you wouldn't happen to have any information on why it's specifically upper body strength where men outperform women?


                Scrolling through scientific journals is fun! (Also I'm off work and it's an interesting question to me.)

                I can see if I can dig up anything specific. Are you looking for why it is that cis-male bodies build more muscle in their upper bodies than cis-female bodies do? I just want to make sure I'm following the question - meaning is the cause known and if so is it hormonal or otherwise genetic? Or are you looking for data to back up the idea of this inequal muscle distribution?


                  You're great!

                  Originally posted by compostablespork View Post
                  Are you looking for why it is that cis-male bodies build more muscle in their upper bodies than cis-female bodies do? I just want to make sure I'm following the question - meaning is the cause known and if so is it hormonal or otherwise genetic?
                  Exactly that. It seems so strange to me that it's only half the body with such a big difference. (If it was a hormonal reason, why wouldn't it affect the whole body? With an otherwise genetic cause it's something similar: If there is potential for more strength, why isn't it "applied" to the whole body?)
                  (In that spirit, data to back up the unequal muscle distribution might be interesting too. If compared to the lower body muscles, do men have more muscles in the upper body or women less?) But basically I'm looking for the answer to what I quoted you on.


                    Let's see! OK - I think the take-home message I'm getting here is that multiple studies indicate that the muscle distribution patterns between cis-males and cis-females does check out.

                    Currently, people are trying to figure out the exact molecular pathways for this, but indications point towards the muscle tissue itself having different signaling pathways in the upper and lower bodies generally. Meaning - what signals do the cells actually bind and what do those signals "tell" the DNA to up or down regulate? (Also under investigation, why do different people have different fat distribution patterns? Same idea - what receptors in what tissue bind what factors that regulate what proteins...) Each cell is different, right? They all have the same DNA but express very different proteins. How do they know how to be who they are? These are the kinds of questions lots of researchers are looking at.
                    Muscle distribution: Variations with body weight, gender, and age

                    DympnaGallagher Steven B.Heymsfield
                    https://www-sciencedirect-com.proxy.library.cornell.edu/science/article/pii/S0969804397000961 Applied Radiation and Isotopes

                    Volume 49, Issues 5–6, May–June 1998, Pages 733-734
                    As shown in Table 3, we found that: (1) as body weight increases there is a greater relative increase in upper extremity muscle (Fig. l(a)); (2) muscle distribution (Upper/Lower) differs between men and women, with women having less upper extremity muscle mass; (3) muscle distribution changes with increasing age such that upper extremity muscle decreases to a relatively greater extent than lower extremity muscle.

                    The present results indicate that skeletal muscle is not a homogenous component, but has at least three independent factors (weight, age, and gender) influencing distribution. (

                    Comparison of upper body strength gains between men and women after 10 weeks of resistance training
                    Paulo Gentil, James Steele, Maria C. Pereira, Rafael P.M. Castanheira, Antonio Paoli and Martim Bottaro
                    PeerJ. 4 (Feb. 11, 2016): pe1627.
                    DOI: http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.7717/peerj.1627

                    Upper body muscles may have more androgen receptors than lower body muscles (Kadi et al., 2000). Thus, it is possible that this hormonal difference might permit greater development of upper limb muscles in men compared to women with RT.

                    Janssen et al. (2000) investigated body composition in 268 men and 200 women using magnetic resonance imaging and found upper body muscle mass proportion was greater in men than women (42.9 vs. 39.7%). Similar results were found in resistance-trained subjects by Alway et al. (1989), who compared male and female bodybuilders. They reported that, despite performing the same training volume and performed similar training programs, the muscle cross-sectional area of the biceps brachii was higher in males than in females. Moreover, Kvorning et al. (2006) found that the effects of testosterone on strength gains could be even more pronounced than muscle mass gains. Therefore, it could be hypothesized that sex might influence the strength response more so than the increase in muscle mass in response to RT.


                    Volume 98, June 2015, Pages 63-71 Upper-body resistance exercise augments vastus lateralis androgen receptor–DNA binding and canonical Wnt/β-catenin signaling compared to lower-body resistance exercise in resistance-trained men without an acute increase in serum testosterone

                    MikeSpillaneaNeilSchwarzaDarryn S.Willoughbyb

                    androgens can then bind to a specific nuclear hormone androgen receptor(AR). Once bound, the AR can then translocate into the nucleus, binding to the androgen response element (ARE) on DNA, and result in an up-regulation in the expression of various downstream muscle-specific genes.

                    The ability of androgen ligands to bind the AR, and the subsequent DNA binding with the ARE, is a critical factor controlling the rate of muscle protein synthesis.


                      compostablespork Thank you again. You've given me even more material to read. (And to puzzle about why training the upper body would result in an augmentation of lower body DNA )


                        There also might be some considerations to be had towards evolution of men and women. Men were the hunters and needed to upper body strength versus women being more gatherer needing more lower body endurance. Through the ages this lead to men having more upper body power than women but you can see women catch up as the sport turns more towards an endurance base such as running or swimming.

                        You also need to throw out the height factor as strength is more based on mass than height and look at strength ratios (this can also be applied to men v women comparisons). When I weighed 230lbs I could deadlift 305lbs (ratio of 1.33x my bodyweight) but now I'm 170 deadlifting 255lbs (ratio of 1.5) so even though I'm lifting less I could easily say I'm stronger.

                        There is also another ratio called the Wilks score that is used to compare people of different genders and weights that you might like looking into.

                        (sorry no published papers but I tend to listen to podcasts which do have published links but I forget which cast the information came from)