The Sex Factor: Gender in Triathlon

Gender differences matter when it comes to triathlon training, racing or even eating

Posted: 6 April 2011
by Daisy Rogers


1. Sink or swim

Men generally have less body fat than women, which reduces natural buoyancy and, potentially, speed in the water. To prevent your legs sinking and creating drag, experiment with body position.

“You should be aiming for a relatively flat body position in the water so your hips and legs are not creating excess drag and your head is not so low that you have to compensate by over-rotating [which can create new problems],” says Lane.

Try different positions and consider asking a friend to video your attempts so you can watch what happens to your stroke with different body lines. If possible, book a session or two with a coach, who can work with you to tweak different factors to optimise your body position.

2. Fuel up to go faster

Studies show that men who take in more fuel on an Ironman achieve better times, though this is not the case with women, who tend to oxidize less carbohydrate in endurance sports.

Also, women use up more lipids than men do, and so may rely more on them than on carbohydrates as a source of energy – lipids take longer to break down for energy use.

These gender differences are associated more with running than cycling. The relationship between energy intake and performance, particularly during the run, is worth testing in your training.

Lane’s advice is to adopt a little-by-little approach. “Do not change everything in one go because you won’t know what worked and what didn’t. Always try new strategies in training, then in your minor races, rather than for the first time in your A race. And if one gel or drink doesn’t work for you, try a different brand.”

3. Be flexible

Men tend to be less flexible than women. Flexibility is an often-neglected part of training but the more limber you are the better you'll perform on race day.

Consider swimming: supple shoulder and upper back muscles will enable you to reach further into the stroke and rotate more fully through the catch.

And then there's the bike: "Poor flexibility in the lower back can prevent an athlete from developing an aerobic position on the bike and thus gaining a fast bike split, or if hamstrings are not flexible enough pedalling efficiency can be compromised," says Lane. "In the run, poor flexibility can cause changes in stride length, frequency and cadence, contributing to pain."

Build some dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges, side skips and kick backs, into your warm-up. For a kick back, lean forward on a bench or low wall, arms straight. Lift one knee towards your chest and then drive your leg high behind you, keeping your knee bent. You should feel the stretch in your glutes and it will loosen your hips, too.

At the end of a session, spend five minutes doing static stretches, holding each position for 15 seconds.

4. No pressure  

There is some evidence to suggest that long hours in the saddle may cause sexual dysfunction. Awareness is the key to avoiding any problems.

Riding out of the saddle will help relieve the pressure on that sensitive area, especially the pudendal nerve, which carries signals to the sexual organs, anal area and urethra. (Pudenal nerve entrapment is often called 'cyclist's syndrome.)

It also pays to make sure your bike is the right fit for you, and take the time to choose the best saddle for your shape. Cycle with sufficient padding and take regular breaks during hard sessions, to allow your body to cool down and to keep the blood flowing. See your GP if you do feel repeated pain or tingling in the area.

5. Listen to your body

Men have a tendency to rush into an activity at full speed and to ignore signs of injury - boyish enthusiasm never really dies, and neither does a misplaced sense of invulnerability.

If you are bonking in training or, worse, in races, learn to pace your performance and analyse your nutrition so you can make the right changes.

And if a niggling injury is still bothering you 20 minutes into a session, call it a day. Walk home and gently stretch the affected area; seek professional help if the problem persists.

Lane advocates the use of a training diary. By recording signs of discomfort or pain you can create an accurate picture of what is happening to your body and adjust training accordingly.

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