The Sex Factor: Gender in Triathlon (Preview)

In triathlon men and women race side by side. This wise policy engenders a sense of camaraderie that is one of the most appealing aspects of our sport.

But there are certain physical attributes and psychological traits specific to each sex that should not be ignored. We asked Andy Lane of Tri Coaching Wales ( for advice on how to tailor training to suit the male and female mind and body.


1. Embrace strength training

Women are often concerned that weight training will lead to bulky muscles. But if you keep the weight low and the reps high, or find the right circuits class, you'll build strong muscles without adding bulk.

"Strength training increases resistance to injury and enhances performance," says Lane. "Research shows that when carried out over 12 weeks, it can significantly improve performance above endurance training alone."

A strong body will significantly reduce the likelihood of injuries such as knee complaints and lower back pain. When recovering from injury you can maintain your resistance workouts with aqua jogging.

"It removes the high impact associated with running but recruits and trains similar muscles," says Lane.

2. Calculate your maximum heart rate accurately

Women's hearts are smaller than men's and they beat faster. The traditional, easy way of calculating maximum heart rate (MHR) is the formula '220 minus your age'.

For women this is closer to '226 minus your age', but it's still a simplistic formula so it may be worth your while using professional sports science testing to work out your specific training intensity zones. Alternatively, speak to the staff at your gym.


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.”

Subscribers can discover more triathlon races to try throughout 2011 in the full article. If you'd like to subscribe, you can enjoy a significant saving on the newsstand price by subscribing online now.