Overspeed Training
The Influence of Weightlifting on the Woman's Body

by Prof. Angel Spassov, Ph.D., D.Sc.


Recently, more and more women have become interested in the sport of weightlifting. A considerable number of women in many countries have been working out and participating in contests. This article is to provide further information regarding the influence of weight training on women.


There are few coaches of woman athletes who do think of the essential difference between the female and male body's endurance to weight training. In most cases, only decreasing the weight loading for women compared with men differentiates the approach. Here arises the question if this condition only is enough to provide for the conditions of qualified and highly effective strength training of women athletes.


Nowadays, most of the sportswomen apply various forms of weight training in different periods of their annual training cycle, and some of them even throughout the year. Nevertheless, the capabilities of the women's nervous and muscular systems and their aptitude to weight training have not yet been studied completely. We will, therefore, try to survey what the specialists have established until now, using also the results of our work with women competitors in swimming, rowing, track and field and volleyball.


As a result of one study comprising 272 women and 253 men, Tittel established that the maximum strength of women is by 40% less than that of men. Hettinger discovered that 19 to 45 year old women possessed a lower training ability than men of the same age. He found out that women's muscular strength grew considerably slower than men's. In a word, placed and compared under the same conditions, women have smaller capabilities of displaying strength than men. We will clarify the most important reasons for these differences that are of significance to women's weight training.


According to V. Korinevsky, R. Motiljanskaja, and T. Hettinger it is obvious that men have a better ratio of the active muscle mass to the adipose tissue (fat) than women, whose body fat percentage is higher. Women are of smaller height and have a relatively longer trunk. The difference of height in standing and seated position is 12-15 cm for women and 9.5-10.7 cm for men, and because of this the center of gravity in the woman's body is found lower than in men. Woman's pectoral girdle is less developed on account of the pelvis, the latter being of a particular structure.


These proportions in the woman's body structure provide for the greater stability of the legs, but limit the speed of walking and running and the height of jump. As was noted above there are differences concerning the mass of the developed muscles - muscles provide for not more than 35% of a woman's bodyweight and 42% of a man's. Even if we assume to compare a man and a woman carrying the same muscle mass, the strength of the woman will be less because of the bigger fat layer. The general dynamometrics gives the following indices - 53% of a woman's bodyweight and 72% of a man's; deadlift power - 135 (woman) and 187.6 (man); average strength of the two arms - 50.5 (woman) and 83.1 kg. man). Due to the lower tissue consistency and the height differences women's average bodyweight is less than men's (67 kg). In order to ignore the height and demonstrate the lower consistency of women's tissues we will note that each centimeter of women's height weighs 366 grams, while men's - 385 grams.


When untrained women and men are concerned the difference between men's and women's muscle strength amounts to 20%. Should the woman and man perform the same weight-training regimen for a week the man will achieve growth of 5.8 percent, while the woman - only 3.9 percent. Should weight training be applied for a prolonged period of time, women's strength will constitute 45-47% of men's strength.


The results achieved by women last for a shorter time than those achieved by men. Woman's training condition is lost more quickly. For that reason she has to train systematically and regularly. Since women's growth stops earlier and hence their trunk remains relatively longer, weight training causes greater strain on the spinal column, wherein exists the danger of intervertebral disc injury. The structure of the pelvis is inconvenient for the execution of some exercises, as it is broadened in its lower part, its outlet being closed by a muscle barrier, formed by muscles of the pelvic bottom. With the strain on the higher-located muscles the internal abdominal pressure is increased, whereas the lowest muscles are most loaded. For that reason it is better to look for such exercises to develop the different muscles that would provide women, beginners in particular, with the possibility to train in a lying position.


Today, complete interruption of workouts during the menstruation period is not recommended. It is normal to reduce the loading, however, exercises are to be continued, provided the menstruation takes its normal course and no gynecological changes occur. Certain physical exercises even ease the indisposition usually felt by women in this period. Weight training normally increases the blood flow in the abdominal and pelvis areas and could cause prolonged bleeding and injury to the whole cycle. That is why light training is recommended: arms to be trained by lighter weights at a lying position.


An important feature of the characteristics of the woman's body is that the absolute and the relative share of the adipose tissue is bigger than that of a man's - 28% against 18% accordingly. The fat is found predominantly in the areas of breasts, pelvis, and thighs and is a reserve required in the great energy consumption periods of pregnancy, giving birth, suckling and menstruation.


In contemporary training great loadings, to speed and power in particular, put requirements not only on the supporting and motor systems, but on cardiovascular and respiratory systems as well, in which some anatomic and morphological differences are noticed too. For example, the diaphragm of a woman is normally placed higher and therefore we have the relatively transversal location of the heart. The weight of a woman's heart is 10-15% less than that of man of the same bodyweight and height (U. N. Novoronnikov, S. P. Letunov). The same applies to its volume (U. N. Arhunski). The smaller size of the woman's heart stands for the smaller number of heartbeats. That is why the larger minute capacity is achieved through the higher frequency of contractions. Nevertheless, studies have shown that the female blood-minute capacity is lower than that of men. It is noted in the table below (data by G. A. Goncharova) that there is an essential difference between the functional indices of the cardiovascular systems of men and women at a rest.


Research results show that these differences are most obviously manifested in the speed and weight loads when the woman's body reaction is expressed mainly through the pulse frequency, while men's contractions are slower but more powerful. Similar differences are noticed in the recuperation period, especially if the loading implies higher strain for a longer time.


There are differences in the respiratory system's operation. The number of breaths in women is larger. According to data of A. G. Dembo the vital capacity of women's lungs is 2500-5000 cm3, while that of the men's lungs is 3200-7200 cm3. This peculiarity influences the lungs ventilation (3-5 lt. for women and 5-7 lt. for men at rest). Hence the oxygen intake is different (150-160 cm3 for women and 180-250 cm3 for men). With high intensity physical loading the percentage of growth of women's oxygen consumption is bigger and, to a certain extent, compensates the lower percentage of its utilization.


The prolonged studies of M. V. Elkina, C. A. Jagunova and I. N. Startseva, and E. Zaharieva, show that heavy training loading does not influence the menstruation cycle negatively. However, menstruation has a considerable impact on working capacity (especially strength resistance). The pulse becomes quicker, the arterial blood pressure is lowered, and the beats and minute capacity of the heart is reduced (mainly during the first days of the menstruation period). There exists data on the decrease of the vital capacity and the basic metabolism. In the first days of the menstruation cycle the erythrocytes number and hemoglobin percentage is reduced. Therefore, the physiological capabilities of the oxygen supply to working muscles in these days are reduced. That is why the reactions of the cardiovascular system to bigger resistance are expressed mainly by the following: quickened pulse and a prolonged time of its recovery, small increase of maximum blood pressure and large increase of minimum blood pressure. In fact this is an extremely unfavorable reaction of the body that brings about undesirable sequences sometimes.