Women comprise the majority of participants in U.S. road races, and more women than ever before are lacing up their shoes and joining the sport at all levels. There are numerous benefits women can reap when they run. In addition to the fact that running can improve cardiovascular fitness and bone health, the sport offers other advantages. Running can burn calories and may help with weight loss. It can also build and tone muscles, relieve stress and may boost spirits and increase confidence.
While there aren’t marked differences in how men and women run, there are a few things women should know about running that can be influenced by their gender. Training, performance and incidence of injury can differ due to physiological and hormonal factors. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Women and Running Gear
Women typically have narrower feet than men and are also more likely to experience pronation of the foot. When buying running shoes, it’s important to get shoes that fit just right. Determine if you overpronate, underpronate or have a neutral stride. Once you know that, try on a few pairs of shoes to see what feels most comfortable.
Another key aspect of your running gear if you’re a woman should be a supportive sports bra, no matter what your size. You will feel more comfortable if breast motion is controlled – look for styles that fit snugly but are not too constrictive.
Women and Fat Metabolism
Women tend to burn a higher proportion of fat compared to carbohydrates than men. Women also typically have more fat than men. This means the female body is built to be able to go the distance and it is why women tend to do better than men when it comes to ultra-distance running.
Research presented in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise backs up this difference in fat metabolism. The study, which looked at the results of nearly 3,000 runners from 14 marathons, showed that women are less likely to slow their pace during a marathon. Female runners only dropped their pace by 12 percent from the first half of a marathon to the second, while the average drop in pace for men was 16 percent.
Women and Knee Pain
Women are more prone to knee pain, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome or iliotibial band friction syndrome. Since women tend to have wider hips than men, they also have a wider Q-angle, the angle between the quad muscle and kneecap. Females are also more likely to have strength imbalances and hip muscle weakness. All of this can result in knee pain.
Women and Stress Fractures
Women are more prone to stress fractures. You’re more likely to experience a stress fracture when your bones are weak. The most common areas for women to experience stress fractures are the inside or outside portion of the tibia bone or the metatarsal bones in the foot.
Women who engage in frequent high-intensity exercise (like running) or those with a low body fat percentage (also common to runners) are more likely to disrupt their menstrual cycle, and this leads to a higher risk of bone density loss. Other contributors to an increased risk of stress fractures in women include having low estrogen levels, low bone mineral density and a lack of lower leg muscle mass.
Women can help keep their bones stronger by getting enough calcium and vitamin D, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake and doing strength-training exercises. Running helps strengthen bones because it’s a weight-bearing activity.