Despite not enjoying the American past-time of watching any sport teams on TV, when it comes to the Olympics I’m obsessed. I DVR every single moment of coverage and for two-weeks every two years I’m glued to the set. As a personal trainer, it should not surprise you to know that I’m also addicted to the show American Ninja Warrior.
But lately, as I watch ANW and the Olympic trials I have noticed that comments to the likes of “that’s incredible for a woman” or “women can’t usually do that as well [fast or strong] as men” are thrown about constantly by commentators. At first I got my feminist panties in a bunch, until I remembered that they’re right. Even if you compare apples to apples – a professionally trained woman and man of equal size, weight and body composition percentages (muscle and fat), the men will still likely be a touch faster and stronger simply because of the difference in our physiology.
While there are always exceptions to every rule, the reality is that women’s bodies are not built the same as men’s and those differences come strongly into play where sports are concerned. Our pectorals (chest muscles), forearms, and grip strength, even on a superior female athlete, are never going to be stronger than most men’s.
Look at Olympic sprinters: men still hold faster world records – why? Well you take the length and girth of their leg muscles compared to a women of even the same height, and they will simply have more muscle strength to speed them down the track. It’s physiology, not sexism.
Olympic weight lifters have the same issue – the men constantly lift heavier than women. Again, that doesn’t mean that many women can’t lift more than many men, but it does mean pound for pound the men will always be able to lift past our strongest women.
As for ANW, clearly if you take an professional female rock climber and put her next to your average body builder, she can out maneuver him on any obstacle course. But put her next to the top male rock climber and the odds are against her being able to be as strong as him. (But it’s important to note that sometimes cleverness and agility wins out over strength in those areas women often prevail!)
On Monday night’s ANW episode Jessie Graff went farther than all but one man (out of 28 men and 2 women). She did this through strength, agility and using her brain to overcome an obstacle that scores of men had been defeated by. The commentators praised her though their voices held such shock: “Jessie just bested all those guys!” As annoying as that was, I full well that it is rare that a woman goes further than 99% of the men. Every year only one-to-three women even get to the finals in Las Vegas, and it’s not because of lack of training or trying.
When women’s inequality generalizations are bantered about we must also remember that often the women competing are not apples-to-apples to their male counterparts. Over 95% of the women who compete on AMW are under 5′ 7″ and weigh less than 125 lbs, while the average male competitor is 5′ 9″ and weights 155. It’s simple math to know that the men’s muscle weight will help them go further (endurance-wise) than the women, and their arm and leg length being longer also helps. Again, I am not saying a tiny woman can’t go far in this (or any) sport — look at 5′ 0″ 95 lb Kacy Catanzaro the first woman to beat the 14′ warped wall obstacle and earn a place in the Las Vegas finals. Take that men!
While it’s disheartening to my gender to hear constant quips of our inequality (which on all other issues is bull), on this issue I think it best that we continue striving to be better, faster, and stronger, but let go of the idea that we need to be equal to men.