Narrative review of sex differences in muscle strength, endurance, activation, size, fiber type, and strength training participation rates, preferences, motivations, injuries, and neuromuscular adaptations
Journal of strength and conditioning research
National Strength and Conditioning Association
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Biological sex and its relation with exercise participation and sports performance continue to be discussed. Here, the purpose was to inform such discussions by summarizing the literature on sex differences in numerous strength training-related variables and outcomes-muscle strength and endurance, muscle mass and size, muscle fiber type, muscle twitch forces, and voluntary activation; strength training participation rates, motivations, preferences, and practices; and injuries and changes in muscle size and strength with strength training. Male subjects become notably stronger than female subjects around age 15 years. In adults, sex differences in strength are more pronounced in upper-body than lower-body muscles and in concentric than eccentric contractions. Greater male than female strength is not because of higher voluntary activation but to greater muscle mass and type II fiber areas. Men participate in strength training more frequently than women. Men are motivated more by challenge, competition, social recognition, and a desire to increase muscle size and strength. Men also have greater preference for competitive, high-intensity, and upper-body exercise. Women are motivated more by improved attractiveness, muscle "toning," and body mass management. Women have greater preference for supervised and lower-body exercise. Intrasexual competition, mate selection, and the drive for muscularity are likely fundamental causes of exercise behaviors in men and women. Men and women increase muscle size and strength after weeks of strength training, but women experience greater relative strength improvements depending on age and muscle group. Men exhibit higher strength training injury rates. No sex difference exists in strength loss and muscle soreness after muscle-damaging exercise.