Understanding The Differences Between Men And Women In Long Distance Running


It’s a fact. Men and women simply have different morphology. Most runners will have a training plan to clock in the distance in order to achieve their goal, be it a 5km or an ultra marathon.

While we are determined to cross the finish line with our personal best time, it would help to get to know your body better so you can reach the maximum potential of your given anatomy. In order to optimise your training and improve your performance, I’ve compiled a few differences that will create a better understanding of the differences between men and women.

Physiological Gender Differences & Implications For Training And Performance

Before boys and girls hit puberty, their body structures are similar in terms of body weight, height, length of their legs and upper-arm circumference. During puberty, development occurs and boys will start to develop larger shoulders while girls start to develop larger and wider hips. Due to the smaller shoulder size of women, this poses a disadvantage for women to develop upper-body strength, limiting their body strength on the upper-body in comparison to men throughout adulthood. Women’s narrow shoulders compared to men’s are also generally shorter and women are naturally born with larger pelvis width-to-height ratio and shoulder-to-hip ratio than men.

“We sometimes hear the term pear-shaped being used to describe a woman’s shape, but the basic truth that a woman has wider hips is specifically for the purpose of child bearing. Notice that most professional female runners tend to have smaller and narrower hips, so it’s their natural born physique that also aids them towards excelling in distance running”.

The Q Angle (Or Quadriceps Angle)

The anatomical and biomechanical features are disparate between men and women. Women have a larger pelvis because they are designed to carry the child. This larger pelvis combined to a shorter femur lead to a different Q angle at which the quadriceps muscle – from the pointiest position of the pelvis, scientifically known as the Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – meets the kneecap (or patella), compared to the line connecting the ligament attaching the patella to the shin. The angle between these two lines forms the Q angle. Males have a Q angle between 8 and 15 degrees while females have a Q angle between 12 and 19 degrees.

How does this difference influence the running?

Women, as they have a broader angle, are more subjected to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries while exerting themselves. The Q-angle dissimilarity refers to a difference of knee alignment as well. In short, men are anatomically better designed than women for running. The space for ACL movement is more limited by women than in men, putting the ACL in a critical position as it can easily get pinched and lead to rupture of the ligament, especially while stretching or twisting. However, when you practise how to train properly, you will lower the risks of getting injured male or female.

    In summary

  • A larger Q-angle puts women at a mechanical disadvantage when running.
  • Wider hips and a large Q-angle put the femur at an angle when the foot is on the ground.
  • Elite female runners have narrower hips, which closely resemble male runners. Research has also shown that the hip width of very good female runners is similar to that of both athletic and even non-athletic males.
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