Most Strength Training Guidelines are Based on Male Data

A new study finds that the majority of participants recruited in research informing guidelines on resistance training are males. The authors of those guidelines are also mostly men.

Resistance training (RT), also called strength training or weight training, is an important part of the exercise routine that improves physical performance and cardiovascular health as well as losing weight.

However, researchers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, found that resistance training guidelines for youth and adults are based on about 70% male data. So, where do women and young people fit in?

“We're making assumptions that the male data is appropriate to everyone, where the fact is, we simply don't know,” says Mandy Hagstrom, senior lecturer in exercise science at UNSW Medicine and senior author.

Their new study published in Sports Medicine examined 11 guidelines encompassing more than 104 million participants.

Guidelines for youth under 18 years old comprised 69% male participants. Of 287 studies that included both sexes, 205 were male-only, and 92 were female-only. This may be because female youth engage less in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Moreover, many studies on RT involve male-dominated sports, such as soccer or basketball.

Resistance training guidelines for adults aged 18 to 50 included 70% male participants. Most (240) studies analyzed were male-only compared to 44 female-only. As in youth studies, a data gap may be explained by historically lower female participation in RT due to its historical associations with masculinity and women feeling discomfort in gym spaces. However, current data shows women and men engage in resistance training equally.

A more even distribution of data was observed in guidelines for adults 50 and over, where 54% of participants were female. This in part could be due to longer life expectancy for women in most countries.

"Menopausal women are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, reductions in bone, mineral density, and osteoporosis – and all these things are addressed by resistance training," says Hagstrom.

Eleven guidelines analyzed in the study had 121 authors, of whom 103 (85%) were men and 16 (13%) were women. The researchers were unable to ascertain the gender of the two authors. Moreover, three guidelines had no female authors, and only one had a 50% gender split.

Hagstrom says: "Women all over the world are researching this stuff – but it's not represented in what we're seeing."

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