Sex segregation in strength sports: do equal-sized muscles express the same levels of strength between sexes?

Ryo Kataoka, Robert W. Spitz, Vickie Wong, Zachary W. Bell, Yujiro Yamada, Jun Seob Song, William B. Hammert, Scott J. Dankel, Takashi Abe, Jeremy P. Loenneke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Concerns have been raised against the current two-sex binary category in sports competitions. The thesis states that if males and females were separated based on muscle size, it would negate the strength advantage between the sexes. We tested the possible sex differences in various strength outcomes when pair-matched for muscle thickness.
Methods: A total of 16 different data sets (n = 963) were assessed to pair-match females with males who had a muscle thickness value within 2%. We further compared the competition performances of the smallest male weight class within the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) to different weight classes in females.
Results: Overall, 76%-88% of the strength assessments were greater in males than females with pair-matched muscle thickness, regardless of contraction types (i.e., isotonic, isometric, isokinetic). Additionally, males in the lightest weight division in the IPF largely outperformed females in heavier weight divisions.
Conclusions: Our results would suggest that segregation based on muscle mass or surrogates of muscle mass (e.g., lean body mass) might not be an appropriate classification to create fair competition within strength sports. This is not to refute the concept of the desegregation of the two-sex binary category but to present data that raises important concerns about the potential sex-based differences in strength performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e23862
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes

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