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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Can women do press ups?

" I can't do press ups."

It's something I hear from women, time and time again, during the many classes I've taught. I have had to spend time with all my female clients to master the press up as most have struggled with this. However, I never really understood why people thought this inability was a female trait. Evidence points towards an obvious strength difference between men and women. Hence the probable naming of 'girl/women's pressups'. This term concerns me as it goes against most scientific evidence which shows me that there is no reason why women can't do press ups. Let me elaborate. 

When you collect data in a scientific way, the quality of the research will come down to two things. The quality of the people you tested and how you interpret the results. Coming to the conclusion that women can't do press ups is often founded by observing women who can't do them. But when you look closer, you see that being female is not the reason. Many women can't do press ups, but it's not because they are women. It's merely a correlation. However, correlation does not imply causation. It's a bit like saying most criminals are right handed, so therefore you are more likely to be a criminal if you're right handed. It's a lazy way of thinking. 

The women I see who can't do press ups normally can't for the following reasons. 

  • They've not exercised their upper body for many years. 
  • They have poor shoulder blade function and therefore can't load their arms very well. 
  • They have poor neck stability. 
  • They can't stiffen their hips and engage the muscles around the trunk which adds more pressure to the arms and shoulders. 
  • They have a poor strength to weight ratio. Or a poor strength to height ratio.
  • They haven't practised them. 
  • They have never been taught how to do them. 
None of these are distinctly exclusive to females. In elite level sport, there is a negligible difference between men and women with regards to performance. However, it's more noticeable in untrained people as men most likely get closer their genetic potential in the gym environment, compared to women.

The clean and jerk which is considered one of the hardest lifts in weight lifting, the women's record is 143kg (63 kg bodyweight). Men at 62 kg is 182 kg. This is the biggest gap I have found between men and women with regards to strength. However, you have to train for at least 10 years to even be considered a good Olympic lifter. Most people aren't elite level and will therefore not notice this difference. I have personally witnessed women lift more than their male counterparts.

The main observation why women as a whole can't do them is down to culture. It's seen as un-femine for women to train. People make derogatory comments about women if they are muscular or weight train. It's considered a male endeavour. This is ever more evident as girls are falling out of sport as early as 3. At this age, girls aren't falling out of sport. Their parents aren't encouraging them to participate. Which again comes down to culture.

The amount of load on the arms is around 60% of your bodyweight. If you are overweight, it is natural that you will find them harder. 60% of  a lot weighs more than 60% of a little. Before the daggers come my way, let me point out two things. Firstly, most of the women who came to my classes said they were overweight. Secondly, 75% of the UK population are now overweight or obese.

So before we start throwing around sexist, lazy stereotypes, we need to acknowledge that we don't move well enough and haven't practised press ups enough to state that there is recognisable male/female difference.

Don't take my word for this. Check out this effort.

http://www.sport360.com/article/health-and-fitness/18643/uae-resident-eva-clarke-smashes-push-ups-world-record

I've create a programme designed to get people (mainly women) to improve their press ups and bust this myth for good. If you are interested, read the next blog!

How many of these press ups can you do?


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