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Sex differences and female physiology

DSER Staff: Dr Paul Ansdell, Dr Stuart Goodall, Dr Kirsty Hicks, Prof Glyn Howatson, Dr Kevin Thomas 

Collaborators: Prof Sandra Hunter (Marquette University, USA), Dr Kirsty Elliott-Sale (Nottingham Trent University, UK) 

Sex differences within physiological systems influence the responses to exercise. We are investigating a number of avenues relating to the responses to exercise, the time course of recovery and how females might adapt to specific exercise training regimens.  

Specifically, we have investigated how females are more fatigue-resistant than males for an equivalent ‘dose’ of exercise , and what the acute and chronic implications of this sex difference might be. These lines of enquiry also aim to examine how contraceptive usage and endocrinological changes through the menstrual cycle affects exercise performance . 

This research programme is underpinned by the longer-term aim of providing a strong evidence base for the optimisation of exercise prescription for females. Most exercise prescription is based on observations in studies that have male only or mixed sex cohorts. Our work delineates the sexes differences to better understand how females might optimise their training for better performance and health outcomes throughout their lives.  

Ongoing work within our laboratory is investigating the acute and longer-term responses to, and recovery from, resistance training across the menstrual cycle, with a combination of neurophysiological, functional, and molecular methods. These data will provide valuable information on the recovery and adaptative responses to resistance exercise and how we might best periodise training to maximise the ‘adaptive potential’ and enhance the training stimulus during specific hormonal states.  

In future work, we aim to extend our integrative physiological studies into menopausal populations and investigate healthy ageing across the female lifespan. 

The work in this space is extremely valuable to support females in maximising their potential from exercise training. It will inform the richness and diversity in physiological function, highlighting that ‘normal’ physiological function is dependent on a variety of factors, and that much like any intervention targeting improvements in health and performance, exercise should be tailored to the characteristics of the individual(s) performing it. 

Find out more:

Ansdell P, Škarabot J, Brownstein C, Hicks K, Howatson G, Hunter S, Thomas K, Goodall S. Sex differences in fatigability and recovery above and below critical torque. Journal of Physiology. 597(23): 5577-5595.

Ansdell P, Škarabot J, Atkinson E, Corden S, Tygart A, Hicks KM, Thomas K, Hunter SK, Howatson G, Goodall S. (2020). Sex differences in fatigability following exercise normalised to the power-duration relationship. Journal of Physiology. In Press.

Ansdell P, Thomas K, Hicks KM, Hunter SK, Howatson G, Goodall S. (2020). Physiological sex differences affect the integrative response to exercise: acute and chronic implications. Experimental Physiology. In Press.

Ansdell P, Škarabot J, Brownstein C, Simões D, Hicks K, Thomas K, Howatson G, Goodall S. (2019). Menstrual cycle associated modulations in neuromuscular function and fatigability of the knee extensors in eumenorrheic females. Journal of Applied Physiology. 126:6, 1701-1712.

Elliott-Sale KJ, McNulty KL, Ansdell P, Goodall S, Hicks KM, Thomas K, Swinton PA, Dolan E. (2020). The Effects of Oral Contraceptives on Exercise Performance in Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 50, 1785-1812.

McNulty KL, Elliott-Sale KJ, Dolan E, Swinton PA, Ansdell P, Goodall S, Thomas K, Hicks KM. (2020). The Effects of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Exercise Performance in Eumenorrheic Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine. 50, 1813-1827.

Škarabot, J., Ansdell, P., Temesi, J., Howatson, G., Goodall, S., and Durbaba, R. (2019). Neurophysiological responses and adaptation following repeated bouts of maximal lengthening contractions in young and older adults. Journal of Applied Physiology, 127, 1224-1237.

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