Women and men in triathlon

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Are women at a disadvantage when it comes to triathlon? If yes, why is that? And what do the pros say? Find out more about the ultimate endurance sport and how men and women fare in it … 

Triathlon – the ultimate endurance sport

… and how men and women fare in it 


Ploughing through the water, stuffing a power bar into your mouth and then hopping on to the bike. Then, the final discipline: running. Yes, a triathlon is anything but easy. The ultimate endurance sport takes a lot out of men and women: You need mental strength, a high level of coordination, will power and lots of training discipline. 

But if you’re thinking of 3.86 kilometres of swimming in the ocean, 180.2 kilometres of cycling and 42.195 kilometres of running under the Hawaiian sun, you can put your mind at ease now. For rookies, there are so-called public and sprint triathlons where to work their way up to more challenging competitions. But don’t underestimate those either! 

The question that poses itself: Are there differences in the performances of men and women? Which disciplines are women better at – if only by a nose? Which ones are men better at? And what do our experts, Per and Yvonne , say about the “battle of the sexes”? 

Women are more ambitious

A poll done by Triathlon-Research.com  states that women put much more effort into reaching the goals they have set for themselves. They want to be sure that they can make the distance, time or placement that they’re aiming for. That’s why they’re more ambitious when it comes to their swimming, running and cycling sessions as well as their strength and mobility training. Their credo: Always enter the competition perfectly prepared! Men tend to overestimate their abilities and often don’t take their training quite as seriously. 

Testosterone plays …

… an important role indeed! While women are equal as or even slightly better than their male counterparts when it comes to competitive spirit, persistence regarding training, pain tolerance and physical awareness, they are hormonally at a disadvantage which hinders them in achieving the same performance level. Testosterone, the “male” hormone, supports muscle gain. It’s also the reason why men have an easier time building muscle and entering the area of maximum strength. That’s a limiting factor for women – especially when it comes to cycling. 

Nimble in the water

Female triathletes have one major advantage, though: They’re nimbler! Particularly when it comes to swimming, they are just as good as their fellow male competitors. Most women have an excellent body positioning in the water and can fully stretch their arms and legs. Very muscular men cannot make it through the water quite as fast because of their shortened musculature. 

The result: Women usually come out of the water right alongside the best men, lose speed on the bike and then (almost) catch up with them again during the final discipline – running. 

Here’s what the Simplon triathlon dream team, Per and Yvonne, have to say about the differences between men and women in triathlon:

Per: For the most part, there are no differences between men and women. Common knowledge says that men recuperate more slowly and should thus train less often than women. That’s because men have more muscle mass than women and it takes them longer to recover. 

Yvonne: I would agree that men need a little more time for recovery than women. We’ve seen that during our everyday training time and again. 

How about physical and mental strength?

Yvonne: I think, as women, we know better how to listen to our bodies. That’s definitely an advantage when it comes to triathlon. Men push themselves a little too hard and dial the intensity down too late which can lead to injuries. 

Per: You can’t generalise in this case. I think it depends on the man or woman and whether they’re mentally strong or not. Physically, I suppose the difference becomes less and less pronounced – percentage-wise – the longer the distance is. 

In which discipline are women better, and in which discipline are men better?

Yvonne: If you look at the world elite, men are definitely better than women – across all disciplines. The difference in swimming is the least pronounced. In running, the really good female runners can make the men a little nervous as well. When it comes to cycling, men are clearly much stronger, though. 

Per: I’d say: swimming. It happens quite often that women can keep up with the top male athletes in this discipline!

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