CrossFit women and men may differ in need for rest after WODs. Or strength training. This may be important as athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games. Women lose strength faster than men when they take time off. Muscle mass seems to stay the same for both when athletes reduce training for 7 days. The responsiveness of rested muscle fibers to electrical stimulation also seems to stay the same. However, women still lose more strength than men during rest periods. Rest periods are sometimes referred to as “unloading.” A new paper on why this happens suggests its nerves. Not muscle tissue. The study looked at 7 and 14 day unloading periods. This is a long rest period for CrossFit athletes. But common among weightlifters. Many athletes will be unloading prior to The Games. Weight training causes changes in muscle tissue. That is pretty obvious. However, it also produces changes in nerve function. Nerves adapt and become more efficient. They become better able to recruit cells and coordinate their actions. And make a trained person able to lift more weight. Or a CrossFit athlete better able to do a WOD. The larger loss of strength in women seems to be rooted in the central nervous system. Women’s neurons may be quicker to let down their guard. This may mean that women should take shorter rest periods than men in order to maintain strength. And shorter rests before competitions.
What about Masters CrossFit and Masters Athletes?
Most studies are done using young volunteers. There are usually a lot of them hanging around Universities. And someone needs to collect and analyze the data. This is often left to middle-age and older academics. This means there is a lot less information for Masters athletes. There is very good evidence though that neuro-muscular function improves with training in middle and older age. It looks the same for men and women. So keep at it.
The Take-Away: Women may need shorter unloading periods before competition than men.
Masters Athletes: Use your judgement.
Deschenes MR, McCoy RW, & Mangis KA (2012). Factors relating to gender specificity of unloading-induced declines in strength. Muscle & nerve, 46 (2), 210-7 PMID: 22806370