“Women are More Flexible Than Men”
We have all heard that statement…probably before you entered elementary school. Whether you thought about it much or not it likely impacts the way you think about mobility and flexibility.
For the most part the statement is accurate…in general there are more flexible women than men in America today. It’s evident from standardized ‘fitness’ tests like the Presidential Fitness Test V-Sit & Reach.
And there are some hormonal components that cause this discrepancy, such as testosterone and estrogen, with reason not limited to childbirth. Ever hear that women are more flexible than men? It doesn’t have to be that way. It was just what you were taught. Change your lifestyle; change your mobility.
The argument I will make in this article is that most of the gender differences in mobility seem in America are due to cultural norms for men and women in terms of posture, poses and movement.
Note: I will use the terms mobility and flexibility in this discussion for the sake of variety, but they are not the same. Flexibility describes joint range of motion while mobility is the ability for use that flexibility through an active range of motion and creating torque.
Listen to Designing a Mobility Program that Works [The Fitness Movement Podcast #018]
What is Normal in America Today?
Infants, toddler and young children regardless of gender have exceptional mobility. Everyone starts with great mobility, but the saying “use it or lose it” holds true.
By the time boys and girls hit puberty they are well aware of the shapes that society expects them to create and most conform without having to consciously think about it or be taught.
By the time these children have grown into fully mature men and women they are experts at moving, sitting and standing in certain shapes.
In other countries it is common to see grown men and women squatting on streets, corners and bus stops.
Note: All the things I’m analyzing are norms. It is the way things often are, not how they are for everyone or how they should be everyone.
Take a look at the images below. Don’t just analyze the shapes the people are making, also analyze your underlying feelings, opinions and ‘read’ of the people based on how they are shaped.
Gender Differences in Sitting & Standing Postures
Men are encouraged to occupy as much space as possible, which takes them away from the mid-line of their body. For women, this is often seen as not very “lady-like.”
Women are encouraged to bring limbs into the mid-line of the body often crossing legs or arms. For men, this is often seen as awkward and feminine.
The results for men is they often are more comfortable with a wider stance for squats and hinges while in reality women are the ones with the anatomically wider hips.
The results for women is they often have an easier time with narrow stance activities even though their hip to knee alignment during these movements is less optimal compared to males.
Other Common Positional Differences in Men & Women
Women often have hyper-flexible structures around their knees, but have tightness around their calves and heel cords due to wearing heels, another cultural phenomenon. The world has ostracized foot binding, maybe heels should be next.
Men often avoid squatting in social situations where they need to appear powerful…a meeting, interview, lecture, etc. This inevitably leads to tight hips, knees and ankles.
Women will often squat or kneel down to talk to a child where men are less likely to do so.
When picking objects off the floor women are more likely to squat where men are more likely to bend over at their waist and round through the spine.
Men often stand with their feet toed-out considerably, especially when they have their feel in a wide “power” stance. Women often stand pigeon-toed with big toes pointed toward each other. This is especially common when standing with legs crossed or when wearing heels.
Women are much more likely than men to assume the resting posture of sitting on their heels when doing everyday chores like cleaning.
“Flexibility is Sexy”
The western world’s cultural norm says “flexibility is sexy.” But to be clear that only goes for women.
Want proof? Walk into any yoga studio.
Extremely flexible women are often viewed as desirable while extremely flexible males are often seem as grotesque or just plain weird.
What is your internal dialogue when viewing the two images below?
The bottom line is these views make it extremely difficult for the average fitness enthusiast to get to the best version of their movement. But yet it is a nobal thing to strive for.
Let me get you pointed in the right direction.
Rx: Spend Some Time Where Your Culture Says You Shouldn’t
If you really want to make a difference in your own mobility long term you are probably going to have to do more than sit on a foam roller or pull out a band in the minutes before your workout. You are going to have to consciously work against the norms you have been programmed to follow.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
If You Are a Woman…
Spend more time in “powerful positions” that take you away from your mid-line. Feel comfortable standing tall with your chest puffed out and limbs away from your mid-line. If already have all the flexibility you need, work on stability and protecting those joints with strength-based exercises. Phrases like “strong is the new skinny” might be helpful in embracing your change.
If You Are a Man…
Realize how you stand, sit and move. Recognize the positions you do or don’t hit in an average day, outside the gym. Find ways to incorporate more of these movements. Get pants you can squat down in even when dressed for business. Be comfortable crossing your legs. Don’t feel the need to spend all your time in ‘powerful’ poses. Every day make sure to express your joints full range of motion, you’ll be glad you did.
If You Are a Person Living in the 21st Century…
Get rid of some furniture. …or at least don’t use it. Sit on the floor. Your hips, knees and ankles will thank you.
Get a stand up desk. Tight flexors? Weak abs? Low back pain? Sit less. Stand more.
Learn more about the mobility I recommend for people with a desk job.
Turn off electronics. Center leisure time activities away from the tv, couch or dining room table. Spend less time working on computers and looking at screens. This will lead to tight shoulders, pecs and anterior neck muscles.
Related Read: Why Your Mobility Isn’t Improving
Overhead Squat Mobility
The Overhead Squat is a notorious movement because of it’s extreme mobility demands.
Is your ability to get in a good position preventing you from expressing your true strength and fitness?
This is the place to start.