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More girls and women are playing sports than in decades prior, yet research on female athletes lags far behind: Just 6 percent of sports and exercise studies focus on females. The result? These athletes often receive guidance based on studies of men. Christine Yu tackles this disparity in her new book, Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes.

Experience Life | Why is now the time to be talking about the research gap?

Christine Yu | It’s an exciting time in women’s sports right now. It feels like they are finally getting the attention they deserve. A lot of what we focus on are things like pay equity, media coverage, and attendance, but it’s also important to talk about the lack of research. We haven’t really investigated what it means to be a person in a female body performing at these high levels: how female bodies adapt to training and what it takes to prevent and recover from injury. We need to close that research gap to best support the athletes who are on the field now and the next generation of athletes who are coming up.

EL | How might understanding sex-based differences make sports more accessible for female athletes?

CY | Throughout history, for women to play sports, we’ve had to leave parts of ourselves on the sideline. When I was growing up, a girl could play and be just as good as the boys, but that meant not calling attention to our differences — not talking about your menstrual cycle, smushing down your breasts so they weren’t distracting, and all these things we’d do to hide our differences.

Moving forward, we must encourage girls and women to be more body-literate. … If we can understand how our bodies work, it sets a foundation where we can make better and healthier choices moving forward.

EL | What will it take to close the research gap?

CY | What’s exciting is that many researchers and scientists are interested in this field, and they are ­doing phenomenal work. As we continue to see interest grow, we’ll keep getting more and better research. But scientific research isn’t cheap, so it’s also important to get commitment from government bodies, private companies, and organizations to fund this work. Part of the reason we’ve seen this surge in interest in research on female athlete health is because more women are coming into senior leadership positions and they’re calling the shots. They’ve grown up playing sports and now want to answer these questions too.

This article originally appeared as “Mind the Research Gap” in the March/April 2024 issue of Experience Life.

Lauren Bedosky

Lauren Bedosky is a Twin Cities–based health-and-fitness writer.

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