By Jenna-Caer Seefried
Do you need women-specific products?
Just to make things confusing – Yes… and No.
While triathlon is one of the most equal-opportunity sports when it comes to the sexes as we race on the same course, doing the same distance, for equal prize money, the divide in the number of men and women doing iron distance races is still massive. However, finally women have an equal number of slots to the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Also, the participation gap is shrinking at the sprint distance as more women want a way to challenge themselves and see what they’re capable of.
As the number of women participating continues to grow, more and more companies are starting to build women-specific products, which is awesome.
Let’s dive into what things you want to be women-specific.
Tri Suits: Yes
Women have drastically different body compositions and proportions than men. For the longest time, women’s tri clothing was just a men’s cut made smaller; however, the boys don’t have the hips and chest we do. Women have different body shapes, but more often than not they don’t fit well into the more rectangular cut of a men’s kit. It’s no fun to have a kit that is tight around your hips, butt, and/or chest with no give, but baggy around your stomach, or too long in the torso. Bottom line, we are built differently and the kit needs to reflect that. There are tons of options out there now for women to try and find the perfect fit.
Tri Bikes: Maybe
This one can go either way. Women-specific bikes account for the difference in a woman’s proportions: typically we have longer legs, shorter torsos, and narrower shoulders as well as overall just being shorter. Most brands addressed this with shorter top tubes, taller head tubes and narrower handlebars. They also usually have smaller sizes available that can be tougher for women to find in unisex-sized bicycles.
Here’s the thing, however: a women-specific bike may be no better or worse for you than a unisex one. When it comes to bicycles for triathletes, the most important part is bike fit. Especially as you go up in distance, comfort on the bike is absolutely key because by the time you hit Ironman Distance it’s a long day in the saddle.
So the best bet is to chat with your local bike shop or a bike fitter and if possible get a bike fit done to see which bike would suit your body’s proportions first and go from there. As long as it feels comfy, can put you in a position that is pain-free and you are enjoying it, it doesn’t matter if it’s specific for women or unisex.
Women-Specific Saddle: No
This one may be surprising. You will likely need a different saddle but not necessarily a women-specific one. A trend in both the women’s and unisex saddle industry is split saddles, or ones with a cut out in the seat to take the pressure off pain points and increase blood flow to the area.
There are lots of options in both the women’s and unisex saddle market that approach comfort the same way. Like the bike situation, the best bet is to find somewhere that will let you test out a number of saddles. Some bike shops or bike fitters offer programs where you can test out different saddles to find just the right one. If you have thicker thighs, look for saddles with narrower noses to reduce chafing. Most women have wider sit bones and will be more comfortable with a saddle that is wider at the rear.
Women-Specific Triathlon Plan: Yes
Okay, I may be a bit biased here. However, traditional training plans don’t take into account the changes in a women’s body through the menstrual cycle. How many times have you had a workout with high intensity that just feels impossible to complete, even though you may have done it in the past, or been in a race and feel like you are stuck in 2nd gear and can't speed up – only to have your period come a day or two later?
Basically, in the first half of your cycle you are primed for high intensity with lower body temperature, increased muscle strength, power, pain tolerance, and ability to utilize carbs more efficiently. The second half is the better time to focus on endurance and fueling due to higher body temperatures, lower ability to absorb carbs, higher need for protein, and just harder to mentally push with hormonal shifts. That doesn’t mean you can’t train in that second half. It just means targeted training depending on where you are at in your cycle means you can take advantage of the hormonal benefits in each phase to maximise your fitness and performance, and avoid burning out.
I dive more into it in the article “Working with your Menstrual Cycle” for the specifics of what is going on in your body.
So that’s it, folks. It’s great to see the shift to more women in triathlon. It is an incredible sport to see what you are really capable of, challenge yourself and to find a great community.
Jenna-Caer Seefried is an MX Endurance coach.