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The Relevance of Sex Differences in Performance Fatigability

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Abstract

Performance fatigability differs between men and women for a range of fatiguing tasks. Women are usually less fatigable than men, and this is most widely described for isometric fatiguing contractions and some dynamic tasks. The sex difference in fatigability is specific to the task demands so that one mechanism is not universal, including any sex differences in skeletal muscle physiology, muscle perfusion, and voluntary activation. However, there are substantial knowledge gaps about the task dependency of the sex differences in fatigability, the involved mechanisms, and the relevance to clinical populations and with advanced age. The knowledge gaps are in part due to the significant deficits in the number of women included in performance fatigability studies despite a gradual increase in the inclusion of women for the last 20 yr. Therefore, this review 1) provides a rationale for the limited knowledge about sex differences in performance fatigability, 2) summarizes the current knowledge on sex differences in fatigability and the potential mechanisms across a range of tasks, 3) highlights emerging areas of opportunity in clinical populations, and 4) suggests strategies to close the knowledge gap and understanding the relevance of sex differences in performance fatigability. The limited understanding about sex differences in fatigability in healthy and clinical populations presents as a field ripe with opportunity for high-impact studies. Such studies will inform on the limitations of men and women during athletic endeavors, ergonomic tasks, and daily activities. Because fatigability is required for effective neuromuscular adaptation, sex differences in fatigability studies will also inform on optimal strategies for training and rehabilitation in both men and women.

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