Women in Sport and Exercise Conference, 13-14 June 2018: Blood, Sweat and Fears”

Although women’s participation in sport and physical activity has increased dramatically in the last few decades, 1.5 million more men than women take part in sport and physical activity at least three times per week in the UK. Research on women and how a woman’s body responds to exercise lags far behind that on men. Using a simple search of PubMed, over one hundred thousand hits are obtained when searching for males and sport, compared to only 80,000 for females. Females are significantly under-represented in the research in sports and exercise medicine, with the average percentage of female participants in selected sport and exercise medical journals being 39%. Women are particularly under-represented in sports performance and sports injury. Males also outnumber females in sport-related employment, especially in graduate-level jobs, senior roles, and in leadership positions.

The “Women in Sport and Exercise Conference 2018: Blood, Sweat and Fears” on 13th-14th June 2018 is being held to address some of these inequalities. The aim of the conference is to debate the female-specific health and medical issues arising from physical activity and sport, and to raise awareness of the issues and opportunities for women’s exercise participation.

Baroness Sue Campbell, who is Chairperson of the Women’s Football Association, will be giving the keynote address, and Lisa O’Keefe, Director of Insight at Sport England, will be sharing the story behind their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. There will be 15 academic speakers, who will be giving inspirational talks on a range of topics, including: nutrition for the exercising female; the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives; breast biomechanics; body image; bone health; differences in tactical decision making in sport between males and females; issues on women’s coaching; sources of confidence; disability female sport; exercise in pregnancy; postnatal depression; cardiovascular health and the female; homophobia; and diversity

We are expecting a range of delegates to attend, including researchers, academics, athletes, coaches, students, and those involved in the governance of sport. The conference will provide an opportunity to share research, and to network with others

The event forms part of our Women in Sport and Exercise Academic Network, the aim of which is to grow, strengthen and promote research on women in sport and exercise, with the goal of optimising women’s athletic success and their participation.

For more information:






Females working and studying in sport and exercise

Despite the growth in women’s participation in sport, women face gender inequalities when it comes to securing a graduate-level job in the sport sector. Men dominate positions in senior sport management, in sports media, in the governance of sport, in senior coaching roles, and in applied sport psychology (Whiteside & Hardin, 2012; Roper, 2008). In coaching, as an example, only a third are women (Sports Coach UK, 2012) and fewer still work at a professional level (Norman, 2013). Women who try to shatter the ‘glass ceiling’ by seeking high-profiled employment within sport face a number of barriers (according to research undertaken by Whiteside and Hardin, 2012), including sexual harassment, discrimination, and being pigeonholed into working in areas that are considered more appropriate for women. This under-representation in graduate-level careers in sport is despite moves to improve gender equality by organisations such as Women in Sport, the Women’s Sport Network, Women Ahead, and Sports Coach UK.


Reasons for the low number of sport and exercise graduates working within the industry may include: females being socialised out of sport (Harden & Greer, 2009); women not being able to fit childcare and family responsibilities into a rigid, high-demanding workday that such high-profiled jobs demand; the lower value women place on jobs within sport (Whiteside & Hardin, 2012); women resigning themselves to not being capable of achieving senior jobs; and employers making decisions regarding recruitment on the basis of gender. Whatever the reasons, female graduates may feel a failure, and may blame themselves for lack of success in the graduate labour market, when really social inequality may be to blame, which researchers believe could have damaging consequences for graduates in terms of their self-belief.


The numbers of females studying sport and exercise mirrors the numbers of women in sport-related employment. Many sport and exercise students chose their course out of interest in sport and to study a degree that they enjoy rather than for specific vocational reasons (Minten & Forsyth, 2014). Since females have already lost interest in sport by the age at which they choose their degree, then the number of females choosing to study a sport-related degree at university is likely also to be low. The low numbers of females completing sport-related degrees may also contribute to the inequalities observed in the labour market.

Brochure 4

In sport and exercise at Staffordshire University, we wish to promote positive female role models, and encourage networking and a stronger social identity among females who are working and studying in sport and exercise. We, therefore, recently hosted a social evening/networking event on careers and study in sport and exercise for females, where our female graduates and other guest speakers shared their thoughts and experiences regarding the opportunities and barriers that females face for study and employment in sport. They spoke about: what attracted them to studying sport, and into the job they have currently; the job opportunities/barriers for females who wish to study and work in sport and exercise, and they also gave their advice to females who wish to study and work within sport and exercise.

Evening women 2016

All the speakers opened my eyes to a wide variety of options. They helped me to become more prepared for the barriers and different careers. Very inspiring!

Very good; it gave me a lot of inspiration to work within the sports environment and aim for a high position as a woman

What was noticeable, though, was that the women who presented emphasised the need to work harder in order to be able to be as good as the men, or suggested that they had to act like one of the men in order to get on. In a McKinsey report (Barsh & Yee, 2011), women were found to be promoted based on past accomplishments, whereas men were promoted based on their potential to achieve, suggesting that women have to work harder than men to get the senior jobs.


We recently took a group of our female sport and exercise students to a sport networking event in London. The event was organised by Women in Sport, and delivered by Judy Goldberg from Women Ahead, a social enterprise that supports the development of women in sport and business.

Networking event 4


‘The day was thoroughly interesting and exposed me to new experiences. The networking itself really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but gave me great insight into how to connect and develop my networking skills, which are so important in my chosen field.’

Natalie Sandiford, BSc (Hons) Strength and Conditioning student.


We feel it importNetworking event 3ant for our students to have opportunities to see other women in successful sport-related employment, and to be able to connect and network with confidence; individuals who are well networked tend to receive better pay, are appreciated more, and have a greater chance of career success (Harvey, 2015).


We are currently undertaking research on the opportunities and barriers that females face for study and employment in sport. We are looking for a total of 30 volunteers to take part in focus groups. Volunteers will consist of year 11 students, and current/former sport and exercise students, who are female. If you would like to take part in this study, please contact Natasha Frost on natasha.frost@staffs.ac.uk or Jacky Forsyth, j.j.forsyth@staffs.ac.uk.





My ageing muscles

Sarcopenia is the term used to describe the age-related loss in muscle mass. This loss begins at the age of 30, with a more rapid decline occurring after the age of about 45 and culminating in a total loss (through the lifespan) of 18% for men and 27% for women. This loss in muscle mass is extremely important as we need muscle to survive and to live independently. It is not just about being able to lift weights — muscle plays a bigger role than this – muscle provides us with insulation, protects internal organs, and more importantly, allows us to breathe. Because fat infiltrates the muscle, we also become more susceptible to diseases such a type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. As well as losing muscle mass, we lose muscle strength, as our muscles become less efficient at moving in a co-ordinated fashion. Trying to combat the loss of muscle mass and strength that occur with age is important to ensure that we continue to live independently and to live well. So what can be done and is it too late?

Endurance-type of exercise is not enough. Cyclists and swimmers, for instance, have been found to have as much muscle loss/strength as individuals who do no exercise at all. It is only those who do weight training/resistance training who can keep up with their younger counterparts. So, resistance exercise is important, but we don’t need to go ‘all out’. Lifting fairly light weights (about 40% of our max) is sufficient. If we do more than this, then we are more likely to suffer the consequences afterwards, as with age, muscles lose their ability to recover from damage. Plus, there is no evidence to suggest lifting heavy weights has any additional benefit to the ageing muscle.

Food intake declines with age (defined as ‘anorexia of ageing’). With less intake, there is also a lower intake of protein, vitamin D and antioxidants, all of which are vital for muscle growth and repair. But, with age, there is a blunted response. We, therefore, have to eat much more protein in a single dose (e.g., 30 g) for it to have any benefits.

Women lose more muscle than men through the lifespan, and most particularly at and beyond menopause, such that women are at an increased risk of losing independence at an earlier age than men. One study recently has found that HRT, if taken early (at the onset of menopause), can help maintain muscle mass and also bone health without any increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Initiating a programme of exercise to increase muscle, such as resistance training or power/sprint training before turning 50, and maintaining this through life, keeping the fat off and eating a good source of protein every day will go some way in preventing the inevitable decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs with age.

At Peak Condition, we can measure your muscle strength, and can give you advice on training to improve muscle mass and strength. For more information about our services, see: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/peakcondition

Forsyth, J. (2015). Getting wasted: The causes of sarcopenia. Fitpro, Autumn, 28-30

Twitter:  @JackyForsyth   @SUPeakCondition

For more information about courses in sport and exercise at Staffs Uni: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/course/09X22000.jsp; http://www.staffs.ac.uk/course/05X20000.jsp


Internal versus external work placements for undergraduate students

Within sport and exercise, we offer a number of work placement opportunities for our students. For instance, students studying for a BA in Sport Development and Coaching and for a BSc in PE in Youth Sport Coaching undertake an external placement, often organised within a local school, sports club or sports council. Students studying for a BSc in Sports Therapy also undertake a placement with an external company, such as with a sports team or sports therapist, but in addition, are allowed to make up their placement hours by working in SUST (Staffordshire University Sports Therapy), which is a student-run sports therapy clinic located at the University. For students studying for a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science, there is an internal placement that students can do through Peak Condition, which, similar to SUST, is a student-run service, providing sports science support (fitness testing and advice) to external clientele. We wished to see whether the internal placements were as valuable and as beneficial as the external placements that we were offering. We, therefore, undertook a study to investigate students’ perceptions of the value, impact, benefits and disadvantages of the external placements versus the internal placements.


Based on student perceptions, placements, regardless of whether they were internal or external:

  • Enhanced future employment, because:
    • students felt that employers were more likely to view their placements favourably, irrespective of whether the placement was any good or not;
    • placements provided career links with valued external employers/individuals
  • Gave students career insight, since:
    • real-world experience was gained, and
    • the placement provided students with an opportunity to reinforce or re-evaluate their career aspirations
  • Allowed students to gain and put into practice a variety of skills and experiences (such as job-specific skills, confidence, communication skills, and gave them the skills needed to enhance their grades).
  • Allowed students to build relationships.


Issues that arose included:

  • Level of support in finding a placement
  • Level of supervision during the placement
  • Amount of observation versus ‘hands-on’ experience
  • Travel and time costs


Regarding internal versus external placements, based on the data collected in our study:

  • External placements were deemed to ‘look’ better to the employer than internal placements.
  • If the internal placement involved some kind of external clientele, then career links were deemed sufficient.
  • Internal placement students could see the link between theory and practice more clearly, especially if the internal placement had been set up specifically for this purpose.
  • A lack of variety might occur in internal placements, but also in external placements restricted by, for instance, time.
  • Advantages of internal placements are that students do not have to find their own placement, and they are cost effective in terms of travel and possibly time.
  • Internal placements allow students, who need it, to be supported.
  • Internal placements improve relationships between students and between tutors and students.

Our recommendations are to offer placement opportunities for all students, but consideration should be given to level of support, supervision, observation, and travel and time costs. Internal placements should be encouraged, since they are perceived to be as beneficial as external placement, having the added advantages that they are cost effective, allow students to be more closely supervised and supported, are good for relationship building between and within students/staff, and, if set up specifically to enable students to put theory into practice, are beneficial for increasing student attainment. However, if offering internal placements, tutors should be mindful that variety, and links with and perceptions of external stakeholders may be compromised.

Prunes are best for bone

Osteoporosis is a disease characterised by poor bone health and low bone architectural structure. More than 300,000 osteoporotic-related fractures occur annually in the UK, costing an estimated £2.3 billion to the NHS. We can improve our chances of having an osteoporotic fracture by making small changes to our diet and lifestyle.

One of the best dietary substances for improving bone health is prunes. Eating 6 to 7 prunes (dried plums) per day (obviously building up to this amount to avoid digestive problems) can significantly improve your bone health. The main reason why prunes are so effective is because they contain a particular type of antioxidant, which reduces bone resorption (the natural breakdown of bone). They also contain a substance called boron, which extends the time that vitamin D is available. We mainly obtain vitamin D from sunlight. In the winter months, when daylight hours are short and time spent out of doors is insufficient, our vitamin D supplies run out. In the summer, if the skin is covered by clothing or sunblock, vitamin D supplies can also be low. Prunes help to extend the duration that vitamin D is stored in the body. The usual recommendation for improving bone health is calcium, sources of which are found in dairy products, such as milk and yoghurt. Prunes are as equally as, if not more effective, being also ideal for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

Adding prunes to the diet is only effective if other adverse lifestyle activities, such as excessive alcohol (more than the recommended units), and nicotine consumption (>20 cigarettes/day) are avoided. For women, the other main requirement to ensure good bone health is having the right amount of the hormone, oestrogen. Choosing contraceptives that are not progesterone only, and ensuring that the periods stay regular, can help with keeping oestrogen levels optimum.

Adding 6 prunes per day into your diet, whilst avoiding excessive alcohol and nicotine, are key to sustained health and optimal bone health.


Twitter:  @JackyForsyth   @SUPeakCondition

For more information about courses in sport and exercise at Staffs Uni: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/course/09X22000.jsp; http://www.staffs.ac.uk/course/05X20000.jsp

Peak Condition at Staffordshire University is a student-led sports science support service. We aim to improve your PEAK CONDITION, regardless of fitness level or health status. http://www.staffs.ac.uk/peakcondition

Jumping is best for bone

Osteoporosis affects more than 3 million people in the UK. It is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and make them more likely to break. Fractures, as a result of brittle bones, occur in 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50. Osteoporosis is not, however, limited to older age. It is something that can start at a young age due to inappropriate lifestyle choices – it is just that osteoporosis is not picked up until later on in life. For that reason, osteoporosis has been described as a silent disease. The disease creeps up on you. You are unaware you have the disease until you experience your first fracture.

There is so much that can be done to reduce the risk of getting osteoporosis in the first place. Very simple, minor modifications to lifestyle are all that are needed. We have found, for instance, that simply performing 10 jumps per day can improve your bone health. These jumps should be performed maximally on at least 3 days of the week. Each jump should be separated by a 10-second rest and jumps should be performed without shoes or trainers on a hard surface. Unlike exercise regimes to improve general cardiovascular health, where lengthy episodes in the gym or pounding of the streets are required, improving bone health by jumping 10 times a day is considerably less time consuming. The time required is less than 8 minutes. In fact, pounding the streets is not the best form of exercise for bone health. The bone adapts to repetitive exercise such as walking and jogging. Instead, what is needed, is unusual forms of exercise – something novel, something abrupt, rapid and explosive. If jumping is out of the question, then raising onto the toes, then tapping down with the heels is a suitable alternative. Walking will help, but only if walking is not currently a part of your lifestyle.

Jumps can be incorporated into general exercise. So, if out for a run or walk, you can jump over puddles, or down from steps or stiles. For the upper body, squeezing a tennis ball and undertaking twisting movements such as wringing out wet clothes can improve forearm bone health. Forearm bones need to be strong enough to withstand the impact of a fall or trip. Activities should be guided by personal capabilities and limitations. Nothing should be painful. It is the impact, vibration, and unusual movement that are important.

Adding 10 jumps per day into your exercise programme is key to sustained health and optimal bone health.


Twitter: @JackyForsyth  @SUPeakCondition

For more information about courses in sport and exercise at Staffs Uni:



Peak Condition at Staffordshire University is a student-led sports science support service. We aim to improve your PEAK CONDITION, regardless of fitness level or health status. http://www.staffs.ac.uk/peakcondition


High intensity interval training — good for men, good for women, good for you?

Exercise burns fat. But it isn’t just about how much fat you burn during exercise that is important; it is also the amount of fat that you burn afterwards. This increased fat use after exercise has been termed the ‘after-burn effect’, and is dependent on the intensity of exercise, but also can depend on whether you are male or female.


High intensity interval training and fat burning

One type of exercise that has become fashionable lately because of its after-burn effect, is high intensity interval training or HIIT. This is where you repeatedly exercise full out for a very short period of time. Carbohydrate is used up so much during a bout of HIIT that it needs to be restored quickly, and fat is the predominant fuel needed to do this. Generally, the more carbohydrate that is used during HIIT, the greater the fat burn afterwards.


However, women differ to men in how they burn fat. If a woman and a man were to exercise at the same relative intensity, then the woman will metabolise (i.e., use) more fat than the man. There are several reasons for this. One that I favour is that it is because of the female hormone, oestrogen. Women have more oestrogen than men, and oestrogen causes fat to be mobilised and used. This effect of oestrogen has been observed when women are assessed at different phases of their menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels vary. Because women use more fat, they, in effect, spare their carbohydrate supplies, which means that women have the potential to go on for longer. You see this sometimes in a marathon. The males ‘hit the wall’ – they deplete their body of carbohydrate and have to go down to a very wobbly walking pace, as they are using fat only to supply their needs and fat doesn’t come fast enough to allow them to run. Women, on the other hand, because they have used their fat more efficiently during most of the marathon, they still have plenty of carbohydrate left, so are able to keep going.


So HIIT doesn’t work for women…

One of the reasons why HIIT works is because carbohydrate levels are depleted. But, because women are so good at using fat for fuel during exercise, carbohydrate supplies are maintained, which means that the after-burn effect is lower. For women to fully benefit from the after-burn effect of HIIT, women have to work at a much higher intensity than do men, so that carbohydrate supplies are utilised to a greater extent. This difference in fat use between men and women is possibly an evolutionary trait — women need to keep their bodies at a constant, stable level when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Women are, therefore, better able to return their body to its resting state, and there is less fat oxidation after exercise as a consequence.


How to do HIIT

One of the most common ways of doing HIIT in a laboratory setting, is to do repeated Wingate tests. This is where you exercise on a bike for 30 seconds all out. You repeat this 4 to 6 times, with about a 4-minute rest in between. However, the reality is that this format of exercise doesn’t go down very well in a gym environment, one reason being that the total amount of exercise is 2 to 3 minutes, and people don’t want to pay gym fees for just 3 minutes of exercise. So instead, some gyms offer a version of interval training, which is more like a circuit. Because you want to pace yourself for the hour or half an hour, you never really ‘go for it’. If you were to do HIIT at home, you also might not do it properly, because you are worried about pushing yourself too hard. Doing it right can make you feel sick and faint. It can feel like you are about to have a heart attack. In fact, you might do HIIT once, then ache so much afterwards, that you don’t ever do it again. To do HIIT correctly, and to get the most out of the after-burn effect, you have to push yourself very hard, and women possibly have to push themselves even harder than do men.


In summary:

  • HIIT is effective at burning fat, but only if done correctly, by making sure the body is pushed to its maximum on each interval.
  • HIIT is not as effective for women as it is for men, because during the exercise interval, women are able to spare their carbohydrate and use more fat, and this is exactly what you don’t want to do, as this is the thing that leads to greater fat oxidation after HIIT.
  • Women have to work harder than men for HIIT to be effective at burning fat. They need to be working very close to their maximum.