If you look at the demographics in a typical yoga class, you will likely see more women or individuals who identify as women than men.
Yoga is often considered to be a form of exercise that requires impressive flexibility.
Although there may be a number of factors that reflect the gender disparity in participation rates of yoga between women vs men, it seems likely that the prevailing thought that women are more flexible than men may contribute to men finding themselves reticent to even try yoga.
But, are women more flexible than men? Are girls more flexible than boys prior to puberty? Why are women more flexible than men? What factors affect flexibility in women vs men?
In this guide to men vs women flexibility, we will briefly discuss what flexibility means, the factors that affect flexibility, and then we will focus on differences in female flexibility vs male flexibility, aiming to answer the question: “Are women more flexible than men?”
We will look at:
- Are Women More Flexible Than Men?
- Why Are Women More Flexible Than Men?
- Can I Get More Flexible?
Let’s get started!
Are Women More Flexible Than Men?
Starting from a young age, we often see girls participating in gymnastics or seemingly popping out backbend and back-roundovers out of nowhere without even needing to stretch, whereas boys often don’t tend to display such natural flexibility.
So, are girls more flexible than boys? Are women more flexible than men? Are there physical characteristics that make women more flexible than men?
Firstly, flexibility is defined as the amount of permissible movement available across a joint.The range of motion implicated when discussing flexibility refers to the passive range of motion rather than the active range of motion.
Although we can certainly look at the trends in sports participation or how girls and boys play and see that girls usually seem more flexible than boys, is there actual evidence that women are more flexible than men?
If so, why are women more flexible than men? Are there specific characteristics that support greater female flexibility vs male flexibility?
As it turns out, there have been some studies that have compared the flexibility of both sexes, demonstrating that women are more flexible than men on average.
Most of the scientific studies comparing men vs women flexibility have looked at the flexibility of women vs men in lower-body muscles and joints only.
More specifically, hip flexibility has been the focus of most of the comparative studies of sex differences in flexibility.
In many ways, it is fairly intuitive that when considering the hips specifically, women are more flexible than men.
After all, the female body is designed to have wider hips that have more “play,“ or ligamentous laxity, and extensibility or separation between the bones to allow for the opening of the birth canal during pregnancy and delivery.
However, there are so many muscles that actually control the hips, and the laxity in the pelvis associated with pregnancy is largely controlled by the particular hormonal environment during pregnancy.
Thus, this would not necessarily indicate overall greater flexibility for women vs men, even when just considering the hips, and certainly when comparing whether girls are more flexible than boys.
That said, some older research found that females around the world (so not restricted to specific nationalities or regions) demonstrated a greater range of motion in the hips than men.
Because the permissible range of motion is indicative of the degree of flexibility around a joint, this evidence suggests that women are more flexible than men in the hip joint.
Other studies have found that women seem to respond more favorably to stretching in terms of the effectiveness of stretching for increasing tissue elasticity and range of motion around a joint.
For example, one study looked at the difference in muscle/connective tissue compliance between men vs women by assessing changes in the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) and Achilles’ tendon after stretching.
It was found that females had greater tissue compliance or flexibility in the Achilles tendon after stretching than males, indicating differences in the elasticity or extensibility of connective tissues in females vs males.
Another study found that the rectus femoris muscle, which is found in the quadriceps, was more responsive to PNF stretching in women vs men.
Although a lot of the research that has looked at differences in the range of motion and flexibility of women versus men has focused on the lower body, there have also been some studies that have looked at the range of motion in upper body joints as well.
One study found that young women demonstrated a significantly greater range of motion in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, as demonstrated by using various feeding utensils such as a spoon and fork relative to young men.
Because all of these upper-body joints displayed more range of motion in women versus men (and ROM is a key component or metric of flexibility), it is reasonable to conclude that this evidence points to more upper-body flexibility for females vs males.
Keep in mind that there are always going to be outliers or exceptions to these general trends.
Some males are very flexible whereas some females are extremely tight and stiff; the differences in flexibility seen between men and women are merely generalities rather than absolute truths.
Why Are Women More Flexible Than Men?
It does seem that there is a fair bit of evidence that has found that women are more flexible than men, but why are men less flexible than women?
There are various structural and hormonal reasons why women are more flexible than men, and essentially characteristics of the female musculoskeletal structure and hormonal profile that make females more flexible than males.
Here are some of the reasons why females are more flexible than males:
#1: Different Protein Makeup
One of the main differences that is thought to contribute to increased female flexibility is the fact that the connective tissues of females (tendons and ligaments) tend to have a higher percentage of elastin fibers, while the connective tissues in the male body have more collagen.
Elastin and collagen are two types of structural proteins in the body.
Elastin is more “stretchy“ or elastic, providing a greater range of motion and extensibility, whereas collagen (although there are many types) tends to provide structure and rigidity to tendons and connective tissues in the musculoskeletal system.
Thus, these differences in tissue makeup can make men stiffer and less flexible than women.
Indeed, some studies that have found that stretching is more effective for women than for men in terms of increasing flexibility have cited the greater viscoelastic properties of the muscles and connective tissues in women vs men as one of the reasons that females tend to be more flexible than males.
#2: Muscle Build
Men tend to have more muscle mass than women.
This muscle tissue can essentially “get in the way“ of joint mobility by physically blocking or impeding some potential range of motion around a joint while also creating more tension even in a relaxed state due to “muscle tone.“
#3: Oxygen Extraction
Although not necessarily an indication of women’s flexibility versus men’s flexibility differences, one study did find that women are able to extract oxygen out of the blood faster and more efficiently once they start exercising.
This may mean that the potential range of motion for women increases faster during a warm-up in any given workout, as their muscles are more quickly and readily perfused with oxygen.
In other words, perhaps women feel less stiff and more limber earlier into a workout than men because of enhanced oxygen extraction.
While there seems to be some contribution of “nature,” the classic “nature versus nurture” debate also can come into play as one of the reasons why women are more flexible than men as a general trend.
Women often gravitate more towards practicing flexibility by regularly engaging in yoga, Pilates, stretching, ballet, barre, and other forms of movement that prioritize flexibility more than many of the exercise disciplines more commonly pursued by men, such as weightlifting, cycling, competitive sports, etc.
Can I Get More Flexible?
As with other aspects of fitness, flexibility can be improved through consistent practice.
For example, studies have found that it is indeed possible to improve your flexibility by using methods such as static stretching, dynamic stretching, partner-assisted stretching, and self-myofascial release, such as via foam rolling.
Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that combining a good stretching routine with resistance training exercises such as squats and deadlifts may be more effective at improving your flexibility and increasing your range of motion than stretching alone.
Working on your flexibility and mobility can improve your passive and active range of motion over time.
Check out our guide to some of the best stretches for runners here.
You can also learn about whether stretching makes you taller here.