Study Says Transgender Women Maintain Athletic Advantage Over Biological Women

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Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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A new study says that transgender women maintain a physical advantage over biological women in sporting competition, including a full year after transgender women begin hormone therapy.

The results were published in December in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and could impact the Olympics, where a one-year waiting period is currently in place for transitioning athletes, NBC News reports

“At one year, the trans women on average still have an advantage over the cis women,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Timothy Roberts. “For the Olympic level, the elite level, I’d say probably two years is more realistic.”

The study looked at 29 transgender men and 46 transgender women over a five-year period from 2013 to 2018. For the first two years after beginning hormone treatment, the transgender women were able to do 10 percent and six percent more pushups and sit-ups per minute, respectively.

Trans women were also about 12 percent faster on a 1.5-mile run than their counterparts. The advantage apparently waned to an insignificant level after the initial two-year period. (RELATED: More Than 28,000 People Sign A Petition To Ban Andrew Cuomo From Buffalo Bills Playoff Game)

A similar effect was noted in transgender men, who improved their performance over time and eventually reached a roughly equivalent level to their biologically male counterparts, Roberts said. Some of the trans men even ended up outperforming the cis men, reports NBC. 

Medical physicist Joanna Harper notes some issues with the study, according to NBC. She says the methodology is good overall, but the lack of data on the individuals’ training habits and standardized timeline between starting hormones and being tested make it inconclusive. 

Harper conducted research in 2015 that found transgender women actually run 10 percent slower after starting hormone treatment. Other research has shown that the disparity between trans women and biological women varies greatly depending on the sport in question.

Roberts, director of the adolescent medicine training program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, began studying the difference in physical performance of pre- and post-transition individuals while in the Air Force. With active duty service members required to take a physical fitness test every six to 12 months, he and his co-authors had access to a large set of data for individuals who were in the midst of, or had completed, a gender transition, NBC reports. 

The question of how to regulate trans athletes in gender-segregated sports competition has become more prominent in recent years. In late 2020, World Rugby banned the participation of trans women in international competition, and Idaho recently became the first state to ban trans girls from competing against biological girls in school sports. (RELATED: DeVonta Smith Gives Awesome Heisman Speech)

The International Olympic Committee is working on new guidelines to regulate the issue that will be released after the 2021 Olympic games in Tokyo, NBC reports.