Christine Yu
Women’s Fitness

Athletic research for women's health and fitness is just starting to get attention that will benefit the next generation in maintaining health and fitness throughout life’s cycles.

Christine Yu
Listen Now
Show Notes

Christine Yu(@ChristineYu) is an award-winning journalist and recent author of Up To Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes. Christine focuses on the intersection of sports science and female athletes. Her writing has appeared in Outside, The Washington Post, Runner’s World, and other top publications. As a lifelong athlete, she engages in yoga, running, surfing, and skiing. 

Humans are so wonderfully diverse.

– Christine Yu

Key Takeaways:

  • Women’s Athletic Health: From unraveling the intricacies of female biomechanics in sports bras to redefining exercise guidelines, research is increasingly tailoring its focus to empower women athletes at every stage of their journey. This inclusive approach enhances performance and fosters a deeper understanding of the physiological nuances, ensuring that women receive personalized, practical strategies that propel them toward their peak potential.
  • Empowering Female Athletes: Encouraging strength training for women is crucial for resilience and injury prevention. Starting with high school athletics, empowering girls with proper strength training, and emphasizing its role in fostering body awareness and reducing injury risks. 
  • Yoga Benefits: A holistic practice that transcends physical benefits. Beyond fostering spatial awareness, flexibility, strength, and unwavering focus, yoga becomes a universal ally for athletes in every discipline. Its subtle power lies in seamlessly merging the physical and mental realms, offering a gateway to enhanced performance and resilience. 
  • Women’s Cycles and Fitness: Each woman has a unique experience with menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause and how it affects their training. As more research and information is gathered, women can make informed decisions on what is best for their bodies, depending on the stage of their life cycle. 

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Welcome to the Mark Divine Show. I’m your host Mark Divine. On the show I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of some of the most inspirational, resilient and incredible leaders in the world. I speak to martial arts grandmasters special ops leaders, and incredible journalists like my guest today, Christine Yu. Christine is an award winning journalist. She focuses on the intersection of sports science and female athletes. Her writing has appeared in outside Washington Post, Runner World, other top publications. She’s lifelong, lifelong athlete, yoga teacher, who’s a runner, surfer and skier. She lives now in Brooklyn, New York. Christine, thanks so much for joining me today.

Mark Divine  0:43  

Christine, so stoked to have you on the Mark Divine Show. How are you today? 

Christine Yu 0:46

Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m doing well. How are you? 

Mark Divine 0:50

Awesome. Now I’m doing great. I’m sunny and warm out here in California. 

Christine Yu 0:55

Yeah, it’s hot and humid here in New York. 

Mark Divine 0:57

Hot and humid, yeah, I remember Brooklyn, I have a place in Park Slope. And that was back in 1983 to 85, I think, something like that. Bet it’s changed a lot since then a bit. 


Christine Yu 1:08

Yeah, no,, it definitely has, it’s pretty incredible. I’ve been living in Brooklyn for about 20 years. And it’s wild, how much it’s changed. 


Mark Divine 1:15

Yeah, I’d love to get back there and see that. I was actually talking to another guest who lived in New York City the other day, just how much has changed since I was there in the 80s. And this radically safer. And I don’t know about the last two years, I know that there’s been some challenges.


Christine Yu 1:28

A little different, yeah. 


Mark Divine 1:29

Right, since COVID. Right, but um, the city’s much safer. And then they closed off a lot of streets for you know, kind of like that street pedestrian living and have a lot of little pop up type restaurant, you know, scenarios going on. It’s it’s really cool. What they’ve done.


Christine Yu 1:42

Ya know, it definitely is really nice. Like, there’s definitely in Brooklyn, there’s such a like, neighborhood and community feel. I couldn’t have imagined wanting to raise a family here. But it’s been amazing and fantastic for my kids. 


Mark Divine 1:56

That’s good to hear. You’re originally from California, right? Is that what you said? 


Christine Yu 2:00

Well, I kind of grew up in Connecticut, my family’s all out in California now. So trying trying to make my way back.


Mark Divine 2:07  

You’ll get there eventually. Well, hopefully California can hold it together. You know? 


Christine Yu 2:11

Well, that’s yes, a whole other story. 


Mark Divine 2:13

Turn itself around. 


Christine Yu 2:13

That’s a whole other story.


Mark Divine 2:14

That’s a different story you’re right. So you are passionate about examining the female side of sports, like exercise physiology, and just training and all that. But before we get into that, and your book, tell us a little bit about your upbringing and what got you you know, your athleticism, you know, your trials and tribulations that led you down this path? 


Christine Yu 2:34

Yeah, absolutely. So as I just mentioned, I grew up in Connecticut. My dad was a neurosurgeon. So kind of medicine and, you know, health related things were always in my life. And I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. And that’s what I thought I was going to do. So I had studied, was pre med in college, had all these plans to go to medical school, but ended up taking some time off and really realizing that, you know, while I was interested in health, it wasn’t necessarily the clinical side of things. What I was really interested in was understanding the underlying infrastructure and systems that supported health care in these communities and how we help people be healthy, right. So that’s kind of one side of it, and has always been there. Sometimes I feel a little bit like an imposter. Having written this book. I’m like, I’ve played sports all my life, you know, since I was young, I’m not great, right? Like, I’m not a great athlete, but I love moving my body. I love kind of trying to perform better, have loved, like I said, playing sports and you know, having that camaraderie with my teammates and my friends. So that’s always also been like a big part of my life and my identity. I think, just in the sense of moving my body and being physically active has been really important to me, and my identity in terms of feeling grounded, right, like feeling like myself.


Mark Divine 3:54

What sports did you play, by the way? Sorry. 


Christine Yu 3:56

I feel like…


Mark Divine 3:57

I put a ping in occasionally in, just to dig deeper.


Christine Yu 4:00

Yeah, yeah yeah. I feel like I’ve played everything under the sun. You know, I’ve played field hockey and lacrosse. I swam, I played a little volleyball, a little bit of water polo, played with some soccer, like when we moved out to California, and they didn’t have field hockey and lacrosse, I had just switched to soccer, and then kind of as an adult, have focused more on running, yoga, and I’ve kind of skied all my life as well. 


Mark Divine 4:21

Oh yeah, those last three are definitely a big part of my life. I was a runner for years. I don’t do much anymore for CrossFit kind of burned that out of me because you know, we’d stopped doing long runs and just doing all the sprints and actually felt better. 


Christine Yu 4:34



Mark Divine 4:34

You know my hips were better. But I’ve been skiing since I was four years old, and I love to get out there on the slopes. And that is a really cool kind of functional all around, athletic type endeavor, and you’re out in the beautiful wilderness. Just love that. And yoga, yoga is just pure daily maintenance. You know.


Christine Yu 4:53



Mark Divine 4:53

I love yoga. 


Christine Yu 4:53

Yeah, no, skiing is probably one of my favorite things for that reason, right? It’s being out on the mountain. There’s nothing quite like it. Yeah. And I’ve also skied since I was probably five or something like that. 


Mark Divine 5:05

Mhmm. Did you ever try snowboarding and never get into that at all? 


Christine Yu 5:08

I remember trying it once or twice, hated it must have been in college or just after college. I didn’t like having both of my feet stuck on one board. It made me feel really claustrophobic. 


Mark Divine 5:20

I totally get that. Yeah, I felt the same way. When you grow up on skis. Snowboarding is very hard to transition to if you grow up surfing or skateboarding then snowboarding is easy to transition to. I think it has more in common to those sports. 


Christine Yu 5:31



Mark Divine 5:32

It’s a different thing. I tried it about five times. And every time I tried it, I nearly killed myself. Because I kept wanting to point this snowboard straight downhill and just you know, treat it like a set of skis. 


Christine Yu 5:41

Absolutely. Yeah, my knees and my butt were like so like bruised and like sore afterwards. 


Mark Divine 5:59

So how did you start getting interested in, you know, the women’s side of athletics and looking at the nuances around male and female training? 


Christine Yu 5:56

Well, when I started in journalism, I knew that I wanted to write about women’s specific issues, right, like, at first, it was primarily around health care, again, just trying to understand things that were unique to women. And it had often felt like, right, those were kind of topics that weren’t always given a lot of page space, if you will. And then as I realized, I was like, oh, wait, I can also write about sports, too. Again, I really want to understand this idea of performance and how we improve and how our bodies like adapt to training, but again, through this lens of women, and if there was anything specific and unique with too women, right, and how we approach these things, and just realizing that, A) is this in part driven by my own personal interest, right? It’s like maybe if I write about this, and I study this, and I talked to all the experts, maybe I’ll learn something from this to keep myself like injury free. But then also realizing, again, that these topics weren’t always discussed. Right, Like we kind of have very general health, fitness, injury prevention types of articles out there, but none of them talk specifically about, you know, women’s physiology or female physiology. 

And as I talked more to athletes and talked more to experts really realizing, oh, wait, it’s probably because we don’t actually have a lot of research on this. We actually don’t know a lot about this area.


Mark Divine 7:18

It’s interesting, you know, I didn’t even think about it until I saw that we were having this conversation because you’re right, like, we don’t talk about male performance or female performance, we’re talking about human performance. 


Christine Yu 7:28



Mark Divine 7:29

When it comes to athletic training, it’s just about looking at the human body as if all bodies were the same, and they’re not. So it’s fascinating now, I’m really curious to hear what’s different. And some of the things that you’ve kind of unearth by looking more closely at, you know, the differences instead of the similarities.


Christine Yu 7:45

I mean, I think that, you know, what you said, right, in terms of looking at this from, like, as human performance, I think, you know, actually, for the most part that does hold true. Right,  like, we were all humans, like, you know, whether you’re in a male body, whether you’re in a female body, we are all humans, and there’s a lot that does overlap. And there’s a lot that is in common, but I kind of describe it as almost like a Venn diagram, right? Like, where you have like the circle of men here and the circle of women here. And there is that overlap, but we just don’t know, the nature of that overlap, right, like how much it overlaps, as well as like, what that section is right on the side, that doesn’t overlap that, you know, relates to women. And that’s because we haven’t really studied it. 

And if we think about it, you know, a lot of the sports science studies, in fact, do look at a very narrow population right, there in large part, these young college age men, right. And that, in the grand scheme of things, that is a very narrow sliver of the human population, but yet we often take the findings from those studies, and then apply them broadly across all populations. Right. So I guess part of what I’m hoping with this book is really realizing, well, actually, we need we need more research in general, right, like across a more diverse population, you know, yes, women, but also from folks from non westernized countries, and, you know, from other racial and ethnic backgrounds, because humans are so wonderfully diverse. 

And so we need that additional research to really flush that out a little bit more. And I think the other piece of it is really recognizing, you know, for women specifically, there are physiological things, physiological, anatomical, biological things that do make our bodies different from men, right. So one thing in particular, that has been giving a lot of airtime is the menstrual cycle, right, so this fluctuating cycle of hormones that go up and down kind of through the course of the month, and so we often only think about that in terms of reproduction and fertility, thinking about when you know, women might get pregnant, but those hormones actually play a really important and secondary can roll in the body in multiple different systems. So, you know, as it pertains to bone health as it pertains to muscle mass and muscle quality, cardiovascular health, like pretty much everything, but we only think of it in a very narrow sense, right. It’s impart just recognizing, yeah, there are these physiological differences. And we just need to kind of understand what’s going on and how that may or may not, right, like affect athletic performance and training, adaptation.


Mark Divine 10:31

Wow, there’s three directions, we can go here. You mentioned, the lunar cycle, and the menstrual cycle as being kind of like one area, can you use that difference and then look at it like almost longitudinally across a different number of domains, right. So it’s gonna affect recovery, it’s gonna affect nutrition, you know, nutritional needs, it’s gonna affect sleep, it’s gonna affect maybe even things like flexibility and mobility. Um…


Christine Yu 10:58

Yeah, yeah.


Mark Divine 10:59

So let’s talk about like some of the, obviously, we have these core differences, that being one big one, right. What does it do? How does it impact…


Christine Yu 11:07



Mark Divine 11:07

…an athlete and then what do we do to optimize our our training and recovery, and those things that make us you know, stay in it for the long haul? 


Christine Yu 11:15

Sure. So one area, like I mentioned, is bone health, right? So estrogen is really important in women to help lay down bone and to build bone mass. And so this is really critical, especially during like the adolescent and young adult years, because that’s really when you’re putting down like 80-90% of your adult bone mass. And so that’s why, you know, we talk about things like the menstrual cycles are really important and why we want, you know, young girls and women to have a regular cycle, because you need that monthly surge of hormone to help maintain your bone mass, because if you don’t put down all that bone, if you’re not having that regular surge of hormones, your bone mass decreases, and it puts you at risk for early onset osteoporosis, which is something that we think about is only something that like, you know, older people have to worry about. But it really is a concern for this younger population, too. So you know, it is making sure that you know, you have a regular cycle that, you know, it’s not irregular, it doesn’t go missing. And that’s one piece of it.


Mark Divine 12:17

Is it overtraining that leads to the cycle going missing, or slowing down or stopping or whatever. 


Christine Yu 12:23

So the, you know, researchers have isolated that it’s the underlying mechanism really relates to what they call energy availability. And that’s essentially I equate to the gas in your gas tank in your car, right. So you need enough gas in your body to not only support the activities of daily living, but also to support your training and recovery. So when you don’t have enough energy, and you kind of dip below, right, that empty mark, you’re sending signals to your body that it’s starting, and it starts to freak out. And it starts to create all these changes to like, conserve itself, right. And so one of those changes, is that it starts to down regulate the reproductive system. And so that’s why you start to see this menstrual irregularity. And so that’s why a lot of researchers and scientists and I think more coaches are getting on board too, or, or at least understanding the importance of fueling your body really well, because it does have all of these other downstream repercussions.


Mark Divine  13:23  

Mhmm, I imagine that also applies to sleep because sleep and feeling are so closely related. 


Christine Yu 13:27

Yeah, Absolutely. 


Mark Divine 13:30

So let’s say you’re coaching a hybrid athlete sport, let’s say men and women were on soccer team, you would have a different training regimen, would it be entirely different or be just for a certain period of the month it would be different for women? Or how would it look? 


Christine Yu 13:45

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. Because I think that that’s something that a lot of people are starting to wonder, right. So if these hormones and if the menstrual cycle does potentially impact exercise and training and performance, should we be tailoring our training around the cycle, right, to whether it’s to harness, you know, these up swings of hormones or, you know, account for any down swings in hormones? I think at this point, the research is, it’s not conclusive, but I think that it’s not necessarily that you have this is your training program for men, and this is your training program for women. I think it’s in part, acknowledging the fact that women do experience sport and physical activity differently. So what I mean by that is that the vast majority of women will experience some sort of symptoms related to their menstrual cycle. So this is like a pretty simple, like piece of this, right? So they will experience symptoms, whether it’s cramps, fatigue, muscle soreness, delayed recovery, all of that can potentially impact right, their motivation to train their performance on any given training day or during a game, right. So I think it’s paying attention to those signals. 

And then potentially seeing if there are things you can do to help mitigate that. So right like if your recovery is delayed or seems to not be going as well, yeah, then it is paying attention to sleep, right? It is paying attention to nutrition and maybe eating some more anti inflammatory foods to kind of offset those swings of symptoms so that they don’t affect you as much. Right? And then noticing if there are times when you do have, you know, more energy, and trying to yeah, maybe capitalizing on that, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s saying like, Oh, you’re in X phase of your cycle, you can’t do this, or you shouldn’t do this, because we never want to say that to someone. And it’s nearly then impossible, say if you are on a soccer team, right, like, it’s impossible to coordinate that across the team. But I think at this point, it’s really for the coaches and the athletic staff to be one more mindful of the experience that these women might be having in sport and not making them feel shamed or feel badly, right, if they are having cramps or something, you know, anything like that, but figuring out ways to support them through that, right. And I think, you know, as we go on, we might find out more information in terms of, well, yeah, maybe women should strength train this way versus men. But right now, like I said, I feel like, as humans, there are some principles that are going to be consistent across men and women’s right, like, so like, thinking about periodization of training, I feel like that’s pretty much, you know, gonna be something that will apply regardless of sex or gender. 


Mark Divine 16:37

It’s similar what’s going through my mind right now, the emerging conversations in nutrition and medicine about personalization, right, so there’s some things that are generalizable across the population. But then there’s other things that are best personalized. 


Christine Yu 16:50



Mark Divine 16:51

So I think it’s the same with training, right? Athletic skill development, for instance, as a team, you need to do that all together, right? You know, who’s in this position and forward, back? And how’s the ball moving? How you alls working together as a team, that that’s something that isn’t personalized? That’s generalized across all the players, maybe it’s personalized for your physician or role, but then when it comes to athletic development that is dependent and personal, right, based upon your body type, your age, your gender? 


Christine Yu 17:15



Mark Divine 17:15

Whether you have an injury or not injury or predisposition or not, you know, something like that. And so the best coaches are doing this hybrid training plan where they have this generalized plan, and then a very specific, personalized plan. Is that what you’re seeing? 


Christine Yu 17:28

Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say is that like, that’s hopefully what good coaches are doing right, is that they are in tune with their athletes, they are individualizing it right? There are these general principles, but they’re not going to work for everyone, right? Depending on your specific situation and circumstance, you know, for running, right. Some people might respond better to high mileage training versus someone might respond better to low mileage training, but you’re not going to A) know that until you kind of experiment a little bit, but then B) that’s your job as the coach to write to pay attention to these things, and to figure out what’s going to work best for your athlete. So I think with this more focus on women’s specific issues, it is another piece of the puzzle that coaches just need to be aware of and potentially pay attention to. 


Mark Divine 18:15

So is your book Up To Speed written for the athlete or for the coach or for both?


Christine Yu 18:19

I think for for both, I think for the athletes, part of what I hope is that they recognize some of their experiences, right, because I feel like a lot of active women and women athletes have often had to kind of put part of themselves aside, right as they enter into the athletic arena. Like, you don’t talk about your cycle, you don’t talk about like your boobs hurting or like incontinence or any of these other issues, right, and you have to almost suck it up in a way. And I know when I was growing up to it was very much like this attitude of you can do anything that the boys do, like don’t draw attention…


Mark Divine 18:57



Christine Yu 18:58

…to like being a girl or whatever it was.


Mark Divine 19:00

Equal doesn’t mean same. 


Christine Yu 19:02



Mark Divine 19:02

Equal opportunities doesn’t mean we’re all exactly the same. 


Christine Yu 19:06



Mark Divine 19:06

People get that wrong, I did. 


Christine Yu 19:07

So I think like part of it is so that these women can see their experience and realize that it wasn’t just them, right. They weren’t just an exception to the rule. And then for coaches, I do hope that it does kind of shine some light on some issues that they might not have been aware of before, right. And I try to write in such a way that combines both like anecdotes from athletes with the science, so it doesn’t read like just a physiology textbook, and is a little bit more interesting than that. But it helps ground some of the science into a real a real world context.


Mark Divine 19:41

Right. If I were listening to this, and I’m a female athlete who doesn’t have the benefit of a coach, which is a lot of people, but I love running or I love you know, I love yoga and I love skiing or whatever. What are some of the most important things that I should be aware of do’s and don’ts? 


Christine Yu 19:59



Mark Divine 19:59

Maybe, uh sports specific but let’s just go general and then maybe into a specific sports. 


Christine Yu 20:03

Sure, I think that the number one thing that I would say is eat enough. I feel like for a large number of folks that we just don’t eat enough. And I think that’s in part, right, because of just the culture that we live in, and, you know, all these expectations that are placed on women and like how their bodies are supposed to look that we end up almost doing ourselves a disservice, right? Because we aren’t eating enough, we’re not actually supporting our bodies to do what we actually want it to do. 


Mark Divine 20:30

How do we know what’s enough? 


Christine Yu 20:32

That’s a great question. 


Mark Divine 20:34

Again, I get, I know, it’s different for how much metabolic output you have, like, if you’re going to be a long distance runner, it’s gonna be different than if you’re just…


Christine Yu 20:40



Mark Divine 20:41

…you know, a short sprinter. 


Christine Yu 20:42

I mean, I think the best way is to talk to a sports dietitian who can help you kind of figure out what that means for you, given your activity, given your age, and, you know, all these other things that we discussed. I think for a regular person, it’s hard, right, you know, I don’t want to say that there’s like a specific number or a specific formula. But I know for myself, what I tried to do is notice if we’ll A) if I’m hungry, if I’m hungry all the time, or something like that. But also just paying attention to if I’m doing things like even unconsciously, in terms of like restricting or trying to not eat or recover. I think one of the, you know, important things to do is really, in lieu of like having a specific number, it’s making sure that you’re just eating consistently throughout the day, because our bodies like being in the state of homeostasis, right, like being in the state of balance. It doesn’t like these huge swings in energy availability, or deficit. 

So even just something simple as just making sure that you’re eating consistently throughout the day, and making sure that you’re having like protein also distributed throughout the day, eating before you work out, even if it’s just a little thing, just so your body has some fuel onboard, and then making sure that you are eating after your workouts like thinking about those periods of time in which you’re forcing your body right to draw down on energy. So those are those periods of time in which you are exercising and working out. So kind of buffering some of the nutrition around those periods. 


Mark Divine 22:10

Is there anything in terms of the type of foods that women need to be paying attention to versus men? 


Christine Yu 22:16

Yeah, so I mean, I think protein is definitely one of them, that on the whole women may not be getting enough protein overall. And again, making sure that is distributed throughout the day. I also preface all this by saying I’m not a dietician, or anything like that.


Mark Divine 22:31

That rings true with some other dietitian or nutritionist that I’ve talked to.


Christine Yu 22:34

But I think the other important piece, too, is making sure you’re eating carbohydrates. I know that there’s a lot of, you know, still stigma around eating carbohydrates or like this sense that they’re bad or not good for you. But carbs are really important for female bodies. Because you know, like we were talking about, the body’s really sensitive to those downturns in nutrition is particularly sensitive and female bodies. And the body is particularly attuned to downturns in carbohydrate nutrition. So when you aren’t eating enough carbs, it almost like flips that switch a little bit faster, right? Where the body starts to freak out and thinks that thinking that it’s starving, it starts to send all those messages that oh, wait, hold on, we got to shut down some systems, and we got to do some work here to conserve ourselves. 

So it is making sure that you know you are eating carbs, like that is a very important part of all of this. 


Mark Divine 23:27

Is there any particular type of injury that women tend to be more prone to? 


Christine Yu 23:33

Yeah, so I think one of the biggest ones is ACL tears. And we’ve seen this a lot, especially in this past year amongst like, high level elite, women’s soccer players in this lead up to the World Cup, there’s been, gosh, I want to say over 20 players or something like that, that have, are out, with…


Mark Divine 23:51



Christine Yu 23:51

…you know, some sort of traumatic knee injury. I mean, that’s huge, right? They’re missing this big, like, career important tournament. And so we’ve known about this disparity in ACL tear rates between men and women, since the late 80s. A lot of the thinking around it has focused around women’s bodies, right? Because the idea is, if men aren’t getting injured as much, there must be something about their bodies that makes them more durable or resistant. And then in comparison, you know, that means that there’s something wrong with women’s bodies. So we often compare right between the two. 

And so what folks have tended to focus on are things like, yes hormones, because again, estrogen can make the ligaments more laxs and potentially more prone to injury, but also, you know, things like cue angles in the legs. So because of the wider hips, there’s a higher angle between the bones in the leg and could potentially put more stress on the knees, right, that could lead to injury. What’s interesting is, is that yes, all of those things can play a role. But recently a lot of researchers have started to step back a little bit more and look at kind of the wider context around, you know, the environment, resources that you know, women and girls might have. Even things like strength training, which we tend to think of as like an intrinsic risk factor. Because, again, men tend to have more muscle mass than women. And if we have more muscle, we potentially are more resilient to injury. But it’s also the idea that, well, maybe girls and women haven’t really been encouraged to or taught to strength train in the same way that boys have. So there’s been studies that have been done showing kind of differences in definitely at the high school level, right in terms of boys teams being encouraged to go to the weight room versus girls teams who are encouraged to do things like yoga and pilates, and you know, those types of things. But those things matter, right? 

In terms of learning how to strengthen your body, learning how to move your body, that body awareness can make a big difference. So yeah, there’s a ton of really interesting studies out there around this. 


Mark Divine 26:03

Yeah, that’s fascinating. I tell you what I was really blown away, after about five years in the CrossFit community, just to see what’s capable.


Christine Yu 26:12



Mark Divine 26:12

For the female athlete, right. Anyone who’s been around CrossFit, and it’s surprised a lot of people, it’s like, my God, like, these women are every bit as strong and agile as their male competitor, peers . It’s fascinating. And now we’re seeing female athletes, you know, striving to become special operators, right. So we have some…


Christine Yu 26:30



Mark Divine 26:30

… women in Navy SEAL training, and I believe you’ll see the female Navy SEAL soon, within a year or two. And it’s just a matter of training your body and your mind, but training your body to be able to handle the stress that you’re putting upon it.


Christine Yu 26:43

For sure. 


Mark Divine 26:44

And the body will adapt, right. So the weight training, the strength training, you know, the combination of functional fitness, endurance, and if you train a certain way, your body will adapt. 


Christine Yu 26:53



Mark Divine 26:54

It’s amazing what both male and female bodies can do. 


Christine Yu 26:57



Mark Divine 26:58

Let’s talk again, a bit a little bit about childbearing now, and also like, post child, like, I’ve seen both ways. I’ve seen women especially again, in CrossFit, some women are a little crazy, like they literally will train and compete right up to like, they’re on their way to the hospital, you know, and they want to run there. 


Christine Yu 27:14



Mark Divine 27:15

Doesn’t seem like that would be the smartest thing. But so what’s the best practices for training and competing in childbearing stages, and then also post having a child? 


Christine Yu 27:25

I think, you know, this is definitely one of those areas where there hasn’t been a lot of work done in terms of really understanding the guidelines, right as to what’s appropriate exercise during pregnancy, or at least vigorous exercise, right during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. So we often hear things like, when you’re pregnant, keep your heart rate under I think it’s like 140 beats per minute or something like that. But it turns out that that wasn’t actually based on science that was kind of like a doctor’s committee’s, like, best guess they’re like, oh, that seems about like, right for like moderate exercise. So let’s just go with that. 

But that’s what we keep repeating as like, the thing, right. So I think, again, this is an area in which we’re learning a lot more, and we’re starting to get better guidelines that are out there. And especially for those like higher level elite athletes, it’s something that I know a lot of scientists are really looking at, because women want to A) have families, but they also want to maintain their athleticism, right, they want to continue competing. So I think, you know, part of it is the very unhelpful term of listening to your body. Right, and kind of, a lot of it does depend on kind of your level of fitness coming into pregnancy. And in terms of what you’re able to do and maintain, right, like what your body’s used to, if you haven’t been very active before, pregnancy probably isn’t the time to start like to pick up some…


Mark Divine 28:47



Christine Yu 28:48

…you know, a lot of running or something like that, right, like, it’s probably not the best time to do that. But I think that if you are active coming into it, you can continue doing those things, as long as it feels good to you. And talking to your doctor, if there’s any pain or trouble, there are a couple of like red flags, for sure, in terms of like pain that you’re feeling. But there’s nothing to say that you can’t do it. Cause I feel like there’s often a lot of like fear around exercise and strength training while pregnant. But you know, those are all good things, I think for the mom and for the baby. 

The postpartum period is even kind of worse in terms of any sort of guidelines, I think, in part, because there’s this assumption that the body just kind of bounces back to normal, like almost like it just snaps back like in like an elastic waistband or something like that. But the fact of the matter is, is that the body has undergone tremendous change, not only during pregnancy, but then also a lot of trauma during childbirth, you know, no matter what, whether you delivered, you know, vaginally or whether or not you had a C section. So I think that this definitely is an area to be a little bit more conservative for sure. But oftentimes, you know, women will go to their doctor at six weeks postpartum and the doctor will say, great, you’re cleared for exercise, you can resume exercise if you want. But the reality is, is that that six week clearance really is about like tissue healing. It’s to say that your tissues are healing, there’s no infection here. But it’s not necessarily to say that like, okay, you can go out and run five miles tomorrow or something like that. 

Again, there’s starting to be more guidelines that are coming out, but it is taking it a little bit more slowly. And really just understanding that it does take time to rebuild a lot of those neuromuscular connections with your pelvic floor with your abdominal wall muscles. And like hips, legs, like everything, it takes a little bit time to rebuild those things. And to be progressive, right, start slowly, and try not to rush back too quickly. Because then that’s almost like a recipe for pelvic floor disorders and a lot of other musculoskeletal problems. 


Mark Divine 30:54

Yeah, it almost seems like there should be a period of time where you’re really just focusing on that Pilates style, core strength and mobility and flexibility and really just rebuilding that base. So before you right, get right back into a sport activity.


Christine Yu 31:07

Yeah. And that’s what kind of some of the current recommendations are, it’s really spending those first two, three weeks or so doing like the diaphragmatic, breathing, reconnecting with your core, doing simple things, even like pelvic tilts, if I were going through this, again, I definitely would consult with a pelvic floor physiotherapist, who again, can kind of evaluate this, the State of the Union, right, like what’s going on down there. And if there’s like any dysfunction, if there’s any, you know, muscle tears, or strains or anything like that, that needs attention, but they can help you then build a more progressive program and help you re establish that neuromuscular connection, but also rebuild strength, because no matter what kind of exercise you have done during pregnancy, you know, you will have deconditioned. Right. so it is important to rebuild that strength to support the other activities then that you want to do. 


Mark Divine 32:00

Yeah. Is there any permanent change, postpartum after childbirth? That would necessitate a change in training or nutrition or something around athleticism? 


Christine Yu 32:13

That’s a great question. I think, you know, a lot of it really is individual, like, based on an individual’s experience, like some people will go through pregnancy and childbirth and come out the other end, like nothing happens, like, yeah, one of these people who then are back to running back to doing all the things pretty quickly. And for some other people, there are very significant changes, right, like in terms of could be anatomical, like we said, like in terms of hips, in terms of pelvic floor, muscular conditions, and stuff like that. So it really does depend.


Mark Divine 32:44

I’ve seen metabolic changes. 


Christine Yu 32:46



Mark Divine 32:46

That just come on as a result of hormonal changes. 


Christine Yu 32:49

Yeah, I mean, your hormones, for sure, are all over the place and a big giant mess for a very long time, especially if you are breastfeeding, too. But I think, again, it’s this period of time that your body is in transition. So that means that your kind of relationship with physical activity might be a little bit different. Or it might take a little bit of getting used to this new phase, right? That’s not to say you can’t do what you’ve done in the past, or you can’t have athletic goals. But it just, you’re in transition, right? You just your body’s in a different phase, you just need to give it a little bit of time and patience to kind of reestablish its norms again. 



Mark Divine 33:31

And what about menopause? What’s the recommendation post menopause or going through that to shift things for optimizing things? 


Christine Yu  33:37  

That’s a big black hole.I feel like in terms of people are starting to pay attention to it now. But in general, again, it’s one of these areas where there really hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to it. I think, in part because it was almost the assumption that that’s when women kind of…


Mark Divine 33:55

You’re not doing anything, you are done. 


Christine Yu 33:55

…you’re riding off into the sunset. But you know, as we’ve seen..


Mark Divine 34:00

No, I mean…


Christine Yu 34:01

…women want to stay active longer. They want to continue to compete longer. And so it’s important that we be able to provide them with better information, better education. And they’re asking for it. Like, these women that I speak with, who are older, are all asking, like, what am I supposed to do? Like, why don’t we have better guidance and information about this? And just feeling like they’re almost like hung out to dry? Right? Like, there’s no help out there. 


Mark Divine 34:25

I think that that’s true for men as well. I mean, just people just don’t study older athletes, because like you said, it’s always assume that people in their 50s and 60s are on the golf course. 


Christine Yu  34:35



Mark Divine 34:36

That’s really not a sport, my terms,in my book. 


Christine Yu  34:38



Mark Divine 34:39

It doesn’t really require athletic training, unless you’re in the pros, but…


Christine Yu 34:43

Exactly. I mean, there’s also the adage of like, age is just a number. But yeah, it is in the sense that, sure, you can still go out and do all those things. But you know, that doesn’t recognize the fact that your body is physiologically changing, right. As we age there are these physiological changes that we do have to acknowledge and we do have to pay attention to. 

So for women, you know, menopause is this bookend to puberty. So like, the menstrual cycle starts to wind down and hormones start to decline, right, especially estrogen and progesterone. And because estrogen, like I said, is really important for muscle health, in addition to the normal age related muscle deterioration that, like everyone sees and experiences, women experience it a little bit more, because we don’t have that estrogen to kind of keep bumping it up, if you will. So for women who are, you know, kind of approaching this like, middle of life, like older stage, it is really important to strength train. 

And it’s funny, like, you know, I would encourage my mom to strength training is just like, I’m tools for that, or, you know, it’s like, that’s not what I do, but …


Mark Divine 35:51

You’re never too old.


Christine Yu 35:52

But it is really very much important to continue to provide your body with stimulus, right to stimulate that muscle growth and to like, maintain the muscle that you do have, because there is some research that looks at kind of body composition, and how that relates to menopause symptoms. So like hot flashes, and night sweats and things like that. And the idea is, is that, because, yes, women start to gain some more fat as they get older, but because the muscle mass is also decreasing, so much, that shift in almost proportion between fat and muscle is actually potentially what is connected, or associated with this increase in symptoms. 

So the idea is, if you can increase that muscle mass, maybe you can also offset some of the symptoms that you’re experiencing. So that’s one of the important pieces. And similarly, you know, there are some folks who recommend doing more, you know, high intensity or vigorous exercise too, for the same reason, because it stimulates the muscle, but it provides the body with that stimulus that estrogen was otherwise giving you, but because you don’t have it, now, you have to kind of find it in different forms. So the high intensity exercise can kind of provide that extra stimulus that again, might make you feel a little bit better. 


Mark Divine 37:11

What do you think about hormone replacement therapy for female athletes? 


Christine Yu  37:15

I think it’s absolutely is a viable, you know, option for you know, some women, again it kind of depends on your situation. And something you obviously need to discuss with your doctor. But I think for so long. I know for me, I’ve had, I’ve always had a really bad perception of hormone replacement therapy. I like always thought like, it’s this bad thing that I never…


Mark Divine 37:35



Christine Yu 37:37

Yeah, like, I don’t want to be on it. But the reality is, is that for some women, it literally is life saving, like there symptoms are so bad, but taking this medication really, like makes a world of difference. So I think it you know, it really does depend on the person and their situation. But there’s nothing wrong with taking it. 


Mark Divine 37:56

Yeah, yeah, I agree with that, I think can have a big difference. Any particular equipment that are designed specifically for female athletes that that would be interesting to know about? 


Christine Yu  38:07

You know, the most obvious one that comes to mind is the sports bra. 


Mark Divine 38:10

Oh, yeah. Well, that makes sense. 


Christine Yu  38:13

Obviously, I mean, that’s a really interesting story in the sense that, you know, the first sports bra wasn’t designed until 1977. 


Mark divine 38:20



Christine Yu 38:21

Right? It’s less than 50 years ago, and so not so long ago, when these women sewed together two jockstraps. 


Mark Divine 38:28

Ha, that’s awesome!


Christine Yu 38:28

And, you know, created this, created this thing. Because up until that time, there was no good way to support breasts while you were running while you were being active. And so women had to resort to wearing two bras on top of each other or wearing a bra that was smaller in size, or variety of different things. But what’s interesting about that is that women often complain that sports bras are terrible, they don’t fit well, they don’t support you well, they’re uncomfortable, they’re painful. And I think that’s in large part because we haven’t actually studied breast biomechanics. Until the last 20 years or so. Or at least, you know, people have been studying it. But I think having the right technology to really understand the complex movement of breasts wasn’t available until about 20 years ago. 

And so if you can’t study or you really understand how breasts move, while you are being active, it’s really hard right then to design a garment that’s supposed to support that movement and be comfortable. So I think we’re starting to see a lot of brands and companies out there incorporate more scientific data and like this type of testing and biomechanical testing into their product design process. And so we’re starting to see some better sports bras getting out onto the market, but hopefully we’ll start to see more. 


Mark Divine 39:48

You mentioned that you do yoga. I’ve been a yogi for many years and I actually take credit for helping the SEALs starting to do yoga. 


Christine Yu 39:56

That’s great. 


Mark Divine 39:56

I started teaching Navy SEAL candidates yoga back in 2006 But I had to trick them. Right? So I, you know, at first I was calling it yoga and I was using all the Sanskrit stuff because I’ve got over like 1000 hours of teacher training myself and different things. And their eyes would just kind of roll back in their head and literally would completely ignore me. So I said, okay, that’s not gonna work. So I just started like breaking the asanas down into drills and linking certain drills to say, Okay, this is the hip mobility drill. And really, it was just like, you know, few suns sals with a few twists and had a shoulder mobility drill and, you know, a comprehensive spinal healing thing. And it was all just 25 asanas that I just simple ones that I’ve put together. And then same thing with breathing. You know, I didn’t use any Sanskrit terms like Pranayama, I just just call it box breathing. And, you know, he told him the physiological benefits and within like, weeks of innovating, that and I put air quotes up because it wasn’t didn’t take that much innovation. They were just having extraordinary results. You know, they were loving it, right. And so we did it. After every single workout, you know, we would do like a 15 minute asana session, before every workout, we’re doing breathing and visualization. And during the workout, or as part of the training session, we would design a pre-training mobility session that that worked the joints and muscle systems in the movement patterns that they were going to experience that day. And we saw injury rates just plummet, and we saw performance skyrocket, and it was just huge. And so it seemed like such a no brainer to me that this ancient wisdom can be used for both physiological, physical, physiological and psychological optimization. 


Christine Yu  41:38



Mark Divine 41:39

Is that your perspective? Or what’s your, you know, how do you look at yoga for both your own training and for women? 


Christine Yu 41:44

Absolutely. I mean, I 100% agree with you in the sense that, right, it’s this way to move the body and mobilize things in a dynamic way, that can be really beneficial. And I think, for me, at least, it really helps improve, like, you know, my body awareness. And just the sense of really understanding where my body was in space, how to move it, how to engage different muscles, in a way that I don’t think I would have gotten out of any other sort of training. 

I think when I first started doing yoga, it was very much like I was running, I’m like, oh, I should probably stretch stretch or something like that. 


Mark Divine 42:24

Right, most people think of it as stretching, or even a workout itself. 


Christine Yu 42:27

Yeah. And it became the thing where it was like, oh, I just want to work out right, like, I just want to do fast, like, you know, sweaty vinyasa flows and stuff like that. But it really, I think, over the years, and as began to teach as well, it became this practice of, again, just feeling very grounded in my body, and really kind of understanding a way to check in with what was going on and how I was feeling in a way that that was unique. I couldn’t quite get that out of any other physical modality or you know, anything else. Yeah, it was lovely. I will say like, once I did start training, going to yoga class became very different. Like it couldn’t shut off my brain, because I kept trying to figure out like, what is the teacher doing? Like, what is the sequence that’s going on? Oh, you know, I like how they’re linking this to that. So it kind of took a little bit of my joy out of it.


Mark Divine  43:16 

That’s funny, I got to a point where I just don’t go to a studio anymore. I just designed my own programs, and I do it with my wife, and we do it every day. For half an hour. It’s extraordinary. I hope everyone listening has or can take up a yoga practice to complement their athletic training or just for life optimization and longevity. Just ordinary. 


Christine Yu 43:38



Mark Divine 43:40

So your book, Up to Speed: Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes. Is that your first book?


Christine Yu 43:45

It is my first book.


Mark Divine 43:36

Congratulations. What did you learn from writing that book that got you excited about what’s next?  Like the next vein that you want to plumb in, you know? 


Christine Yu 43:58

Yeah, that’s a great question. I haven’t quite figured out what that next thing is yet. I think for me is, I mean, seeing all this opportunity and possibility, right, in the sense that like, with regard to women’s specific research, and all of this, it’s sports performance and training, we really are just getting started. We really are just starting to ask a lot of these questions like, absolutely recognizing all the pioneers that have come before and all the work that folks have done, but it does really feel like we’re kind of at this moment where we’re starting to feel a little bit more mom, more momentum, both in terms of the research side, but also in terms of like interest in in women’s sports, it feels like finally, finally, people are starting to pay attention. So I’m really excited and curious to see kind of where this goes, right. Like, if we study this more, if we learn more if we provide better knowledge and education to younger girls, right as they start off, what does that do? Right? Like how does that set folks up for a healthy and kind of long term life as an athlete as a physically active person. 

So I’m really excited about that option and possibility. But I’m also you know, personally really interested in how all of this connects too, to the mental side of sport.


Mark Divine 45:17

Right, right.


Christine Yu 45:17

Like mental health, as well as a mental fitness, if you want to call it that. But that aspect is something that I wanted to touch upon a little bit more in this book. But I feel like that’s might be kind of the next part. But we’ll see. 


Mark Divine 45:41

That’s been my passion. In fact one of my books called Unbeatable Mind. 


Christine Yu 45:34

Yeah. Yeah. 


Mark Divine 45:36

I would love to see the unbeatable mind for women. 


Christine Yu 45:39



Mark Divine 45:39

If you want to collaborate on that. Let’s chat. 


Christine Yu 45:42



Mark Divine 45:43

All right, Christine, what a great conversation. Thanks so much for your time and for doing the work you do. And I think because a lot of women out there who are really stoked to have some attention placed on the nuances, right. And so it’s important work. Well, thanks so much again, for your time. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. Christine. 


Christine Yu  46:00

Thank you so much for having me. I’ve been a great conversation.


Mark Divine 46:02



Mark Divine  46:05  

What a cool conversation with Christine Yu, really fascinating to learn about the nuances of the female athlete, the do’s and the don’ts from nutrition and recovery. What happens with childbearing and menopause and just starting to look at how you can customize and personalize training for female athletes very fascinating, and important. Show Notes are up on my website at Mark Divine.com YouTube videos up at our YouTube channel. You can reach out to me at Twitter at Mark Divine and on Instagram or Facebook at Real Mark Divine or find me on my LinkedIn profile. 

If you’re not receiving my newsletter you might be interested in that comes out every Tuesday, where I have the show notes from the podcast for the week. I have a blog linked. I have a book that I’m reading with some notes, I have other cool things that come across my desk. I think you might find it interesting. So go to MarkDivine.com to sign up and subscribe. Oh yeah, I’ve got a weekly practice there to check it out. Thanks so much for my awesome team of Catherine Divine and Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskell, who will produce his podcasts and the newsletter and bring amazing guests like Christine to us every week. 

Ratings and reviews are very useful. So if you haven’t rated it or reviewed it, consider doing so at Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. It helps keep us at the top of the rankings and my goal is 5000-5 star reviews, soon. Thanks so much for being part of this show and for sharing it with others. It’s very helpful to know that you’re out there listening and that you’re sharing the show and you find it valuable, keeps me motivated. So keep doing the work and keep on coming back. Until next time this your host Mark Divine, hooyah.


Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai



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