You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the number of women trainees who wallow around their boyfriends in the gym doing the same workouts… Should women exercise differently than men? Yes… and no…probably yes….well, it depends… In this article, I’ll try to provide answers on why should women exercise differently than men
Every single day that I’m in the gym I see some girl who is doing the same workout protocol as her boyfriend is.
Which is SOoo pity…
We all have, regardless of gender, the same bones, connective tissues, nerves, muscles fibres, etc. However, some key physiological differences between women and men have to be addressed.
Some physiological differences BEG for different training protocols for women to get the best out of their bodies.
If you’re stuck in the “no glutes” land, if you don’t see your body changing for better, this article is for you.
In this article, you will learn why should women exercise differently than men. And don’t fret. I’ll make it comprehensive so you don’t have to be proficient in the Artz of the Pubmedz (PubMed) to understand it.
In the end, you’ll have the opportunity to sign up for my FREE 14-DAY FAT LOSS FOR LIFE COURSE.
WOMEN, You Won’t Get Bulky!
Before I dive in, I want to address this one topic that seems to never go away.
The vast majority of females have a mortal fear of lifting weights because it might make them look bulky…
I rarely get dumbstruck by things I come across on teh intarnetz. However, this tidbit always sends me briefly into a mild stupor.
No woman in the history of the universe has accidentally gained too much lean muscle from lifting weights (unless they were genetic anomalies or on drugs).
For example, males and females have the same basic hormones in their body. But the levels differ, often enormously. Let’s take testosterone as an example which is a key hormone for muscle growth.
As Lyle McDonald states, women have enormously lower levels of testosterone than men, it’s usually put at 1/10th to 1/30th what is seen in a man. Even in PCOS if a woman triples her levels, it’s still below low normal for a man.
Image Source: Bodyrecomposition
This alone should make you stop being obsessed over getting “bulky”.
Carrying too much body fat is what makes women look ”bulky”, not having “too much” lean muscle.
Now that we have this out of the way, let’s zip through some foundational principles of how and why should women exercise differently than men if they wish to get the most of their training.
Women Should Focus On Higher Repetitions
Before I get to the point, you need to have an inkling about skeletal muscle.
Muscle is made of muscle fibers and these classified into slow-twitch and fast-twitch (source).
Fast-twitch muscle fibers fatigue rapidly but they can produce a lot of force (strength). These fibers are recruited heavily when you lift heavy weights for lower reps, sprinting etc.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have slow-twitch muscle fibers. They are relatively resistant to fatigue but their force production is limited.
They are recruited best when lifting lighter weights for higher repetitions, running long distances etc. (source).
Image Source: verywellfit
The interesting part is that untrained men and women have the same fiber type distribution but it changes once you incorporate strength training (source).
When women start lifting weights, their muscle fibers are converted into slow-twitch fibers (or not converted at all) whereas, in men, they turn into fast-twitch (source).
So this means that women have more muscle fibers that are fatigue resistant. Thus, they should train in a way that recruits more slow-twitch muscle fibers. That is, by performing more repetitions.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should throw dumbbells up and down for 20 repetitions. Anything between 10-15 repetitions will be just fine for most exercises.
Deadlift, squat, bench press should be still done with lower reps, though.
The Bottom Line: Women should focus on higher repetition ranges to recruit muscle fibers that they have the most.
Women Should Train With More Volume
Since women have more slow-twitch, fatigue-resistant muscle fibers, it’s only logical that they should train with more volume because they recover rather quickly after a workout.
P.S. Training volume refers to a measurement of the total weight lifted (sets x reps x weight).
But wait, there’s more!
Estrogen. Estrogen is an anti-catabolic hormone that improves muscle repair, reduces protein break-down during exercise and protects against muscle damage.
If you ever trained women, you would know how freakishly hard it is to make them sore a couple of days later. You give them lift-till-you-puke workout and they come back two days later as nothing happened.
Ready to crush squat rack again…
The Bottom Line: To grow to their full potential, women should train more than men. Weekly volume should be higher than men’s.
Women Should Train With Higher Frequency
This one is a BIGGIE.
Have you, as a woman, pondered the possibility of training the same muscle group four times a week???
Well, you SHOULD!
We are circling back to estrogen. Since it helps to repair muscles quicker and protects against muscle damage, women can train the same muscle group more frequently without overtraining.
And that’s not some theoretical mumbo-jumbo claim. The bulk of the evidence points to women being able to recover faster than men after a workout (source).
Most of my clients are actually on full-body, push/pull, upper/lower body training splits because it allows them to train their beloved glutes 2-4 times per week.
If you are following a classic “Bro” split where you train the same muscle group once per week (Monday – national chest day!), you are leaving a LOoot on the table…
The Bottom Line: If you want, and I bet you do, to get a kick-ass body with kick-ass glutes, start training the same muscle group 2-4 times per week!
Women Should Rest Less Between Sets
Another training difference between males and females is the reason why I enjoy working with women so much!
I have a client to squat for 8 reps. Which, as you might think, is the heavy-ass weight. She barely completes 7 reps. Rests for a minute and she is ready to go again!
If you are a man, you know how difficult it is to recover from a heavy compound lift like a squat. Men need at LEAST two minutes of rest between sets to be able to squat again efficiently.
The Bottom Line: As a woman, you are blessed with less suffering in between sets. So… Stop scrawling down the Instagram feed between sets.
Women Should Feel The “Burn”
This might be the most “Brosciency” thing I’ve said within a non-joking context.
“Feel the burn!”.
Here is what I mean by that.
I bet you are familiar with that burn you feel at the end of the bicep curls. Well, when women start feeling it, they can do more repetitions until failure than men. It’s because women tolerate metabolic stress better (source).
Less lactate, that causes this burn, accumulates in the blood so the muscles can function for a longer time under stress than in men (source).
“Why should I care about that, Egis? How does that change my training?” – you might be wondering.
Well, when you think you can’t do more reps, you are simply lying to yourself.
Your physiology is constructed in a way that you can do much more than you think you can.
So the next time you feel that burn, plough through it because you are nowhere near the failure even if it feels like it.
The Bottom Line: Women possess lower arterial blood pressure during exercise, so they get more blood and oxygen to their muscles. This makes their time to exercise failure longer.
Love Cardio? You Should Prefer LISS Over HIIT
I know, I know… Many people jump on the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and automatically consider it a miraculous fat-burning wizard.
That must be good, right? Well…
To begin with, I don’t even know why would you do cardio (unless you like it) if you are not prepping for a fitness show.
I prefer my clients to just do daily walks instead of cardio to sweat enough to fill a lake.
Let’s say you do cardio after all. Then you should prefer low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS) over HIIT.
Because women physiology is well adapted to endurance training (slow-twitch muscle fibers) and fat burning, so they would do better on LISS.
The Bottom Line: You don’t need cardio unless it becomes necessary to increase the caloric deficit further without drastically reducing daily calorie intake. In that case, opt for LISS since women don’t recover well after HIIT. To top that, they don’t react well to HIIT too.
Women Should Avoid Quadriceps Isolation Exercises (kind of…)
This one is one of those “it’s up to you”.
Anatomically, women are naturally quadriceps (thigh) muscle dominant.
That’s where “it’s up to you” comes in.
If you aren’t prepping for a show, there is no need to do isolation exercises like leg extensions. All of my clients seem to be happy with their thighs even though we barely perform leg extensions.
Exercises like lunges or squats are pretty much enough for women to build fabulous thighs.
Again, it’s up to you.
Saying “yes” to the question of “should women exercise differently than men” would be an Olympic-level leap to conclusions.
Training differences between males and females are very real but exercise selection, progressive overload principle, recovery etc., are all the same.
Keep fundamentals and just make tweaks that I talked about and you will be a step further than most trainees.
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