Monday 29 August 2016

Should Women Train Differently Than Men?

Ladies, do you need a different training routine than men? Should they just join in with the guys or have their own special training programs? Recently, I noticed that this question was asked and answered in our local paper. I was disappointed with the answer. You see, the answer is tricky. It’s not a simple yes or no answer. Like every good training question, the answer to this question is really, “it depends”. There are some differences, but not what you might think and definitely not what is often given in most lady-focused fitness information. Ladies, here is what you really need to know about training as a woman.

The Universal Training Laws
Before, we get into some of the sex training differences, it is important to note that the most important things about training apply to EVERYONE! The differences don’t really matter until you are doing these things: 
  • Pick amazing exercises
  • Focus on getting better at these exercises
  • Work really, really hard (not stupid, but really hard)
  • Forget the quick fix gimmicks and hang in for the long haul
  • Think longevity so you can train for the long haul 
  • Think synergy: your body is the product of your training, nutrition and lifestyle choices 
  • Respect exercise: it can help you or hurt you
  • Have faith in your program – it won’t work if you don’t believe it will
  • Respect individuality and find what works for YOU!

Big Non-Gender-Specific Individual Differences
Once you are doing all of the above, there are obviously some things that require significant training differences from one person to the next. Like the list above, these are also not gender specific. These include:

Your goals
If a man’s goal is muscle gain and a woman’s goal is fat loss (how’s that for stereotyping?), they obviously need a different program.

Your training experience
Even two people with the same goal could be on quite different training programs if one is a beginner and the other is advanced. You play by different rules and follow different strategies depending on your training experience. This is why I included beginner, intermediate and advanced training programs in my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.

Your needs
If you have a glaring weakness (e.g. posture, instability, aerobic fitness, left-to-right asymmetry, strength, flexibility, etc.) this needs to be brought up to at least a reasonable level. You have to make sure you have adequate mobility, stability, movement quality, relative strength & work capacity for what you want to do.

Your body structure
If you have a long torso and short limbs, you will respond better to certain exercises than a person with a short torso and long limbs. 

Your body type
Once you are doing all the universally important things listed above, there are subtle differences in training strategies that can change depending on your body type. For more info on this, check out these posts: 

Subtle Gender-Specific Training Differences
The most important thing for you to understand as a woman is the stuff above. However, there are some subtle gender-specific training differences you can consider to further personalize your training. 

Women have a greater need for information filtering 
There is more bad information aimed at women. As a woman you have to be extra careful that skilled marketers aren’t playing on your emotions and sucking you into silly fitness gimmicks that promise you the body you’ve always dreamed of – by Friday.

Not the weights that you need to "tone and sculpt" your body

Relative lower vs. upper body strength 
The average woman has a noticeably weaker upper body than a man (of course there are some exceptions). However, what many women fail to realize is that this difference pretty much stops at your waistline. As a strength coach who works with a lot of elite female athletes, I can tell you that women are capable of a lot more from their lower bodies than they think. Really push hard with your lower body training. Don’t be afraid to work up to some impressive weights and embarrass the boys.

Slightly higher rep ranges
Because most women have slightly a higher percentage of slow twitch fibers than guys, they often do better with slightly higher reps. However, please don’t get carried away with your reps. This means 5’s instead of 3’s or 8-10 reps instead of 5-8 reps, not doing 50 reps with the pink dumbbells. 

Shorter rest intervals
Ladies often can recover faster between sets than guys can. However, this difference is more due to body type and strength levels than gender. If you are strong, don’t be afraid to take the rest you need. However, if you are ready to go, don’t feel you always need the extra rest time unless you are doing speed/power training. 
Note: don’t shorten your rest intervals too much and turn weight training into cardio. Too many women try cardio, find it fails to sculpt a toned body, then move on to strength training. However, they use really light weights, do high reps and take short rests between sets. All of these training modifications (which are pushed in women’s fitness all the time) turn the strength training into cardio – which failed them in the first place.

More emphasis on posterior chain
Compared to men, most women tend to emphasize their quads over their glutes and hamstrings in athletic movements. For both performance enhancement and injury prevention, I emphasize the posterior chain (i.e. glutes and hamstrings) for my female athletes. However, this area also has the potential to transform the look of your lower body. Therefore, I also emphasize posterior chain movements such as hip thrusts with my aesthetic-focused female clients.

Whole body vs. split routines
For the record, I’m not a “whole body guy” or a “split routine guy”. They both work and I use them both for both genders. However, I have found that women tend to like and respond better to whole body routines while guys to split routines. If you are not an advanced physique athlete, give whole body training a try.

Q angle
As a woman, your pelvis was designed to allow a baby to pass through it. As a result, women tend to have wider hips. This creates a greater angling in of the femur (thigh bone) and this angle is called the Q angle. Regardless of body composition, some ladies have wider hips than others. If you have a wider pelvis, you will have more angling in of your thighs and your knees will be more susceptible to excess strain and injury. If this is you, be extra careful in your strength training not to allow your knees to drift inward. Also, limit the amount of high impact activities (e.g. jogging). 

While men tend to have more mobility issues than women, ladies tend to have more joint instability issues than men. Also, when women do have mobility issues it is more likely to be caused by instability than an actual inflexible muscle. In your warm-up, include some stability exercises. Also make sure you emphasize free weights in your training. 

Check out my YouTube Channel’s Warm-Up and Corrective Exercises playlist for ideas

Most gym equipment is made for average-sized males. If as a lady, you are quite a bit smaller than the average-size male, you may have challenges. If you belong to a gym, you will have to use what you can and avoid what doesn’t work. If you train at home, consider getting equipment more suited to you. For example, I got women’s bars for our female athletes (they have a thinner diameter) and the ladies love them. 

The little stuff matters more
In his course, “Equal, But Not the Same” Paul Chek gave a great analogy of the female body: “Men are like trucks, women are like Ferraris”. The application is this: not only do women look better than men, they need to have their bodies more fine-tuned than men. Pay more attention to your mobility, stability, imbalance and weakness issues and your body will thank you. 

Different motivators
Us guys tend to carry our passion for sport stats into the weight room. We care about our max lifts and arm measurements. Women on the other hand tend to be wired differently. On average, they care more about subjective measures like how they feel and look than objective numbers. A key aspect of training is being evidence based. If what you are doing is not delivering the results, you want, something needs to change. However, you need to find ways of evaluating training that is appropriate for you and motivates you to keep going. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:

Everyone should keep a training log. While this may not be your primary motivator, you need to see progression in your training to see changes in your body.

  • If you are an athlete, you will have to look at more subjective measures such as 10meter sprint and vertical jump. 
  • If you have aesthetic goals, progress photos can help 
  • You may have a certain pair of jeans, how they fit can be a way to gauge progress
  • If you have a history of body image issues or eating disorders, please avoid the scale and tape measure
  • If you just want to feel good (that’s a great goal!), regularly ask yourself, “On a scale of 1-10, how do I feel?”

How about you? I welcome your comments and questions below or on my Facebook Page.

Ladies: want more info on training? Check out these articles: 

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