Resistance Training For Women- Should They Follow Men? Or Not?

One of the most common debates to persist ever since the beginning of times is the one circling both the sexes- men and women. We have been a part of numerous debates contesting the superiority between the sexes- physically, emotionally, intellectually and so on. While there may not be an absolute end to such debates, there is one fact that resounds every time. And that is, there are undeniable physiological, psychological, musculoskeletal etc. differences between men and women. If one is better than the other is just a matter of opinions and preferences.

Alas we are not here to argue the superiority of one sex over the other. What we are here for, is to question if the basic physical/ anatomical differences between the sexes play a role in determining how they should conduct their training in the gym.

Key Points:

  • Women are comparatively new to the game of resistance training, which is why they need to be more careful to avoid set routines and work with what’s best for their bodies.
  • The basic anatomical, hormonal and physiological differences means that their some exercise types that women should avoid.
  • It also turns out these very differences lead women to have more endurance that men, and an ability to work at greater volumes with lesser fatigue.

Most obviously there are divided opinions on the matter if women should train like men or not. There are those who believe that women should avoid intense weight, strength or resistance training. And then there are those who believe women should abandon restrain and get to work those weights without a doubt.

So what is it going to be then?

Well, let’s come out and clarify something from the get go. There is no reason why women can’t or shouldn’t train like men. In fact the only reason a comparison between the two comes up is because men have been doing it since long before women started thinking about it.

But that doesn’t mean women should or shouldn’t train like men do. The thing is- every person trains to achieve a certain goal keeping in mind the restrictions of their own body. And that is exactly what women should do as well.

Train to achieve whatever fitness or strength training goal they have, in keeping with their body’s ability and anatomy. Meaning, the biological, physiological, and other bodily considerations should play a role in determining how a woman trains, instead of basing it on how a man trains.

But since men have been doing it for a long time, most training routines are set according to their needs and body type. So the slight differences in the women anatomy call for some tweaks in the set training routines. That is to say women do need to train differently than men, but in the same way as a triathlete trains differently in comparison to a sprinter [1].

It is ultimately about being mindful of different own body types and anatomies. For example, some research suggests women have greater flexibility and balance than men [2]. However they have lower strength, anaerobic power, aerobic and anaerobic capacity and lower body fat than men. Things like these will naturally play a role in determining the kind of training routine a woman should follow.  

So what differences or factors should women be mindful of when comes to training?

Basic Anatomy

There are some basic anatomical differences women should consider when training. For example, women have a bigger or steeper Q-angle as compared to men. That mean women experience greater valgus force to their knees during exercise [3], hence a greater possibility of knee damage. This is why women should focus on strengthening their vastus medialis oblique (VMO) and should squat below parallel when exercising.

On an average women tend to have broader hips and narrower waists in comparison to men. Both of these have different implications on how they should approach training. Meaning women should pay special attention to core work [3]. They could go for squats, front squats, waiters carriers, and etc. other heavy core works that thicken obliques and strengthen traverse abdominis. This will allow for better support to the spine and pelvis under heavy load training.

Dietary Considerations

Dietary considerations deserve due importance when comes to any sort of training, even resistance training. Hence the way female body burns or reacts to fats, proteins and carbs is also a deciding factor in the way they train.

Research suggests women burn lesser carbs and proteins and more fat at similar exercise intensity in comparison to men [4]. Also as per research women produce more anabolic hormones (testosterone and estrogen), the more fats they consume [5]. Both of these imply that women would get better results from training while consuming higher fat diet. This is a direct contradiction to the general low fat, higher protein/ carb diet mantra.

Not only this, the rate at which women oxidize protein during exercise is lower than that in men [6]. Also the daily protein requirement in women is about 10% lower than in men [7]. This implies in comparison to men, women will better adapt to a low protein diet.

However none of this means that women should go on a high fat and low protein diet. It simply means that their dietary requirements are different than men. And a little tweak in diets like consuming higher fats may give women better training results.

Higher Levels of Volume

As per experts women can handle greater volumes than men can. One of the reasons for this is that women have more and larger type 1 fibres in their bodies [8]. Also known as slow-twitch fibres, they facilitate high repetition resistance training. In addition research suggests that women fatigue slower [9.10] during and recover faster from exercising [10, 11]. 

All of this implies that women can train at higher volumes without or with lower possibility of becoming overstrained. This has huge benefits when come to resistance training, that women should gladly exploit.

Cardio, Explosive Training and HIIT

We have already established that women do well with higher volume in training. But what about explosive training. Well turns out, men are better at explosive training than women. That is men are quicker at generating explosive force [12], and can perform more reps than women when it comes to explosive exercise [13]. This however does not mean women should not train heavy. It simply means that to train to their strengths women should focus less on explosive exercises.

Cardio and high intensity interval training (HIIT) are also important for those looking to train regularly and attain optimum fitness. Everyone should include cardio in their weekly workouts to improve overall strength and cardiovascular strength [14]. However when it comes to women, experts believe that women get better results via steady state cardio works instead of HIIT [15]. This is also verified by research suggesting aerobic exercises result in mood improvement in women [16]. Again this does not mean women should swear off HIIT completely. Instead learn to strike the perfect balance while training as per their own body types and training goals.

Less Metabolic Stress, Better Endurance

Another good news for women when it comes to resistance training is that they suffer from lower metabolic stress in comparison to men [17]. That is even at similar strength levels women have lower arterial blood pressure, and are able to get more blood and oxygen to their muscles during exercises.

This combined with the fact that women fatigue slower and recover faster than men, implicates women have greater overall endurance. They can hence train more frequently, with lesser rest intervals and at a higher volume than men.

Conclusion

The foremost point to be clearly noted is that when someone tells a woman to train just like a man, they are just as wrong as the person who tells them to absolutely not train like a man. Because the only consideration to made when it comes to resistance training for women is their own body and strength. So the biggest take away for all you women out their looking for the right way to resistance train to play to your strengths. Moreover every person has some natural instincts when it comes to training, and more so for women. They naturally tend to perform well at higher volume (reps, sets and weight), with controlled tempos, all while taking shorter intervals. All in all women are capable of doing more overall work (training) in the gym. They should take advantage of all these factors and reap the maximum benefits possible.

References:

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