Should women be training differently to men?

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The days of women being confined to the cardio section of the gym are well and truly dead. As we gain a better understanding of the importance of resistance training and beauty paradigms continue to shift toward ‘healthy’ and away from ‘skinny’, more women than ever are stepping into the weights room and picking up heavy barbells.

Given that weight lifting has been a male-centric activity for hundreds of years, perhaps it isn’t too surprising that there’s been a lot of discussion regarding how women should be training. Some are firm believers that women should be training exactly the same as men, while others claim that doing high reps with low dumbbells is the best way forward.

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. Men and women have a lot in common from a biological point of view, and as a result women do not need a drastically different training program to men. However, physiological and hormonal differences do mean that women may respond slightly differently to weight training. How?

1. More resistant to fatigue

It’s well documented that women are naturally more resistant to fatigue than men. The exact reason behind this is a matter of some conjecture, but it’s thought to be linked to hunter-gatherer times, when women would walk thousands of miles over the course of a year, often carrying a child. As a result, women have evolved to be more resistant to fatigue and can perform in the submaximal range for longer than men.

Takeaway: Women can typically handle more volume in the gym, which means they may be able to do a couple more reps before reaching the point of fatigue.

2. Less explosive

While women are more resistant to fatigue and may be able to pump out more reps than their male counterparts, this advantage disappears when training at or near maximal effort. For instance, in a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, researchers found that women had superior isometric endurance time to men when using a weight at less than 50 percent of their maximal load. However, there were no differences between the sexes at 50 percent or 80 percent of their maximal load.

Takeaway: Women tend to be innately less explosive than men. Being mindful of this and focusing on technique when performing heavy lifts can help strengthen this natural deficiency.

3. Higher workout frequency

Not only are women more resistant to fatigue, their rate of recovery is also far superior to that of men. Whereas men may rest from 90-120 seconds in between sets, women can usually get away with a rest time of just 45-60 seconds without compromising their work capacity or the quality of reps. Superior recovery also means women usually respond better to higher total volume. While men may achieve good results training each muscle group just once per week, women will typically find it more efficient to hit body parts at least two or three times per week.

Takeaway: Less rest and higher workout frequency is the most efficient way for women to achieve results in the gym.

While there are some nuanced differences in training methodologies, it’s worth noting that women can more or less workout identically to men and reap the very same benefits. A combination of lifting heavy, relying mostly on compound movements and using progressive overload to continually improve on past performance will help both men and women get stronger, lose fat and build muscle.

patty lee