Avatar photo

By Citizen Reporter


Why should women train differently to men?

Before we can answer this question we need to agree that men and women differ physiologically. IF we agree on this, then it makes sense that we should train ‘differently’ right?

Natasha Deley, Biokinticist at Planet Fitness Platinum shares why women should train differently to men.

When I refer to ‘differently’, I do not mean the “heaviness” of the weight but the way in which we train. Training heavy for women is a Myth as far as I have experienced and in actual fact can benefit ladies in many areas, please understand that lifting heavy will not make you big as most women think, we do not possess enough testosterone in our bodies for this to happen but that is a discussion for another time.

Here are a few points to consider when training.

  1. Women don’t need as many carbs

Women burn more fat, less carbohydrate and less protein than men at the same exercise intensity. They also don’t store as much glycogen during carb refeeds (because they don’t need it).

Both differences in the nervous system and the hormonal system, including estrogen, are responsible for women’s lesser reliance on glycogen. For example, the fight-or-flight hormone adrenalin burns more fat in women than men. A more obvious explanation is that women simply have a considerably higher fat percentage, not only on their body but also within their muscles, so it makes sense to use this as the primary energy source.

Basically, women have a glycogen and protein sparing metabolism. This means women don’t need as much carbohydrate or protein in their diet as men to fuel their exercise sessions.

In general, the more fat women eat, the more estrogen and testosterone they produce. Testosterone and estrogen are both anabolic hormones.

Fats don’t decrease insulin sensitivity as much in women as in men. Estrogen plays a large role here. It helps to keep inflammation in check, burn fat and preserve insulin sensitivity. Lower inflammation means polyunsaturated fats in particular are less susceptible to being oxidized, so they can exert their anabolic effects. Women in general have much better metabolic health than men and have a healthier body fat distribution.

  1. Women do better with higher reps

Untrained men and women have the same fiber type distribution. This changes with training: in strength training women, muscle fibers are converted to type I fibers or don’t convert at all, whereas in men they generally change to type IIA fibers.  Women also have proportionally larger type I fibers than men.

The result is that women are more resistant to fatigue than men, even when women and men with the same strength level are compared. Women can generally do more reps at a given intensity than men. Because women have more slow-twitch muscles, they should train their type I fibers more than men to grow to their full potential. This can be done by performing more reps per set.

  1. Women can handle more volume

Having larger and more type I fibers allows women to handle more volume than men. That’s not the only reason, having more of the female sex hormone estrogen gives women an advantage over men. Estrogen is an anti-catabolic hormone that aids in muscle repair, reduces protein break-down during exercise and protects you against muscle damage. This allows women to train with a higher training volume without becoming over trained.

  1. Women should do less explosive training

The superior work capacity of women disappears when training with weights close to their maximum strength (1 RM). While female muscles have great endurance, the female nervous system is not as efficient as that of men. Men are more explosive than women: they can generate force quicker. The area in the brain that controls movement (the motor cortex) is in fact literally larger in men, even after correcting for height. During explosive exercise at very high training intensities, like powerlifting, men can perform more reps than women.

However, women should train to their strengths. Explosive exercise does not allow women to exercise with as much volume as men. Women also recover less well after explosive exercise like sprints. In contrast to women’s generally greater recovery capacity, high volume sprint training can take over 72 hours to recover from in women. This results in worse training adaptations for explosive exercise in women.

  1. Women respond better to steady state cardio than HIIT

Since women don’t react as well to high intensity interval training, steady state cardio works better for them. This all based on point number 1 on Fat burning. This however is debatable as the new FAD is HIIT and seems to be working for most women more so because it is short sessions that most women have time to fit into their busy days.

I personally have tried it and I feel that it is easier for me to maintain this type of program as it is less boring for me than maintaining a cardio program for a minimum of 40min. I do believe that this is a personal preference.

  1. Women do better with a slower lifting tempo

Since women are less explosive than men, women can perform more reps with a more controlled, less explosive lifting tempo. Forcing women to use a fast, fixed tempo does not take advantage of their higher endurance.

  1. Women tolerate metabolic stress better

Another reason women have better endurance than men is that women suffer less from metabolic stress than men, again even when women and men of the same strength level are compared. Women have lower arterial blood pressure during exercise, so they can get more blood and oxygen to their muscles than men. Less metabolic byproducts like lactate, which causes ‘the burn’, accumulate in the blood, so the muscles are capable of functioning for a longer time under stress than in men.

  1. Women don’t need as much rest between sets

The following graphic from Hunter (2014) summarizes the reasons why women don’t fatigue as much as men. With all of this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that women recover faster after a set than men.. Women don’t need as much rest as men to complete the same relative training volume.

  1. Women can train with a greater training frequency

Women not only recover faster after a set. They also recover faster after a training session. This again shouldn’t be a surprise by now, since women have better nutrient delivery to their muscles, they don’t suffer as much muscle damage and they repair their muscles faster.

With rare exceptions, believe it or not, it’s actually harder for women to build muscle because they have 10 times less testosterone than men. To overcome this, women often have to train twice as hard as men, not softer.

Legs are the exception: I take a slightly different approach with my female clients when it comes to leg training. After all, most women don’t want “big legs”

In my experience, however, the second a female client can’t fit into her “jeans” because her quads grew too much, I have hell to pay. To avoid this, I typically place more emphasis on training the posterior chain that target the hamstrings and hammer the glutes.

I still add squats to the wprkout, but I have female clients take a wider stance and make sure they get  a proper hip-hinge pattern. This is accomplished by learning to sit back during the descent with your hips, rather than breaking at the knees, to place more emphasis on the quads.

To target the quads, I emphasize hip-dominant exercise variations, like reverse or lateral lunges, instead of forward lunges and step-ups. A seemingly innocuous tip like instructing a slightly more forward lean on lunges makes a big difference. Forward leaning targets the glutes and hamstrings while upright posture with vertical shins places more stress on the quads.

Having said all of the above obviously a pregnant women will train differently and even more so should she be a “high risk” patient.


Read more on these topics

exercise training women

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits