Do Women Need to Strength Train Differently to Men?
Popular opinion outside strength training circles would say yes. Most people would wonder why would a woman train the same as a man, when she doesn’t want to have the muscles of a man.
Because of the physiological difference between the two genders, females will not build as much muscle as men even though they are training the same. Women have 10 times less testosterone than men and it is this hormone that causes men to bulk up. And add in the fact that women build muscle at half the rate of men and it is easy to see women have nothing to worry about strength training the same as men.
Men and women have very different goals in most cases; men want to get big muscles and that inverted “V” look while most women prefer to get toned and shapely. However, both goals are achieved by building muscle and to do that, it takes lifting heavy weight and recovering adequately.
Lifting 5 to 10 pound dumbbells 20 times per set and doing set after set, after … well you get the picture, doesn’t build muscle. This kind of training does have its place in that it builds endurance, but if a woman’s goal is to get toned and shapely, this is not the training method to get there. It takes an entirely different amount of effort and muscle to lift a weight 20 times per set for two or more sets then it does a significantly heavier weight 3 to 6 times to failure (unable to lift one more time).
So just what should a training program look like? Basically exercises that work the abs and target the hamstrings, gluteal and low back using compound muscle exercises. Three good examples of these are lunges, deadlifts and bench presses – all done using weights. These exercises work both the upper and lower body.
Because of muscle distribution differences between men and women, the later may have to tailor their strength training program to include more isolation exercises that target specific muscles, especially the upper body. Pressing movements using heavy dumbbells tend to do a good job of isolating the shoulders. Typically, women have smaller muscles upper body and larger lower body; muscle structure in men seems to be more equally divided.
As far as basic training principles, women train the same as men. However, a women’s strength training program will have to be slightly tailored to make up the difference in muscle distribution. Now go lift to your heart’s content to get the sexy lean body others only dream about!
How Women Can Start Lifting Weights When They’ve Never Done It Before
Before getting to the “how” of lifting weights, let’s first talk about the “why”. If you have never lifted weights before, why would you want to start now? Many women do it for one or more of these reasons:
- Increase their self-confidence
- Build (or rebuild) a sexy lean body they have always wanted (or once had)
- Work toward a fitness goal
- Reduce stress
- Lead by example by being a role model for younger women and girls
- Trying this as everything else tried has failed to yield desired results
- To prevent future problems with osteopenia and osteoporosis
When first starting out, have an exercise routine, called a circuit, as to the types of exercises you will do and how many times you will do each of them. You could set up two plans that work different muscle groups. Either alternate plans each session or do one plan for a week and then switch to the other one.
Use a weight that allows you to do at least 1 set of 6 repetitions of each exercise. In future workouts, try increasing the number of reps. Once you can do 3 or 4 sets of each exercise for 10 reps per set, add weight and drop back to 6 reps per set. You should still be able to maintain the same number of sets. If not, drop back on those too and continue to work your way back up. This way you’ll continue to get stronger.
Expect to get sore after the first session or two. Once your muscles get used to being worked, you won’t get as sore or maybe not sore at all.
One question commonly asked is how many times someone new to lifting should work out. For most people, the answer is three non-consecutive times per week if using the same routine. If alternating routines and both do not work the same muscle groups, workouts could be done on two-consecutive days.
Another commonly asked question is how long someone should rest between exercises or circuits. The answer is for as long as you need, but no more. In the beginning you’ll be using lighter weights and probably not require as much rest as you will later when lifting heavy weights.
In the beginning, you’ll see results fast. Just know that your results will taper off, but you will still be making progress toward that sexy, toned body you are looking for. Lift safe, lift smart and enjoy your workouts!