Training a man can be different than training a woman — but then again — the physiological systems for both are exactly the same. Even more, training an individual within the same gender can differ based on the person’s goals, conditioning, and other fitness variables. Nonetheless, we need to address the differences in training a man vs. a woman because some differences do exist. This includes how one “packages” the training for a man versus a woman. This is not to say one is better than the other or that men are stronger. In fact, there are no exercises for men or exercises for women — there are just exercises. Although gender differs, bones, connective tissues, nerves, muscles fibers, etc., are all made up of the same raw material and function in the exact same way, regardless of gender.
It’s How You Package It
As Nick Tumminello from Performance University says best:
“I’ve written several workout programs that were featured Men’s Magazines and Men’s Workout books only to have those exact same workout programs also featured in a Women’s magazine or workout book produced by the same publisher. The only thing that was changed from Men’s version to Women’s version were the terminologies used to explain the workout (i.e. the way the workout was packaged).
In the men’s version it said something like “Use this workout program to build a stronger and more ripped body.” In the women’s version it is said something like, “Use this workout program to shape a tight and toned body.
Now, this practice of using different sex-specific package themes (by major workout magazines and book publishers) for the same workout program is in no way dishonest or misleading. It’s done with the specific reader in mind; to speak to each sex in a way that they can relate to and can get excited about the workout provided, as the training information these publishers (and article contributors like myself) work so hard to provide won’t do anyone any good if it’s not actually put into practice.
Women’s Training vs. Men’s Training
(1) First, women think if they trained in a similar manner to that of a guy, they would start resembling a guy with big muscles. Unfortunately, this thinking is a mistake as that is often not the case. There are indeed hormonal differences between a man and a woman which would cause them to react in slightly different ways to the imposed demand of exercise, but physiologically, both males and females have quite a bit in common and females don’t need a completely special way of training (for the most part). Most females are simply not going to grow that big. They lack the immense amounts of testosterone in the body to do so — and unless you’re supplementing with additional testosterone — building massive “man muscles” is not going to happen even if you’re lifting slightly heavier than you’re accustomed to.
(2) Second, is that females typically develop muscle at about half the rate of men, thus, further proves that women ought to concern themselves less with the thought that they’ll spout gigantic “man muscles” overnight if training with something heavier than an 8-pound dumbbell.
(3) Third, more women tend to think that they simply can’t get as strong as a man. Or that they cannot perform pull-ups, or push-ups, or overhead presses as well as their male counterpart. This also couldn’t be any further from the truth. Fact is men and women have equal capacity to perform work in the weight room (although there are exercise volume/density differences discussed later). With correct application in training, a woman can perform pull-ups and push-ups in the same manner a man can perform pull-ups and push-ups.
But There Are Differences…
Women are naturally very quadriceps muscle dominant (this isn’t a good or bad thing it’s just part of human design). Unless otherwise recommended by a physical therapist for rehabilitation, healthy adult females — for the most part — would steer away from performing quadriceps-focused exercises like leg extensions or lunges on a regular basis. A focus instead would be on developing the posterior-chain/glutes and hamstrings to balance out the strength of the quadriceps. These exercises include deadlifts of all kinds, hip-bridges of all kinds, good-mornings, anterior leaning lunges, and hamstring curls.
Also according to the bestselling book The New Rules of Lifting for Women, “It is well known that most women carry much less lean mass in their upper bodies compared to men, so exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups are a common weakness. Thus, it could be said that women should spend more time on these exercises than men, so that they can increase their strength in their upper bodies.“
And women for the most part tend to enjoy and are better physiologically built for faster paced, circuit-style workouts, whereas men are better built for and tend to better enjoy slower paced, heavier workouts. According to Dr. Forsythe in the article found here, “Women do tend to be less powerful than men due to several factors such as lower muscle mass, lower lung capacity and smaller hearts, leading to lower stroke volumes. However, their ability to recover after high intensity exercise is often greater than men’s. This means, that women will often need less rest time after an exercise bout or set, and can get back under the bar, or back in the circuit sooner. So, exercise programs that prescribe significant rest periods may make a women feel bored.”
Men — since they naturally have more strength & muscle than women — are able to put more power wattage into each set, which often requires them to need more time to recover between exercises. So it’s not that women should do more reps than men, it’s that they can often tolerate a greater training density within a given workout because they’re unable to give as much energy into each rep as men due to the strength differences.
In plain language, this means women tend recover faster than men between sets whereas male counterparts may need more time. This can conclude to us what we know from hands-on gym experience: Ladies can do higher reps (12-20) and less rest due to their endurance capabilities while men can do lower reps (5-10) with more rest between their heavy sets due to more power wattage into each set. But this is not to say men cannot do longer, endurance workouts.
In general, guys can do very well with longer workouts where they do a single set or superset pairs of two strength exercises and then rest, while women may be just as productive doing sets of min-circuits of 3-5 strength exercises. We know that gender differences such as joint laxity, muscle surface area, total force output, hormones (testosterone), and muscle-endurance (remember, women tend to endure longer reps, less rest) as mentioned above can contribute to the application of how an exercise program is produced for a man versus a woman.
In other words, it’s important to understand that although men and women can do the same exercises, it how they’re applied in a workout program that can determine it’s effectiveness along with how much a man or women may enjoy (and tolerate) their workouts.