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Should Men and Women Train Differently

If you've looked around the interwebs enough, by now you've probably seen training programmes or exercises marketed directly towards a particular sex. Something along the lines of, 'the best legs workout for girls'. But is there any truth to this? Today I'm going to delve into a recently published paper on the topic, as well as what coaches have noticed from decades of training both sexes.

'Sex Differences in Resistance Training

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis'

This is the title of the paper recently published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research. It pooled 50 studies together, and analysed their findings with respect to muscle and strength gain in men and women. Men and women had similar relative increases in strength and hypertrophy, except women had a larger relative increase in upper body strength. It's unclear why this was, although my personal theory is: women have significantly less upper body strength than men, meaning they may have more room to improve in the beginning than a male. This makes any increase in strength reflect as a larger percentage. For example, going from a 15kg bench press to a 30kg bench press is a doubling in a women's strength. Whereas a man going from an 80kg to 100kg press represents just a 25% increase. One is clearly harder than the other, but such are the limitations of exercise science. It's also important to remember that these subjects were beginners, so the results will have highly limited application to a man or woman with training experience.

Women Can (Probably) Tolerate More Work

One thing that has been reported by coaches for decades is that female athletes seem to be able to recover from more volume than men. Volume in this context is sets x reps x weight. It's unclear exactly why this is, but we do know that women have a lower ability to generate maximum force, so it has harder for them to lift at the same relative intensities. Generally, there will be a small gap between what a woman can do for multiple reps and 1 rep. For example, a female lifter might be able to lift 90% of her 1RM for 6 reps, whereas a man may only be able to do 90% for 2 or 3 reps. It's not entirely clear why this is. We know that women have more Type 1 muscle fibres (ideal for endurance activities but poor for explosive ones), and they are lifting lighter absolute loads, which probably goes a decent way toward explaining the difference.

So, How Should I Train?

If you're a male: You're in luck - the majority of research and programmes have been written for you. Nothing that I've discussed will necessitate changes in your training. If you're a female:

  • You can benefit from higher reps, and training volumes

  • You can probably rest for a shorter period of time between sets

Additionally, I'll note that here's no evidence to suggest that men and women need to do different exercises.

So, for the most part, men and women can train and adapt to training in much the same way. The main differences are the volumes at which they can train. Hope you guys found this helpful. Share it with someone who you think would be interested in the information.

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