Should men and women use the same training methodology?
The topic dates me, debated tirelessly for years.
Rooted in a fear of developing masculine physical features – broad shoulders, bulging biceps and thick upper legs – females searching for honest, quality information often come across a dispute between two teams:
Team “Lifting makes girls big and bulky”
Broscientific Meatheads and pandering Women’s Fitness Magazine Editors assemble to shame and scare girls into limiting their training to high-rep, purple dumbbell circuits.
Team “Of course men and women should train the same”
Rolls up to the discussion with scientific evidence, hundreds of thousands of past client examples and generally sound logic.
In recent years, team #2 is growing.
And thank God.
This is helping millions of women everywhere.
However, I believe both teams are wrong.
Now, team “train like men” is much more correct.
But it is still sub-optimal advice.
Four Important Considerations
1. “Women Can’t Build Muscle!” — Yeah, OKAY
One of the arguments often cited in favor of “train-like-men” is that females cannot, physically, gain appreciable muscle mass.
Which is just wrong.
Women CAN build muscle.
No, not nearly to the degree of a man or a female bodybuilder (ya know, the juiced up kind you see on magazine covers).
But to say that women can’t build muscle is just plain wrong.
**Additional Rant on Women, Muscle and Body Image**
There is an underlying assumption during these debates that gaining muscle is bad.
That it is masculine.
That it is un-sexy.
Now, obviously we are each entitled to our own opinion.
“Your body is YOUR body. We each have individual goals, and those goals are intensely personal. You are allowed to look any way you like.” –Click to Tweet
But, in case you are sitting on the metaphoric fence between picking up a barbell or continuing with (spin, aerobics, strip pole class or machine-cardio), muscle IS SEXY on girls.
Strength is not something to be ashamed of.
In fact, a few of my clients/female friends were kind enough to send over pics.
What do these women have in common?
They all strength train.
And, as you can tell, none of them turned into freaky giant muscleheads.
If their photos provide even one of you girls the courage and confidence to start training, then I deem this collage a success.
So, to be very clear:
- Women CAN gain muscle.
- This is NOT a bad thing
- Your body is your body — you can do whatever you want with it.
2. Want A Booty?
There are generally differences in the aesthetic desires of men and women – if this is important to you, your training should reflect it.
- Front squat, hack squat, leg extension, forward lunge.
- Low bar back squat, barbell hip thrust, sumo deadlifts, kb swings.
See a difference?
The first set of exercises will build larger quads. The second set focuses on posterior development (hamstrings and glutes)
Quadriceps growth will result in a larger looking upper leg, a trait undesired by most ladies. So, for many of my female clients, it makes sense for my programming to favor the latter.
Now, I’m certainly not saying girls shouldn’t want built, beautiful quads.
The kind of quads that show upper/lower leg separation through denim. The kind of quads that give onlookers an illusion you were born with 3 kneecaps per leg. The kind of quads that lead fitness authors to use and re-use your bathroom selfie in articles for years to come.
If that’s your thing, punish your quads.
I think it’s sexy.
But the majority of females I have worked with would prefer smaller, sleeker thighs and a firmer butt. And that’s cool too.
3. Your Diet Dictates Your Results
Are you eating a calorie surplus or a deficit. Do you count your macros?
Remember, if you are eating fewer calories than you burn (which you should be if weight loss is a goal) it is nearly impossible to add appreciable muscle mass.
On the other hand, if you are eating more calories than you burn, then any kind of training at all — even low weight high rep — is going to increase your lean body mass.
4. The Debate Itself Is Patronizing As Hell
You’ll often hear “should women lift heavy?” as if there exists an absolute truth.
Do you ever hear, “should men lift heavy?”
Well, sometimes. But it’s a dumb question either way because the answer depends on the individual goals of our male respondent.
Women are no different.
Feel comfortable in a swimsuit. Compete in a powerlifting meet. Live longer. Play with your children. Improve your mental health. See your daughter get married. Rock that little black dress on your birthday. Perform a pull-up. Run a triathlon. Run a marathon. Run for 5 consecutive minutes. Feel sexy naked. Deadlift 200 pounds.
Whether female or male, we are all individuals.
And our behavior as it relates to fitness should reflect our individual preferences.
So, what is the best training style for women?
The same style that is best for a man.
And for a dog.
And for an alien.
The training style that is in line with your personal, individual goals.
Obligatory, off-topic reminder that smoking is bad. Yep, even eCigs colored like cool regular ones.