Do Men And Women Need To Train Differently?
Do Men And Women Need To Train Differently?
When it comes to exercising, whether we’re a complete newbie (hello!) or we’re working our way through the Advanced OYG Plan, there will come a time when we think, “am I doing this right?”.
It’s a perfectly natural thought to have, as we navigate our way through all the questions we have about exercise. Should I be using weights? (Yes.) Is a ten minute workout going to do me any good? (Also yes.) Is it too late to start exercising? (Absolutely not.)
But one question that isn’t so easy to answer is, do women need to exercise differently from men? The simple answer is no - muscle isn’t “male” or “female”, it’s the same, no matter what body it’s in, and it therefore needs to be trained in the same way.
For the more complex answer, read on…
Male and female bodies are essentially different, both physiologically (our biological makeup) and physically.
The reason we’re different physically is down to our physiology, most notably, our hormones. Female bodies typically have a much lower level of the male sex hormone, testosterone. Testosterone plays an important role in how large our muscles can get, and therefore, a woman’s body is generally smaller and less strong than a man’s body, because of this difference in testosterone level-determining muscle mass.
But that’s not to say a female body can’t be strong. Women can, and should, train using weights, just the same as a man, as essentially we’re all exercising and training the same tissue - muscle.
Women can strength train in order to gain muscle at the same rate as men, however the ‘limiting’ factor will be our physiology - our lower levels of testosterone determining how big our muscles can get. This means that weight training, which is historically a ‘male domain’ should be an important aspect of a training plan for all of us, in order to achieve a lean, toned, strong, fit physique.
On the flip side, this is good news for those women who fear using weights in case it turns them into a female Arnie. It won’t! There are obvious exceptions to this rule - female bodybuilders exist and look amazing. But (and just the same for men) to achieve this look takes an incredible level of full time diet and exercise commitment and dedication.
Essentially, what we’re saying, and what we’re very fond of saying, is - weights are for everyone, and in order to maximise our workouts to build muscle mass, weights are essential! There is no male or female weight, we can use the weight that suits us best, determined by our size, fitness level and goals, not our gender. The same goes for all exercise - it’s all for everyone.
But all this talk of hormones means that we of course need to mention the female cycle. As anyone who’s ever experienced doubled over period pains, erratic periods, PMS, cycle related tiredness or the fear of leaking through our underwear and leggings as we train will know, our cycle can and does affect our ability to train.
When we’re having our period, if we don’t feel like training, that’s perfectly ok - we all need to listen to our bodies so never feel under pressure to ignore the fact that you have a womb and a period. In that regard, we’re very different from men.
Research does suggest that training in the first half of our cycle (when we have our period and the week or so afterwards) can result in slightly higher gains in muscle strength.
Then, around the middle of our cycle, around day 14 when we ovulate, oestrogen and testosterone levels surge, meaning that we have more energy to train. As we then move into the second half of our cycle, progesterone rises and oestrogen and testosterone decline. Higher progesterone can affect our mood, making us feel blue and possibly less inclined to train.
If you’re experiencing training highs and lows, it could be worth looking at your cycle and seeing if you can plan your training accordingly.
So next time you hear the words “girl sit ups” or “girl planks” ignore them. There's no such thing. There are modified versions of exercises such as sit ups and planks meant for beginners, regular versions and advanced versions meant for anyone exercising at an advanced level. In other words, training is gender neutral. It’s how far we push it, depending on our level of fitness that determines how much we can lift, push or rep.
Carry on owning your goals, no matter where you are on your journey!
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