Women and weight training
One of the major myths or beliefs out there is the idea that men and women have to approach training differently.
Just like colouring toys for boys in blue and girls in pink there is a clear separation of how the advertising world targets its two markets.
Just a quick glance at the headlines of popular fitness magazines or articles for the two genders and it is clear, according to media and advertising, what each group wants when it comes to fitness.
Men, they all want to build muscle, get the ‘v-shape’ and the 6 pack for the girls.
Women want to be toned, slim, have a great ass and legs to look good and dress appealingly.
Yeah it does sound a bit generalistic but let’s be honest here, health is important but not many people are working out just so their heart is in good condition.
People want to look good, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Muscle is the same for everyone and it needs to be worked the same way to respond
While men and women are obviously, and thankfully, very different in many ways when it comes to the composition of muscle tissue, fat, energy, biology we are all made of the same stuff.
Women’s muscle is not different to mens. What is different and what causes the differences is hormones.
When it comes to muscle, testosterone is the key hormone. It is essential in building muscle, muscular potential and maintenance, and as I’m sure you all know from school biology it is androgenic, which means it is responsible for the development of male charactersitcs such as a deep voice, facial hair etc.
Testosterone levels vary from individual to individual but typically an average man has 20 times the testosterone of an average woman.
As a result men are generally bigger, have larger frames, naturally hold more muscle, can build more muscle as well as all the other obvious traits of being a man.
Your testosterone level has the final say in how much muscle you’re going to build and how much you can maintain.
That’s why no matter what she does, how heavy she lifts, a normal, natural woman is never going to be bulky or have muscle growth anywhere near even an average mans.
It quite simply impossible for a woman to get ‘bulky’ without increasing their testosterone levels through the use of steroids.
If you see an image of a woman who does have large muscles, such as a female bodybuilder then quite simply they are on drugs to get that way (they have obviously trained as well but without the drugs they couldn’t get that far).
Similarly women who have a really high level of muscle definition (i.e. they’re not anorexic but have a well-built physique with a very visible six pack) are also doing something ‘extra’ to get in that condition; due to hormones again, this time estrogen, women naturally carry more fat than men and while it doesn’t take too much dieting to get a man to 9 or 10% bodyfat such a low percentage is unhealthy for women and difficult to achieve whilst remaining healthy.
It is this fear of ‘bulkiness’ that has led to the common sight of women ‘toning’ their muscles by doing 50 reps of a 1 kg dumbbell. They even colour those dumbbells pink and purple just to highlight who they’re for!
Talk about gender stereotyping…
The truth is that super high reps with a non-existant weight are not going to get you anywhere quickly.
Muscle is muscle; in order for it to change and grow it needs to be challenged. If sufficient stress is not placed on it it does not need to change.
It’s like reading the same book over and over; the first few times you may learn something but after that you are definitely not increasing your brainpower or vocabulary.
Related article: Your body doesn’t want to train
‘Toning’ a muscle is also misunderstood. A muscle feels or appears toned when it is developed and not covered by excessive fat.
There are not two types of development, ‘growth mode’ and ‘toning’. They are the same.
The burn you feel when doing 30 reps is just lactic acid in your muscle and is not a gauge to how successfully you are working it; it does not mean you have forced the muscle to grow.
To achieve the sought after ‘tone’ you need to pick a challenging weight for 10 reps and do cardiovascular activity to reduce your fat levels.
Train with weights to get the body you want
Therefore the same weight lifting program for men can be applied for women. Lighten the weights to adjust for the strength difference but there is absolutely no reason why women shouldn’t be squatting, deadlifting and dumbbell pressing in the 8-10 rep range with a weight that challenges them.
Related article: The 5 core exercises
The testosterone is not there for women to make the muscle huge. What will happen is that the muscle will develop to its potential and become harder and more flexible i.e. more toned. If it is challenged it will adapt to be better.
What’s more is that more muscle you build the more calories you’ll burn because unlike fat muscle requires constant energy to maintain itself. It is much easier to be leaner when more of your bodyweight is muscle because you burn calories even when you are not doing anything.
Weight training is hugely beneficial for both sexes and it is essential to getting that ‘toned’ look. Follow the same exercises and templates as the men and challenge yourself by gradually trying to lift more weight.
I can actually think of no two better exercises for developing the posterior area than squats and deadlifts; additionally see my post on the modern dysfunction for more information about the health benefits of these two exercises to encourage you to make them part of your program.
Head to the Get started page now and print a copy of my Beginner Template 1 to start reaping the benefits of all body weight training.