When it comes to fitness- men and women are fundamentally different beings! Not only do we have different physiological adaptations to training, we also have intrinsically disparate agendas for working out. As we get more men coming along to our classes (which we love by the way!), it's interesting to note how as fitness instructors, exercise programming is modified. For example, as a general rule, we tend to put a bigger variety of weights out when we know men are coming along. Why? Because we know that as men, you have significantly increased upper body strength and can therefore load the upper body when the focus is on the chest and shoulders for example.
Now I'm not trying to start a gender warfare or postulate that one sex is superior than the other. You cannot compare the two as each sex is biomechanically programmed to be innately 'natural' at some things and deficient in others. What I have come to appreciate however is that there are subtle differences between men and women when it comes to working out.
As a generalisation, men often workout to feel strong whereas women workout to maintain their figure and "feel the burn." This was a consistent theme when researching the topic however I beg to differ from what we see anecdotally. Observationally, when we have men at our classes (most commonly our Saturday class) they seamlessly fit into our circuits and require little to no adjustments. The only thing that we notice is that they select heavier weights generally. So what are the physiological differences between men and women when it comes to exercise?
Men generally have larger frames and more testosterone. This means they are generally leaner and stronger than women.
Men have a larger muscle mass than women
Men can achieve higher heart rates than women
Women burn more fat, less carbohydrates and less protein than men at the same exercise intensity.
Women have longer and more elastic muscles which gives them greater flexibility
Women tend to recover quicker after a bout of exercise
Men tend to be stronger in the upper body whilst women are stronger in the lower body
Men have larger hearts and lungs and therefore a better cardio capacity
Men burn calories faster than women do
Women can tolerate a higher training volume as estrogen aids muscle repair, reduces protein break down during exercise and protects against muscle damage.
The male nervous system is more efficient than females and so men can tolerate more explosive work as they can generate force more quickly
Women suffer less metabolic stress (eg less lactic acid accumulates) and they can get more blood and oxygen to muscles. Therefore they have better endurance.
research shows women are more prone to knee and shoulder injuries (due to a wider pelvis and less upper body strength)
On top of physiological differences, men and women also have psychological differences when approaching a workout. Men generally have fewer body image issues than women and therefore go about losing weight in very different ways. "Women are also much more likely to eat because of their emotions, turning to ice cream for stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, even happiness. Guys usually have a pretty strong link between their physical hunger and their eating patterns,” (source https://www.more.com/lifestyle/exercise-health/battle-sexes-why-men-lose-weight-faster/)
So according to our innate anatomical differences, what can men and women do differently when setting a training program? Through my research on this topic, it was clear from multiple sources that men and women don't need to train differently. In fact they can have very similar training programs, we just need to be cognisant of some adaptations:
Women do better when performing higher reps as women generally have more slow twitch fibres and are less prone to fatigue
Men can generate force quicker and so can do more explosive exercise. The motor cortex in the brain that controls movement is larger in men than women and consequently more efficient.
Men will benefit from stretching - they frequently have tight muscle groups (such as hamstrings, glutes and pecs). Accordingly, this limits the ability to train through a full range of motion. By focusing on stretching, they will inadvertantly train more efficiently and with better technique. (yoga or pilates anyone....??)
Because women are innately 'quad dominant' they should avoid over training the quads and ensure to engage the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) regularly
Because women aren't as strong in their upper body (some studies show 30% less than men), they need regressions and modifications when doing upper body work
Women tend to enjoy fast paced circuit workouts due to their innate ability to recover faster. Long rest periods can therefore 'bore' some women
Conversely, men put more force into their workouts and need more time to recover between sets.
Well there you have it! My conclusion - you don't need to train differently according to gender. What you do need to be is cognisant of your biological strengths and weaknesses in order to understand your limitations. I love working out with my husband and I'm very proud that he comes along to our classes. We want to create fitness for all and certainly want to minimise stereotypes and broaden demographics. So whether you're male or female, remember that there are subtle differences that you have NO control over. Work with them and adapt a program or choose a class that suits your needs......