Whilst we are certainly not indicating that women are unable to perform the same exercises as men, or visa-versa, or shouldn’t partake in certain activities or challenges, it is obvious that males and females have a number of biological and genetic differences which begs the question – should both genders train in the same way in order to achieve the same results?
Looking back at the old hunter-gatherer times would suggest that our bodies are set up differently in order to perform different tasks – neither more or less important – but requiring different strengths nonetheless. A man would be expected to run, hunt, gather and return with the kill in order to feed the tribe. Whilst a woman would need to carry a child, give birth, nurture the young, carry the child with them through their younger years and look after life back in the community.
Their tasks require different aspects of fitness – men needing explosive energy and muscular strength, women needing muscular endurance – so surely, their bodies would respond differently to training and require different techniques in order to develop them.
So what are some of these differences and how can we use the knowledge to our advantage to make our training as efficient and effective as possible?
There are important physical and physiological differences between the two sexes, such as the amount of muscle they carry, their hormones and base-level strength.
Men and women who don’t train have the same fibre type distribution, however, with training this changes. In general, strength training stimulates women’s fibres to convert to type I and men’s fibres to type IIa. The result is that women are more resistant to fatigue than men. Therefore, in order to grow to their full potential women should perform more reps per set. This makes sense considering the endurance women would have needed in the distant past.
The superior endurance of women, however, disappears when training with weight near to their 1 rep max. Whilst women’s muscles have great endurance, men have a more efficient nervous system. This makes men more explosive than women and more capable of generating force quicker. This means that men can perform more reps than women when training at very high intensities. This explosive power would have been necessary when hunting.
Another difference is the structure of the pelvis. A posture known as lumbar lordosis is a very common condition in women. It is where the pelvis is tilted too far forward and tends to result in an over-arch in the lower back – it can cause pain through increased pressure on the spine. Many strength training exercises can accentuate this condition, but it doesn’t mean that they need to be avoided they just need to be performed correctly with the correct posture. If you find an over-arched back is something you suffer with, try doing plenty of hip extension exercises, build a strong core and strengthen your hamstrings. These exercises will help to tilt your pelvis back into a more neutral position.
Neither sex should shy away from any type of training but if you want to reach your full potential then it could be useful to understand how your body works and what it will respond to best.