There are a number of physical differences between men and women that means specific exercise variations may be better suited to one or the other gender or that some may present a higher risk profile. Note that the same could be said of natural anatomical differences between people of the same sex, such as very tall or very short men.
Being aware of these differences, the risks, and suitable adjustments or alternatives, is just one of many reasons why supervised training with personalized programs achieves better results than when people do their own thing.
Take the example of a woman’s pelvis is. Compared to that of a man, the female pelvis is typically wider and slightly rounder. The hip width (which creates a greater Q-Angle) can increase the risk of long term knee degradation as pressure is less well distributed over the knee joint. For training normal women, this means we may put greater emphasis on strengthening the muscles around the knee (including the VMO and Hamstrings) and limiting the amount of impact going through the knee (less plyometric exercises, for example).
Men tend to use carbohydrates more than women when exercising but have significantly higher metabolic rates – making it easier to get lean and stay lean. We also know that female hormones are significantly influenced by low carb diets – which is why, generally, we have relatively higher and more consistent carbohydrate intakes for women.
Women also hold a trump carb in terms of recovery from exercise – the basics of it are that given an equal level of exertion, women tend to recover from exercise more quickly. As such, we tend towards slightly higher volumes and frequencies for women.
Now, I have nothing to back up the next statement, other than my own observations and experience from teaching clients. Women are typically more concerned with doing something well while men are more concerned with doing as much as possible.
This translates to most women being a joy to train as they listen, practice, and strive to improve their technique – the strength and weight increases happen quite naturally without any rush or risk. Sometimes, it is more difficult to convince women to lift heavy and push their own boundaries. You can see this phenomenon in commercial gyms and running groups where thousands of women participate and do the same thing – regardless of levels of ability.
Thankfully, there is no difference in potential to improve between women and men, so when women experience high quality training like we do at Ninth Wave, women respond really, really well.
Men tend towards pushing themselves very hard and it is important to ensure they are challenged. For most it is a natural urge to be as strong as possible, the though of lifting heavy sits well with most guys. Spending some time in the lower rep, higher weight range is important and being able to perform well in the classic body weight exercises (chins, press-ups and dips) is critical.
Getting massive may not be on everyone’s agenda – but I have never yet had a male client be unhappy when they add some extra muscle mass, so hypertrophy training and higher protein based diets tend to be rewarding for us.
Guys though do struggle when they cannot do something well – and need more coaching on how to lift with limited risk and for long term gains. A tendency to overwork their best areas (due to the desire to do well) and to lack joint mobility and flexibility means we often have to incorporate more mobility/flexibility drills in the workouts to get the best performance out of them.
Men seem to be more competitive and less collaborative (targets, metrics, and reference ranges for strength work well) and celebrating success is important.
To recap: women have anatomical differences, which should be factored into program design to maximize benefits and reduce long-term risks. Their ability and willingness to learn means they can be taught the more complex and beneficial compound exercises and they will enjoy emphasis on quality movement. They flourish in small, collaborative environments and with the right coaching they can easily exceed their own expectations.
Men are more natural performers and may need more direction to achieve their potential. Most men have masses of untapped potential for strength and muscularity and when training on their own fall well short of their potential. With targeted mobility and flexibility work, slightly more focus on technique, and a more structurally balanced approach to training and most guys can transform how they move, look and feel.