Much as modern society hates to admit it, there are differences between men and women—specifically physiological differences. Sexual dimorphism is the physical differences that set men and women apart: breasts versus men’s larger chest muscles, men’s larger voice boxes (Adam’s apples), the stronger cheekbones, brows and jaws of men producing a lot of testosterone versus the fuller lips, wider faces, and higher eyebrows of women producing a lot of estrogen; men’s tendency to be more muscular where women are curvy, and the list goes on.
Yes, men do have an easier time packing on muscle, and their metabolisms tend to run faster—meaning easier fat loss. However, when it comes to high-intensity interval training, it seems women are the ones with the edge. Revisiting a study from Bowling Green State University, you can find the background to the notion that HIIT training provides more health benefits to women than men.
The sex-specific responses to HIIT exercise include better ability to maintain the highest intensity, better increases in VO2 Max, and higher heart rates. The males in the study tended to set a higher pace for their workouts, but the women ended up working at a higher HR% than the men, as well as a higher percentage of their oxygen consumption.
The women ended up training at the same pace as the men, but their bodies worked harder. In the long run, this means they would have obtained more cardiorespiratory benefits and seen greater improvement in their overall fitness than the men. Women training at HIIT will benefit more than their male counterparts.
There may be differences between the genders, but all it means is that men and women need to approach their workouts differently. Understanding the gender differences can help you to create a workout program that is tailored to your unique needs and abilities. In the long run, that is the key to seeing better results from the program.
But let’s get one thing straight: HIIT works for both men and women. The recommended work to rest ratio (2:1) applies to both genders, and the cardiorespiratory benefits apply across the board. Don’t let anyone tell you not to try HIIT because it’s too hard or better for guys. HIIT training is actually better for women, and you’ll see more results in the long run. All that matters is that you push yourself to your absolute limit—the work always pays off in the end.
“I really think one of the ‘take home’ points from our study was, despite the gender differences that we found, individuals performing high-intensity interval training should listen to and trust their body and pay attention to how they are feeling,” said Dr. Matt Laurent, Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies at Bowling Green State University.
“Without having any feedback about their data, all the participants had to use to set their pace was how they felt during the run and how recovered they felt. In that sense when runners perform high-intensity intervals, trust that if you push yourself to run what you consider hard, you are probably at the correct intensity, and if you maintain recommended work-to-rest ratios you most likely will recover appropriately to get the most out of your workout, independent of gender.” Continued Dr. Laurent.
1. C. Matthew Laurent, Lauren S. Vervaecke, Matthew R. Kutz, J. Matthew Green. “Sex specific responses to self-paced, high-intensity interval training with variable recovery periods.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.