The Truth About Women's Training
Writing an article aimed at women is new territory for me. I never saw a need to write about training in a different format for females. I write training articles for humans. And last time I looked, women are humans too. Any article I’ve ever written applies to men and women equally.
Train Like an Individual Human
When it comes to physical training, the biggest mistake trainers make is training women differently than men. And the biggest trap women fall into is thinking they have to train differently than men. If an untrained group of men and an untrained group of women do the same training routine, what happens?
Both groups get stronger.
The things that build strength and hypertrophy or speed and explosiveness in a man do the same for a woman. A woman on a powerlifting program consisting of the barbell squat, deadlift, and bench press will get stronger in those movements. If a woman trains the Olympic lifts the same thing happens; she gets stronger and more explosive.
The only difference is in the goal of the individual. Where do you want to be a month from now, six months from now, two years from now, or when you hit 40, 50, 60 and beyond? Goals change as a person ages, but basic objectives such as remaining injury free, keeping decent levels of mobility, and maintaining basic strength levels should always be a concern no matter what your age.
If a man or woman plays a particular sport, the sport will dictate what exercises, movements, and skills practice they need to get better. The method doesn’t change based on gender. Rather than looking for a magical routine specifically designed for women, what matters more is following a program consistently, putting forth effort, dialing in your nutrition, and getting enough sleep. If you don’t apply these elements to your training, you could follow the best routine designed by some guru women’s trainer and you won’t make a step toward achieving your goals. But apply those four points while following a “men’s strength and conditioning routine” and you will make loads of progress.
How well you execute a program matters a lot more than if it has "women" in the title. [Photo courtesy Cara Kobernik]
No Program Applies to All Women
Any program must be scaled to fit exactly where you, as an individual, are right now, on this day. Squats strengthen legs and butts for a man or woman, yet as an individual, perhaps you find it more advantageous to train front squats or goblet squats rather than back squats. It isn’t really a gender thing, it’s a genetics thing. The size of your frame, length of your legs, or width of your hips all affect how well and deep you squat. You can’t change how you are put together and these inherent physical features determine how well you respond to exercises and movements, particularly at more extreme ranges of motion. Some people are built to squat massive weights, man or woman, and others are built to press weights overhead, or do tons of pull ups easily compared to others.
Ignorant trainers may feel all women should be able to squat deep with a very wide squat stance, because as they view it, they are built to give birth. But that viewpoint doesn’t take into account an individual woman’s bone structure. No matter how hard she tries, the way she’s built may not allow her to deadlift or squat with a wide stance.
In both men and women, muscles are attached to bones via tendons. The muscles contract and tendons pull the bones and voilà! Things move. However, things like pregnancy and monthly cycles can affect training, and women need to understand how their bodies are affected by hormonal levels. This element is as specific to the individual as hip structure.
Your Goals Aren't That Different
When it comes down to it, what do most women want out of their training? To look and feel healthier, to look good naked, to be stronger and more “toned,” or be more athletic. Same thing most men want, come to think of it. Funny thing is, whether man or woman, if you train hard to be more athletic you get all those other things as part of the package.
There are general things that prove true for most men or most women. Most men want bigger muscles, bigger arms and chest. That's hypertrophy. Most women want a well-shaped, toned butt and well-toned arms. That's also hypertrophy. They both want flat stomachs. That comes from eating well. Many women are duped into thinking they need “specialized” programs different from a man to get the same results.
Let’s look at losing body fat for example. Healthy eating comes down to what works best for an individual. Some women respond better to higher levels of healthy carbs and lower levels of fat and protein. Other women are the opposite. Some women do great on a vegan diet and others on a paleo diet. Guess what? The same is true for men. If a man or a woman responds better to a vegan diet, there is no magical formula the woman should follow different than a man. There is no vegan diet for women or vegan diet for men. There is simply food. Find what types of food and what combination of macro ingredients (fat, protein, carbs) work best for you.
The same holds true for aerobic training. If you follow the Maffetone formula, it doesn’t matter whether you are male or female. Follow the formula and it works.
Women's Training is a Sales Tactic
I will not sell you a bunch of bull that lunges are the best butt builder for women or that Tae Bo or some spinning class is the ticket. You want a great butt? Track down “The Glute Guy,” Bret Contreras, learn how to perform hip-thrusts, and follow his programs. You want to sprint like a world-class athlete? Look up Barry Ross and his sprint training programs. You want to do strongman-type training? Follow what strongmen and strongwomen competitors do in their training.
The best advice I can give any woman is don’t waste time on “women's training” programs. Those people have something to sell. If you follow what the fastest, strongest, and best conditioned men and women of the world do, you will get stronger and faster. You will get the body you want and reach the goals you have set for yourself.
A kettlebell swing is a swing whether done by a man or woman. The technique is the same. It builds the same muscles and strength in both genders. How a movement or program affects the human body is not determined by gender.
The only thing that changes is what works best for you as an individual. You may be in a different age bracket, have injuries others do not deal with, have health issues others don’t have and have different goals. The only thing that may make the performance of a movement somewhat different is how your body is put together. However, the technique you use will still be biomechanically correct even though there is room for play in all skills.
Don't Be Afraid to Go Heavy
Look for a program that fits your goals. Try it out and then tweak it to fit your individual issues and preferences and weaknesses. Dial in your technique, sleep well, and eat healthy. Don’t be afraid to bump the weights up on that barbell or to grab a heavier kettlebell.
Moving more weight with proper technique and the right amount of effort will get you where you want to be faster, safer, and better than any program designed by somebody selling you on the idea that as a woman you need to train differently. Be smarter than that. If you want to make the best gains of your life, find a well-educated trainer who will lead you, push you, teach you, and treat you with respect as an individual.
Ladies: Want to "tone up?" That's just adding muscle mass, and here's how: