Women are better at strength training

Women are better at strength training

In the past six years of coaching men and women, athletes and couch potatoes, college kids and elderly folks, I’ve never seen a woman injure herself in the weight room. I can’t say the same for men. In fact, when I write programs for most men, I include a special note—“this is not a cock measuring contest” or “there will be no tough guy awards given out”—to deter them from the all-too-common attempt to lift as much as they physically can.

When I talk about this difference between men and women, people usually think, “Oh, it must be that you do different exercises for your male and female clients.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. The programs I write vary based on the goals of the clients, but regardless of those goals, every client is going to squat, deadlift, push, and pull.

I don’t claim to be a psychologist, but my theory is that most men believe they’re stronger than they are, while most women believe the opposite. This phenomenon could be the result of all the colorful dumbbells that weigh less than 10 pounds, the “sculpt” classes that involve 10,000 reps, or the fact the bar in barre class is for balance and weighs less than 45 pounds.  

No matter the reason, confidence in the weight room is important, but overconfidence is a direct path to injury. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

Me:      Don’t look at the ceiling when you deadlift.

Male:   You are supposed to look where you want to go. My football coach taught me that.

Me:      You want to maintain a neutral spine when deadlifting. You hired me for this.

I’ve never had that conversation with a woman, and I don’t imagine I ever will.

There are plenty of reasons I think women are better at strength training than men, but here would have to be my top three:

1. Women accurately assess their abilities.

I’ve never had a new female client tell me she could do something she couldn’t. On the other hand, I’ve had at least 40 men tell me they could do a pull-up or bench press their body weight when the only way that would have been true was if they were 50 pounds lighter.

Additionally, women rarely try to show off for their friends (at least with feats of strength at the gym). If you’re a man, you’ve probably heard something akin to, “Wow, you just put up 225. Let’s see you hit 300!” If you think that 75 pounds is a huge jump, say something next time you hear something like this. Doing so likely won’t change what’s about to happen, though.

2. Women are hard gainers.

I think it’s fair to say that all women are hard gainers, a term used for people who have trouble putting on muscle.

This inherent disadvantage comes from a higher body fat percentage because of the breasts and other parts of the body necessary for childbearing. That fat is not something you want to get rid of, but every pound of it makes it slightly harder to achieve body composition goals. The opposite is true for muscle.

The result of all this is that women need to work harder to see results, and so they do. Women in the gym are generally there to get shit done.

3. Women are more mobile.

Women tend to be more flexible than men, and that gap widens with age. When a man goes from a sedentary lifestyle to starting a strength program, it can take weeks, if not months, to get him to do a deadlift from the ground. For most women it usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes. That mobility also goes a long way in terms of injury prevention.

Bonus: Women have the same muscular system.

This isn’t an advantage in itself, but it’s a point I really want to hammer home, because the mainstream view of strength training for women is so warped.

Some people will tell you that women are better at endurance exercise or are supposed to “tone.” That’s just horseshit.  

Women do live longer than men, so in a very broad sense, they are better at endurance. However, there is no such thing as toning. It doesn’t exist. Either your muscle develops and gets stronger or it doesn’t. Men and women respond to resistance training[1] the same way, but at different paces.

According to a European Journal of Physiology study, in trained female’s muscles, “the fibers were found to be similar to those of males in distribution and histochemical properties, but were smaller.”[2]  Keep that in mind next time you see a gendered workout class geared toward a specific group. 

When it comes to strength training and nutrition, the disadvantages women face are truly their greatest strengths. The reason the so-called hard gainers are in the best shape is because it took them the longest time to reach their goals.

That’s one of the big lessons about fitness: consistency beats intensity any day of the week.  If you have the God-given gift of being able to achieve your strength or weight loss goals in the first month of your program, you are much less likely to stick with it and build those positive habits.

That is why you see so many men with such massive weight fluctuations. They believe they can drop the weight whenever they want, and for the first 30 years of their lives, they are probably right. But the older you get, the harder it becomes, and the more positive habits you establish in your youth, the more you’ll carry over once your metabolism begins to slow down. Women don’t have the luxury of waiting to figure this out, so they have to establish those good habits at a young age or face more challenging hurdles.

Start now! Build up those good habits. So many people wait until it is a problem to do something about their health, when in reality the best treatment is always prevention.  Weight training isn’t that hard to pick up, and generally women pick it up faster than men. It makes you strong and lean and will keep you that way for the rest of your life.

 

[1] http://jap.physiology.org/content/76/3/1247.short

[2] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF0058078

The Worldly Workout

The Worldly Workout

Gym etiquette: How to become a respectable member of the iron society

Gym etiquette: How to become a respectable member of the iron society