The most common response when meeting a new female client is “I want to tone up, but I don’t want to get bulky.” For the most part, training has the same effect of both genders. Training can help you improve strength, build muscle, lose fat, gain speed, build bone and other connective tissues, improve brain function and change your metabolism. However, there are a few differences between men and women.
- Men and women have the same strength potential. Muscle is muscle, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Women just tend to be smaller in size, so they don’t usually produce the same force as men. Because of the difference in hormones, men tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass than women of the same height and weight.
- Women tend to have larger fat cells and have more subcutaneous fat under the skin. Men have more fat stored as visceral fat, or fat around the internal organs (which is also the unhealthiest). This difference is why women store fat around their upper arms, hips and thighs and men store fat in their belly.
- Women have a different resting metabolism than men. Women tend to use more carbs as fuel at rest, and burn more fat during exercise than men. Men are just the opposite. This explains why women are better ultra-endurance athletes.
- Women have different strength ratios between agonist and antagonist muscle pairs. An example is that women have more strength in their quadriceps than they do in their hamstrings. This difference is a possible explanation why women are at a higher risk to tear their ACLs.
Here’s the practical application of all of this:
The best model of training for fat loss consists of weights and intervals. Women should stay away from just doing cardio! It’s important to have a baseline of cardiovascular fitness, but it will not help women lose fat. Women start with less muscle mass, so the fear of using heavy weights and getting “bulky” is not a real issue. You have to train really hard to gain size for either gender, period.
Due to the difference in strength ratios between muscle pairs, many women are “quad dominant” and need more attention to training the posterior chain (hamstrings and calf muscles). People with quad dominancy tend to have trouble engaging their core without engaging their legs first. This can be helped by working with me.
When it comes to diet, women need to be more carb conscious than men do. Diets that consist of lean protein, good fats, and veggies and fruits lead to gaining lean muscle and losing fat. Men can tolerate more complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes better than women and still lose weight. Carbohydrate sources should be coming from your vegetables and fruits. I say “veggies and fruits” instead of “fruits and veggies” for a reason. That reason is sugar, and vegetables have a lot less than fruit so there should be more emphasis on eating veggies. Also, because women burn more fat than men during exercise, they don’t need to replenish as much carbohydrates in their post workout shake or meal as men do.