Should Women Approach Weight Training Differently Than Men?

Should women approach weight training differently than men?Weight training is an activity both men and women can take part in and benefit from. Training with weights or resistance bands is the best way to slow down the gradual loss of muscle mass that both sexes experience as they age. This loss of muscle mass leads to an increased risk of falls later in life and is partially responsible for the slow-down in metabolism people experience when they reach middle-age and older. Plus, strength training is empowering. It builds self-esteem and confidence while helping to relieve stress. That’s important for both men and women.

Different Sexes, Different Approaches for Weight Training?

Men and women often take different approaches to weight training. Men focus on building big biceps they can show off in a tank top while women are more likely to use weight training to sculpt a lean and toned body, and, hopefully, for other health benefits like preventing osteoporosis. This raises a question. Should women approach weight training differently than men do?

Although men and women have different objectives when it comes to resistance training, most women can benefit from “training like a man,” at least to some degree. Women often train with lighter weights for fear of “bulking up,” not realizing that even with heavy weights it’s almost impossible to build bulk without the help of supplements. Blame it on lower levels of testosterone. Women only have about 5 to 10% of the testosterone men have. That puts them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to building muscle.

In fact, women have to train HARD, using challenging weights and lift to near failure during training sessions to get real muscle definition. In addition, women have a higher percentage of body fat than men. This makes it harder to see muscle definition once it’s there. Women have to get their body fat down to see the muscles they’ve developed through training. That’s why “pink” weights don’t deliver results in terms of strength, definition and fat loss. Because of this, women who want to look toned and defined, not bulky, need to train with the same intensity as men – and most women are capable of doing that once they realize they won’t get bulky.

The Metabolic Benefits of Lifting Heavy

There are other advantages to “training heavy.” It creates a metabolic effect that boosts fat-burning. The reality is you’ll get more metabolic (and strength-training) benefits from lifting a weight that’s 85% of your one-rep max for 8 repetitions than you will lifting a weight that’s 50% of your one-rep max 15 to 20 times. With the latter approach, you’re training for muscle endurance, not strength.

Some women also avoid certain exercises that men do routinely. They might hesitate to do deadlifts, push-ups on their toes and have never attempted a pull-up. Doing these exercises that are the mainstay of a “guy” workout are effective for women too and they build strength and confidence. Women can benefit from these exercises too.

Diet Counts: Men and Women Approach Diet Differently

Men are quick to add more protein and calories to their diet when they’re trying to get stronger or build muscle. Women, on the other hand, typically focus on “low-cal” fare and don’t get an adequate amount of protein to build stronger, more defined muscles. Plus, they may not take in enough total calories to reap the benefits of their weight training program. Eating a calorie-deficient diet and one that’s low in carbs creates a catabolic state that makes it harder to build strength or lean body mass. It also makes it more challenging to lose body fat as metabolism slows.

To add to the challenge, some women believe they have to increase the amount of cardio they do to lose body fat. As a result, they spend an hour and a half or more doing low to moderate-intensity cardio when they would get more benefit from weights and boosting their heart rate up with high-intensity interval training or circuit training.

Men are more likely to spend time with weights than they are doing cardio. Women can benefit from increasing the time they spend strength training too. Lower intensity exercise burns calories during exercise but doesn’t increase total 24-hour energy expenditure like high-intensity workouts where there’s an “afterburn.” High-intensity cardio is also better for shedding abdominal fat.

The Bottom Line?

Women can enjoy some of the same benefits of weight training that men do – a leaner, more defined physique, greater functional strength, and more self-confidence. To get these benefits most women will have to train HARDER than men and not choose a weight they can easily lift twenty times. That’s not how changes in body composition come about. The take-home message, don’t be afraid to lift heavy and challenge your body. That’s how strong, beautiful bodies are built.



J Obes. 2011; 2011: 868305.

Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental 43 (7): 814–8.


Related Articles By Cathe:

5 Biggest Myths about Female Strength Training

Can Weight Training Cause a Drop in Breast Size?


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