Women’s Guide to Strength Training
Men should strength-train. Women should strength-train. Everyone should strength-train!
The problem is that many women are put off, or experience serious “gymtimidation” and feel excluded from the strength training discussion.
Today, we’re going to go through the basics of how Women’s strength training differs from Men’s – an under-discussed topic – and provide all the information necessary to get you off to the best start.
1. Just Start
You might have already started, but many women haven’t.
The reality is that the stereotypes of gyms as the preserve of grunting, huge men are dying off and we’re all better for it. The weight room should be an inclusive place and with a little bit of time and familiarity, you might realize it really is.
Step one to women’s strength training is just taking the first step to getting comfortable defying pre-conceptions. This is where strength starts!
2. Work More Reps
Women have a higher capacity for reps at a certain % of their best lift than men. While a man may only be able to get 5 reps at 80%, most women will be able to train 6, for example.
This is important for two reasons:
- Reps that are slow because they’re heavy are “stimulating reps” and bring the real results
- Most beginner’s programs work with 5-rep sets
While many male-oriented beginner programs work with a plan of 5×5, a female beginner program could deal with extra volume. This could be 4-6 sets of 6, bringing better results with a very small adjustment.
3. Compounds Come First
The most popular females in the fitness industry don’t tend to be the most knowledgeable, and if all you ever saw was Instagram fitness advice, you’d be forgiven that donkey kickbacks were the holy grail of exercise.
In reality, strength training starts with big, general, multi-joint compound movements. The squat, deadlift, overhead press, row and a handful of others should make up around 60% of your training. These move the most weight, bring the biggest strength gains, and are the best use of your time if you’re on a tight schedule.
A good workout can be as simple as 2-3 compound movements and 1-3 assistance exercises. Put the compounds first, and even if you’re only able to get these 2-3 exercises into your session consistently, you’ll see big results.
There’s a reason why elite athletes like Rugby players have their rugby training filled with compound movements.
4. Upper Body Volume is Key
Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to training the upper body. While fantastic results are possible, they are much slower than in men.
This means that your expectations need to be prepared for the timeframe, and you need to work hard to keep a balance between the upper and lower body.
Whatever your goals, being strong and capable “upstairs” is going to be key to a balanced workout program. While men are likely to train upper body 2-3 times a week, females should be using 3-4 sessions for upper body gains.
This is really obvious in female powerlifters, who tend to train the bench press and other upper-body pressing motions 4 times a week. The muscles of the upper body are smaller than those of the lower body, which means they fatigue faster during exercise, but they also recover faster. Make the most of this and get consistent practice in with your upper-body exercises!
5. Carbs, Fats, and Performance
The way that men and women process carbs and fats are crucially different: women are less-effective at storing and loading carbs in the muscles. On the other hand, the female body can utilize fats during training much more effectively. A meal plan for weight loss and muscle gain for women is also possible by ensuring training and nutrition are on point.
This means that we’re going to see a much more effective endurance capacity and a reduced instantaneous/power output – especially under fatigue. There are three key ways to deal with this:
- Train more often with shorter training sessions (a great way to work that upper-body volume mentioned above!)
- Consume intra-workout carbohydrates
- Take Creatine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine to increase strength-endurance
The former is the most important: structuring your training to deal with these changes is important. However, if you have the money and the time then combining all 3 brings the best results. This is an easy way to get the most out of training.
6. Pick the Right Trainer
This is often overlooked, but a coach or trainer that understands the specific needs of men and women is a real concern.
Finding a well-educated and experienced coach that overcomes these problems and knows how to deal with your needs is key. There are many experienced individuals out there but be sure to ask them how they’ll train you differently from their male trainees.
This is a simple question, but it goes to show just how much time and thought they’ve put into training female athletes. If they don’t provide a satisfactory answer, it might be time to work with a different trainer.