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Today, more women than ever are hitting the iron. Lifting weights has a multitude of benefits, both physically and mentally. Not only does lifting weights help to improve overall muscle appearance and function, weightlifting also enhances mood, energy levels and improves sleep quality.

The fundamental principles involved in designing a training program remain the same for both males and females. That is, a program should be goal specific, ensure progressive overload, include optimal rest and recovery, favour compound movements over isolated movements and be complimented with a nutritious diet.

However, it is no secret that males and females are distinct creatures. Gender differences arise in body composition, hormone levels as well as strength and aesthetic goals. The aim of this article is to highlight how females can use these differences to their advantage and maximise their weight training program.

It is important to acknowledge that individual differences such as genetics and training history will influence how a woman responds to a given exercise regime. Hence, these tips are aimed at achieving muscle hypertrophy and should be used as a guide to help females discover what training techniques best suit their own goals and preferences.

Physiological Differences

Women benefit from performing in a higher repetition range with a slower tempo

Compared to males, females are able to perform more repetitions of a given exercise before exhaustion. According to published author and exercise physiologist, Greg Nuckols, this is because females predominantly produce slow twitch muscle fibres in response to weight training. Slow twitch fibres are primarily used during endurance exercise. In contrast, males convert majority of their muscle fibres into fast twitch fibres, which are primarily used for explosive, anaerobic exercise. In addition, women possess more of the sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen plays an important role in muscle recovery and facilitates glucose uptake in working muscles.

These genetic differences help to explain why females are more resistant to muscle fatigue than males when performing in a higher repetition range. Thus, completing between 15 and 20 repetitions per exercise set with a slow tempo can help females push past their training comfort zone, thereby causing their muscles to grow and adapt to the new training load.

Women benefit from a shorter rest period per set

Likewise, Nuckols agrees that females have a greater capillary density than males. This, in conjunction with the greater proportion of slow twitch fibres means that females are better able to get oxygenated blood working muscle and remove lactic acid. When lactic acid production surpasses the clearance rate, acidity within the tissues increases. Metabolic pathways responsible for energy production do not perform as well in acidic environments, thereby contributing to muscle fatigue. According to Menno Henselmans, scientific author and founder of Bayesian Bodybuilding, this genetic advantage enables females to rest for shorter periods between sets without over exhausting the muscle. A general guideline is to rest for 45-60 seconds between sets, though this again differs depending on an individual’s overall fitness and energy level.

Biomechanical differences

Females benefit from squatting with a wider stance

Women are built for bearing children and therefore have a wider pelvis than males. In addition, the female pelvic bone has an anterior tilt (rotates forward), causing the glutes and stomach to protrude out more than males. Exercise scientist and celebrity trainer, Rudy Mawer advises that females should squat with a wider stance compared to men. A wider stance prevents the hips from extending back too far, thereby ensuring that they descend comfortably towards the ground. Likewise, Mawer recommends that females point their toes slightly outward while squatting. This helps to counteract the anterior tilt by forcing the individual to drive the weight up through their heels.

Females benefit from favouring exercises that reduce stress placed on the knees

Compared to males, females have softer ligaments and tendons, making them more prone to knee injuries. Fitness expert, Jay Cardiello suggests that females should favour exercises that place less stress on the knees. For example, favouring reverse lunges over forward lunges reduces the load placed on the knee joint, thereby helping to protect it. Likewise, according to Mawer, women should incorporate exercises which strengthen the Vastus Medialis Oblique. This muscle helps to stabilize the knee joint, thereby reducing the risk of an ACL injury. This can be achieved by performing exercises such as step-ups and leg extensions.

Therefore, in order to reap maximal benefits from weight training, females should tailor their training program in a way that takes advantage of their high metabolic efficiency. This can be achieved by performing in the higher repetition range with a slower tempo, minimising rest periods between sets, squatting with a wider stance and favouring exercises that reduce stress placed on the knee.

If you would like to learn more about how to design a training program specific to your individual needs and goals, inquire at reception about our personal training packages. 

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