On average, women have two thirds of the absolute strength of men. This is mainly because men have more muscle mass. If one compares the relative strength, the values of women come very close to those of men. The differences in leg strength disappear completely, only in the upper body they more or less persist. However, if you adjust the differences in muscle mass between men and women, there is no longer any power discrepancy.
Women often have very strong legs compared to their torso. Who has not seen a woman perform like a race horse when doing squats or lunges, but then fails to do a pull-up and then sinks to her knees for push-ups? How does this big difference come about? One explanation for this could be that women have wider hips and usually narrower shoulders and therefore carry a large part of their muscles from the waist down. Their shoulders can hold less muscle than a man’s, and studies have shown that men inherently have a mechanical advantage in any movement that involves the shoulders.
In contrast to men, in whom long-term increases in strength come from a combination of hypertrophy and neuronal factors, in women hypertrophy dominates at the beginning, which later subsides and then mainly neuronal factors are responsible for further increases in strength.
Speed strength / power
In exercises such as Olympic snatch and clean, women also perform on average about two-thirds of the performance of men. In other tests of explosive power, such as the long or high jump, the values of women are also lower.
It stands to reason that, as with strength, this is also due to lower muscle mass and that differences in the adaptation of these disappear. But this is not the case with speed strength. Then why is it that women often generate less rapid strength than men even when their muscle mass is equalized?
Studies have shown that there is no difference in the percentage of type I & II muscle fibers in women and men. However, it is increasingly claimed that the type II fibers, which dominate strength and speed strength performance, are less well developed in women than the type I fibers, which are responsible for endurance performance. This would explain the differences in speed strength.
It goes without saying that the hormonal balance of women is different from that of men. They have fewer androgens in the body, which makes it harder for them to gain muscle mass. For example, men who naturally have higher testosterone levels can also build more muscle mass. However, women produce (often significantly) more than men of another anabolic hormone, human growth hormone (HGH). HGH plays a crucial role in building muscle in women and they can achieve even better results through training that is specially tailored to increasing HGH (for example through higher training intensity / lactate-producing training).
Given this, how should women train?
Lots of women athletes (and hopefully all readers of this page) aside – the biggest hurdle is still getting women to lift heavy weights. A great many women still fear looking bulky and bulky when training at a gym near me for ladies with fees with heavy weights. Most women just want to “tighten” and “firm”. In her opinion, the small dumbbells from the classroom are often enough for this. What you actually mean by these somewhat vague terms is that you would like to have less fat with curves in the right places, but everything is best without building muscle. Anyone who discovers a contradiction here is right.
What women often really want, but are often not aware of, is more muscle with less fat.
The last thing women should be scared of is looking bulky or bulky. Gaining significant muscle mass is damn hard work – even for men. Entire industries would disappear if it were easy. To imply that you could just stumble into it if you weren’t careful would be interesting to watch. So women tend to choose weights that are too low. But also for the nobler reason that women have a more sensible training attitude than many men, because they always attach great importance to exercise mastery. Many ego-driven men could learn a thing or two here.
Even so, it is common for female clients to complain after three repetitions that the weight is too heavy just to do 20 repetitions. It is therefore important that women do not sell themselves below their value when it comes to selecting weights and, to be on the safe side, still test a heavier weight than what they think they can.
Training volume (sets x repetitions)
There are several trains of thought when it comes to optimal repetitions for women. On the one hand it is said that women would benefit from slightly higher repetitions than men because of their type I fiber dominance (the endurance type). Some group fitness course creators saw this as an invitation to build gigantic repetitions into their systems. However, the emphasis is on ‘easy’. The less well-developed, high-speed Type II fibers, however, have greater growth potential when working with lower repetitions and more weight. For women, it is often advantageous to tie each other’s legs and upper body individually.
For example, it is astonishing how much training a woman’s legs can handle (compared to her comparatively weak upper body) and how quickly they recover from training sessions. For a woman who trains for aesthetic reasons and wants full efficiency, it makes sense to take advantage of this leg dominance by working with many multi-joint exercises and a high volume for the legs. This volume should come from more sets instead of draconian high repetitions.
For the upper body, the focus should be on increasing strength, especially in athletes whose sport requires good upper body strength. Also so that the discrepancy between legs and upper body does not get bigger. Frequent training sessions (3-4x / week), multi-joint exercises and slightly lower repetitions (6-10 reps) are the best here. In my experience, women do best to jump up to 10 reps for the upper body and no more than 12-15 reps for the legs.
Basically, the training goal always determines the sets and repetitions and there are no big differences between women and men, especially the stronger and more advanced the woman’s level of training. Charles Poliquin says he would generally keep the volume per training session for women 20-35% lower than for men because of their lower endogenous androgens.
Who has not yet observed the following: During circuit training, the man is still panting on the floor and the woman is already in the starting blocks. Women recover faster than men between sets. Breaks intended for men are often far too long for women. This may have something to do with the lower muscle mass in women, but apparently women also replenish their ATP stores faster than men. I therefore prescribe shorter and shorter breaks for my female customers.
It should also be mentioned that female athletes, especially in team sports, have a six times higher risk of knee injury (anterior cruciate ligament tear) than men. While there are many theories (including anatomical ones), there must be some focus on preventing such injuries. Additional exercises that train proprioception, stability and mobility in the lower body should find their way into the training plan.
There are very small differences between an optimal training approach for men and women. However, these are smaller than is often claimed and the more advanced a woman is, the more the training variables of both sexes should be equal. It is often just clichés and psychological factors that lead many women to train differently than men (fear of too much muscle). In sport, the requirements of the respective sport always determine the training approach and there is no reason for a woman to train differently than a man.