Get your Coach

Should women and men train the same?


The fitness industry commonly promotes separate training plans based on sex: emphasizing  ripped and “pumped-up” results for men and a "toned" physique for women. But should women and men really train differently? Short answer: yes and no; the truth falls somewhere in the middle.

Both will benefit from similar approaches to strength, cardio, and flexibility exercises.

However, there are training variables where a sex-specific approach may prove more effective than a one-size-fits-all strategy. What are they? And how should you train?

Let's clear up the confusion about sex-specific workouts and talk about the science behind them.

Physiological differences impact training

No, women are not small men and vice versa. While there are biological differences between the sexes, these differences primarily relate to reproduction. Exercise-related differences only really matter if women and men go head-to-head in weight-bearing sports; otherwise, they're just background noise.

So, what are the physiological differences? Here’s a quick breakdown based on statistical averages:

  • Men tend to have more muscle mass and less fat mass than women
  • Women typically have less lung volume and heart capacity
  • Men are statistically taller and have longer limbs –  therefore, require more energy for the same exercises than women
  • Men generally have a higher ratio of type II muscle fibers, known for strength but lower endurance, whereas women typically possess more type I fibers, which prioritize endurance over strength
  • Hormonal cycles operate differently in men and women

Regardless of differences, one truth remains: both women and men can benefit when they prioritize movement and exercise. This becomes even more crucial when you acknowledge the common health challenges faced by both sexes, like:

  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Cardiovascular diseases caused by modern sedentary lifestyles

The beauty of an effective training plan is in the details and that’s why you should customize your training plan according to your goals instead of your sex. Being male/female is just one tiny piece of the puzzle, and setting these parameters when choosing a fitness program will only hold you back.

Setting training goals

Now that we’ve covered the physiological differences, what about training goals? Should women do more volume with light weights to “tone” their bodies while men toss heavy metal around to build muscle? That’s a resounding no.

There are no “sex-specific” exercises, and imposing unnecessary constraints on your training limits you as an athlete. Both sexes can improve their physique through similar training mechanisms, be it strength, endurance, or flexibility.

In fact, both sexes can benefit by flipping the typical stereotypes on their head and doing the opposite. For example:

  • Women can integrate heavy strength training into their fitness routines, defying outdated advice that suggests they stick to light weights or focus solely on cardio.
  • Men can prioritize flexibility exercises to benefit other areas of their training (such as their heavy strength training – they’ll be able to move through a greater range of motion).
  • Cardiovascular training is the jack of all trades – great for anyone who isn’t doing it already.

Simply put, it’s time to ditch the men vs. women stereotypes. Choose a fitness regime that drives you towards your goals, adjusting as needed based on your needs or how you feel at the moment.

For example, women may find it beneficial to factor in their hormonal cycle when planning their training phases – which is totally fine! But there’s no need for a complete split between the sexes when it comes to exercise.

Strength training for men and women

As mentioned above, strength training benefits everyone without the need for sex-specific exercises to achieve success. So, what should you look for in a strength training program? Great news, it’s pretty much identical for both men and women:

  • A strength training plan that you find enjoyable, whether it's bodyweight exercises, barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells
  • A plan that includes both upper and lower body exercises with control and a full range of motion
  • A program that includes lifting heavy or lighter weights close to failure to achieve progressive overload
  • A healthy dose of consistency (that’s all you!)

And that’s it! Don’t overcomplicate it – all muscles function the same way regardless of whether you're male or female. Both can build muscle, lose fat, or maintain their stature on a well-structured strength training plan (and, of course, a well-balanced diet!).

Differences in strength training

However, there are some biological differences we can’t ignore. Men, for example, typically excel in upper body lifts and can generally lift heavier weights. At the same time, they should be aware of taking on excessive volume or frequency in their plan. Rests between sets should be longer, and they should aim to complete fewer sets and workouts overall per week.

Women, on the other hand, can typically manage higher levels of volume and frequency without experiencing excessive fatigue. Women generally experience fewer challenges when moving through a wide range of motion, such as deep squats or overhead movements. They can, however, initially struggle with certain upper body strength requirements, like Pullups.

Keep in mind, these differences aren’t set in stone – they merely reflect the generalized starting point of both men and women. With enough training, discipline, and the key ingredient: consistency, men and women can become equally strong and flexible in their lifts.

Endurance training for men and women

We’ve tackled strength training, but what about cardiovascular training? Just like with strength training, both men and women benefit from training their lungs and heart. It improves endurance in exercise and daily life and overall cardiovascular health.

Why does this matter? Cardiovascular training can prevent or delay several diseases later in life. It can also have huge benefits both for quality of life as well as longevity – all the more reason to incorporate it into your routine. This is even more important for men, who are statistically more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than women.

Differences in endurance

Similar to strength training, there are still some biological differences to note. Women typically tolerate higher volume and frequency than men, while men may excel in higher intensities, like faster running paces.

So when it comes to your training, try switching things up and going against the grain. Men may benefit from longer bouts of lower-intensity exercise (low-intensity steady-state training), while women may benefit from higher-intensity bouts of shorter duration (high-intensity interval training). This goes against traditional stereotypes, but a varied mix of both types of training is optimal for everyone.

Let’s recap

If there's one takeaway from this article, it's this: There's no one-size-fits-all approach to training for either men or women. Everyone will benefit from strength and cardio training as well as stretching, mobility, and recovery – a truly holistic approach to fitness.

 Tackling your "blind spots" can yield major gains:

  • Men often miss out on flexibility and low-intensity cardio.
  • Women tend to neglect strength and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Ultimately, your workout frequency, exercise choices, and intensity should align with your personal goals. Opt for a training style you enjoy and can commit to.

While acknowledging biological differences may place you at a different starting point, it shouldn't deter you from training a certain way; instead, view it as an opportunity to grow. Go for it and leave those stereotypes in your chalk dust.

Try Freeletics now