With only very few exceptions, women can be trained with the
exact same programming as men. Muscles respond to weight training
with similar adaptations, regardless of sex. Women can benefit
from a weight training program just as much, if not more than
men. (Kraemer and Fleck 2007; Rippetoe and Kilgore, 2006).
are dependent upon the implementation of fundamental training
principles. The efficacy and specificity of the training
protocol will dictate the training response. Toning and firming
workouts have no basis in physiology and are ineffective. (Rippetoe
and Kilgore, 2006). Also see High
Repetitions Burn More Fat Myth and Spot
There are, however, a number of differences between the performances
of women and men. Generally, adult males are stronger than adult
females. Interestingly, however, absolute strength relative to
muscle mass are essentially the same between sexes.
Much of the difference in strength between men and women can
be attributed to women's smaller stature, lower percentage of
muscle mass, and significantly lower upper body muscle mass.
Consequently, their upper and lower body strength averages 55%
and 72% respectively of a man's strength. Women's world records
for the bench press, squat, and deadlift were 60.4%, 65.7%, and
77.1% respectively of the men's world records.
A women's maximal power outputs (both absolute and relative
to bodyweight) are less than that of men's. Women's maximum vertical
jumps and long jump have been measured at 54-79% and 75% of men's,
respectively. Also, women's world records for the clean &
jerk and snatch were 73% and 72% respectively of the men's world
On average, women also have lower rate of force development,
but slower fatigue rate in high-intense exercise. These differences
may be largely attributed to slight differences in muscle
fiber type composition, women's smaller type I and II muscle
fibers sizes, and hormonal differences (ie: testosterone
Increases in muscle mass (both absolute and relative) are
generally less in women, when performing the same program as
of these differences warrant significant changes to the total
design of a program.
Women, however, can use a higher percentage of their one
repetition maximum (1RM) for greater number of repetitions,
likely due to less efficiency in demonstrating true absolute
strength through one repetition maximum performance. As a result,
some modifications are required for women when their intensities
are based on percentage of their one repetition maximum. Higher
percentages of this one rep max generally need to be prescribed.
For example, 70% of 1RM for 10 reps would constitute a heavy
set for men, but this load would only be a medium load for women.
Likewise, if muscle mass gains were desired, a higher training
volume at a slightly higher intensity would be required. (Rippetoe
and Kilgore, 2006)
In conditioning for sports that are dependent upon upper body
strength and power, slight emphasis should be placed on these
sort of movements by adding one or two upper body exercises relevant
to the specific muscle involved.
Active athletic women have fewer problems with premenstrual
symptoms [eg: mood changes, appetite cravings, breast enlargement,
mood changes] as compared to sedentary women (Prior, Vigna, and
McKay 1992). Athletes also experience less frequent and less
severe abdominal pain (dysmenorrhea) as compared to the general
population (Dale, Gerlach, and Wilehite 1979).
Nevertheless, cooperation may be required between the coach
and the female athlete during menses. Scheduling an offload week
during this time may be appropriate to accommodate any potential
issues of discomfort and associated effects (Rippetoe and Kilgore,
Hormone concentration conditions appear to be more favorable
for muscle growth in the follicular phase as compared to the
luteal phase. Reis, Freik, and Schmidtbleicher (1995) reported
greater isometric strength gains during an 8 week resistance
training study when training frequency was greatest during the
follicular phase (every other day) and reduced during the luteal
phase (once a week) as compared to a program with no variation
in training frequency (every third day). In contrast, Masterson
(1999) found peak power, anaerobic capacity, and fatigue rate
(via Wingate test) to lower during the follicular phase as compared
to the luteal phase.
Since the testosterone
peak 12 days prior to ovulation, a maximum workload scheduled
at the end around this peak may possibly accelerate recovery
and super-compensation. Although there is yet no study to validate,
such timing would improve performance, this recommendation can
be considered until future studies either verify or refute such
a claim (Rippetoe and Kilgore, 2006).
Most studies that have examined various measures of strength
have not noted any significant menstrual phase effects (Frankovich
and Lebrun 2000). It is also interesting to note that Olympic
medal-winning performances have occurred during all phases of
the menstrual cycle.
Not all studies support the rationale of the menstrual cycle-triggered
training plan. For example, a higher acute growth hormone response
to resistance training has been seen in the luteal phase compared
to the follicular phase (Kreamer, Fleck, Dziados et al. 1993).
There are also likely large individual variations of the effects
of menstrual cycle phase on maximum strength and power, and athletic
performance. Although varying training according to the menstrual
cycle phase is an interesting hypothesis, more studies are required.
Research suggests that weight training is at least as beneficial
for women, as it is for men, if not more so. Although there are
notable performance and hormonal differences, as well as subtle
fiber type variations between males and females, the adaptation
processes and the training principles are essentially the
Fleck SJ, Kreamer WJ (2007). Optimizing Strength Training.
Human Kinetics, 164-165.
Fleck SJ, Kreamer WJ (2004). Designing Resistance Training
Programs. Human Kinetics, 3, 263-286. See textbook.
Rippetoe M, Kilgore L (2006). Practical Programming for
Strength Training. The Aasgaard Company, 243-245.