The first step for a woman to improve their physique is quite simple:
“Stop reading women’s fitness magazines!”
Almost everything you read in women’s fitness magazines is all fluff, further perpetuating the many myths and stereotypes surrounding female training.
There is no such thing as ‘toning’, ‘shaping’ and ‘tightening’ the muscles. Instead, what most women need to be focusing on is building muscle and losing fat, which is essentially the cornerstone to our most successful male and female transformations.
Many women are scared by the idea of gaining muscle but this shouldn’t be the case. When you build muscle you’ll burn more calories through an elevated metabolic rate, and as a result get leaner and look healthier and stronger.
Remember, women have about 10 times (up to 15-20x) less testosterone than men, and so their hormonal environments are not conducive to building large amounts of muscle that men have the potential for.
For the majority of the time, women don’t need to train differently to men, and many of the key principles and variables used in effective programming are the same for women:
- Lift Heavy – Ultra high reps with three-pound dumbbells serve no real purpose in a training programme, yet that seems to be the cornerstone of some of the most popular fitness plans for women today. Instead, women need to focus on providing a real stimulus for change in their body by lifting heavy weights in the 5 to 15 rep range.
- Use Compound Exercises – This is not to say isolation movements are useless, but this point serves to make females more aware that their training does not need to be centered around triceps kickbacks and side lying clams. Squats, lunges, presses and deadlifts should form the core of any training programme, with women being no exception.
- Progressive Overload – Instead of spinning their wheels on the same high rep circuits with the same weights for years on end, women should always strive to improve on their previous workout’s performance, whether it is through increased weight, volume or decreased rest periods. More females need to embrace strength and the physiological and psychological benefits it brings, so should look to add weight to the bar where they can.
Lifting heavy doesn’t just bring about physical changes in the body. Working up to a 2x bodyweight deadlift and multiple chin-ups can do wonders to your confidence too!
As pointed out, 90% of programme design is the same for men and women. However, when it comes to optimizing body composition for females, we must take into account some small, but key differences
1. Exercise Selection and Targeted Volume
When aesthetics is the number one goal, women need to think carefully about the exercises and body parts they want to target. Highly developed, thick traps, pecs and vastus medialis are muscles which spring to mind that women would rather not have.
For example, when training lower body women should aim to minimise quad recruitment (majority of women are also highly quad dominant, click here to read why) and maximally involve the glutes and hamstrings in all exercises.
Further, when programming training cycles, allocating more volume to sought after body parts such the glutes, hamstrings and shoulders is critical.
2. Less Rest Periods
Women should rest less than men. Giving a woman 3 minutes rest between exercises would be a recipe for boredom and clock watching. This is because women will not tax their muscular and nervous system to the same extent as a man, as they are weaker (relatively speaking…) and carry less muscle mass.
In fact, when training for body composition, they should purposely utilise short rest periods to take advantage of their ability to burn fatty acids better than men. This means that they can train with very low rest periods without sacrificing muscle tissue and training load, and instead burn more fat for fuel.
3. More Total Volume
Women will generally need more reps and sets per exercise than men. This follows on from the previous point, in that they will not be able to fully recruit and stimulate their muscles as efficiently as men can, and so slightly more sets and reps will be beneficial.
Note: this does NOT mean 50 rep tricep kickbacks with a soup can is permitted!
Results like these come about from sensible, individualised manipulation of diet and training variables.
4. Higher Frequency
Unless they are strong, advanced trainees, women will do best adopting a higher frequency of training. They should aim to train each muscle group at least two to three times a week. Body part splits extending beyond an upper / lower split (e.g. where it becomes day 1: back, day 2: arms, day 3: shoulders etc…) will be useless for women.
5. Injury Prevention Work
Due to some biomechanical (wider Q angles) and lifestyle (high heels) differences, women are more prone to injuries in certain areas. Of particular concern are the knees and lower back, as their excessive anterior tilt creates quad dominance and an inability to efficiently recruit the glutes and hamstrings.
To remedy this, stretching the quads and calves coupled with including more posterior chain and single leg work is key. To read more on this, please refer to our article on the 3 B’s to consider for women.
To develop her physique, Sam’s training involved the principles outlined in the article. Progressive lifting, high frequency and very hard training!
To sum up, it’s important to understand that there are differences in training women that should be factored into programming. For the most part, these only make up the ‘extra 10%’, but when implemented correctly will make a difference to a woman’s strength and body composition.
Be trained by the best, get in touch today.
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