Women who workout have already seen the differences between them and men who train similarly; it can seem like men reap significant rewards in the gym in what seems like less time. We know we won't bulk up like a man when we strength train, but sometimes we sure wish we put on muscle quicker, right? And why do they seem to lean out quicker??
Men’s relatively constant hormonal state (and the availability of their testosterone) can make certain facets of mass building easier, but rather than looking at the differences between individuals with different balance ratios of hormones and separating them into lists of “pros” and “cons”, it’s more positive to look at them as a whole, and see where the strengths are, and learn how to take advantage of them.
Difference 1: Upper and Lower Body Strength
A man’s center of gravity is typically in his upper body, and a woman’s in her lower half.
Advantage: We’re better balanced for things like yoga, and we have greater stability for single leg moves like split or skater squats.
Challenge: Executing moves like pull ups.
Summary: Feel good about it if you rock leg day...and don’t be discouraged if you need to work a gradual plan for quite a while to increase your pull up/muscle up routine.
Difference 2: Fat Burned vs. Carbs Burned
How you eat may play a role in whether or not you’re burning fat or carbs during and after you train, but your hormonal makeup is the primary determiner. Studies have shown that women burn more fat if they don’t eat for up to 90 minutes after exercise, but men actually burn more if they do consume carbs after a training session.
Advantage: Women tend to burn more fat than men all around during workouts, no matter what the level of intensity.
Challenge: Once the workout is done, men burn more fat, and women’s bodies turn to carbs for fuel.
Summary: You and your male fitness buddies may have the same fat loss goals, but you’ll need to time your workout-related eating differently to get the same results. (Eating for different goals like muscle building is another story).
Difference 3: Fast Twitch Fibers and Slow Twitch Fibers
Fast twitch muscle is recruited for strength, and mass building. Slow twitch muscle fiber is used for endurance exercise, like swimming or running. When you want to build physique, you’re usually chasing fast twitch development, and that can be a struggle for some women; men tend to have more fast twitch muscle, and develop it quicker. Women tend to develop both types equally.
Advantage: Women kill it on endurance sports, and have quicker recovery times than men.
Challenge: Recruiting those slow twitch fibers.
Summary: As a woman, you may need to incorporate plyometrics like box jumps, or sprints, alongside a traditional lifting regimen, to build muscle mass if you’re not seeing results.
Training is training, and no matter what gender or hormonal differences are at play, hard work yields results at the end of the day. But knowing your unique makeup and how to take advantage of it--and not be discouraged when you’re developing at a different rate from others--can be a good way to keep your motivation high.
Further reading (and sources):