Most coaches agree that there is no difference between what men and women should do in the gym. After all, there are no “man” exercises or “woman” exercises. A squat is a squat, and a bench press is a bench press, regardless of the gender of the person who is doing it. True, but it’s not that simple.
First, women are weaker than men. Yes, there are exceptions; a strong woman can be stronger than an untrained man or a weak man who trains. However, even if most women can’t lift as much weight as most men can lift, they can train with equal intensity.
The problem is that the weight most women can lift is just not heavy enough to get the same results as men can. If a man can squat 250 pounds for 12 reps and a women can barely use the bar, even though they both may be working at maximum capacity, their metabolic response cannot be the same. To compensate for this difference, here are a few tips to maximize a woman’s workout.
Tip #1: Shorten the rest period. Women tend to have greater muscular endurance than men. If you asked a man and a woman to perform exactly the same program, it would probably be necessary to have the woman decrease her rest time by 30-40 percent for the workout to do her any good. Women recuperate much faster from a maximal effort than men do; therefore they can still gain strength with a shorter rest period.
Tip #2. Perform more sets. Because women can use shorter rest periods between sets, they have more time to perform additional sets. In fact, women can often do almost twice as many sets as men on the same type of program!
Tip #3. Use moderate- to-high rep ranges. Using percentages of 1RMs (repetition maximums) doesn’t work with most women. If a woman can dumbbell press 20 pounds for 15 reps, it doesn’t mean she can DB press 30 pounds for 6 reps. Women at a beginning level tend to be uncomfortable with a lower rep range and may not be able to do even 1 rep. Have them stay in the moderate- to high-rep ranges until they gain more confidence and, of course, strength.
Tip #4. Use small, incremental weight increases. Give a woman 20 pounds for a DB press and she does 15 reps easily. The next set, give her 25 pounds, and she can barely do 5. This is why it’s a good idea to use small increments when increasing the weight; a small increase won’t overwhelm her body or her mind. If the increase is only 1 pound, that’s a lot less intimidating than 5. By the time the woman gets to her last set, she probably will be able to do the 25 pounds, but it just takes her a little longer to get there.
Tip #5. Do whole-body workouts instead of splits. Women tend to prefer total-body fatigue as opposed to localized fatigue. Because most women want fat loss, whole-body workouts are great to help them achieve their goals. You can also use an upper body/lower body split. An arms/legs/torso split is not recommended because the strength levels are so low; most women would not benefit from doing an arms-only day.
Tip #6. Stay on the same program a little longer, especially if technique is an issue. The typical recommendation is to do a workout four to six times before changing, but with some women, it’s OK to stay on a program a little longer. Remember that you are increasing the weight a little more slowly than you would when training a man, so by the time the sixth workout rolls around, they are probably nowhere near their max.
Just remember, these tips are for women who have low strength levels or little weight training experience. In contrast, women who have an athletic background and above-average strength will excel on the same training protocols as men. By keeping these differences in mind, you're likely to experience greater compliance and results from female clientele.