Posted by on Apr 22, 2013

Strength Training
Sohee Lee graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology (Psychosocial and Biological Determinants of Health). Visit Sohee on her website, Twitter, Fitocracy or Google.

In general, there’s not much that sets women and men apart when it comes to the way they should train. A chick and a dude can follow the same training program and both experience positive results. Assuming a sound and effective program, both will get stronger, experience hypertrophy, and all-around become more badass.

Obviously there are factors that set them distinctly apart – namely female vs. male psychology, expectations, gender stereotypes, etc. We won’t be discussing those things for the purposes of this particular article.

A training program tailored toward both sexes can be good. But if you want to take a program from good to great, there are a few things you should know about women. These are merely suggestions, of course, so take from this what you will.

1. The answer to, “Does this make my butt look big?” used to always have to be a resounding no regardless of whether or not a woman’s skirt was ripping clean down her rear end. Nowadays, it’s a little different: chicks want big butts (and they cannot lie). More specifically, they covet the shapely derrieres that come only with either rare genes (damn you, Kim Kardashian) or heavy glute-focused strength training. And since training programs should be tailored toward an individual’s goal, this means that women’s training programs should by and large have a greater focus on lower body work than on upper body work. Bret Conteras, the Glute Guy himself, will be quick to say that some women even request that they devote all their training time toward their glutes exclusively – and while this is not the norm, it says a lot about how highly we women value Dat Butt.

Of all the ways to skin a cat, the best movements that women should incorporate regularly into their training include: hip thrusts (bilateral and unilateral), glute bridges (bilateral and unilateral) AKA lying hip raises, reverse lunges (regular and deficit), and weighted hyperextensions, to name a few. Be sure to mix in both low rep and high rep work to really get the most out of your training also.


Does this make my butt look big?

Does this make my butt look big?

2. Relatively speaking, women tend to have weaker upper body strength as compared to men. This means that prescribing something like pull-ups for reps of 6-8 simply won’t make sense for women because many have difficulty performing even one. For cases like this, regressions are always recommended: band-assisted pull-ups, half-kneeling 1-arm lat pulldowns, inverted rows, and the like. It will take women longer to get stronger on these upper body movements, so more patience will be required to build up the necessary muscles to perform a strict bodyweight pull-up.

Similarly, pushups tend to be another weakness for women. Rather than watching in horror as they grind out snake-ups, the pushups should be regressed to be performed against a wall, on a bar, or against a bar. Just because they can’t do them – yet – doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do them at all.

Regressions, regressions, regressions.

For those not aware, A regression is a less advanced variation of a particular exercise that’s used when an individual is unable to perform the original exercise for any reason (be it injury, mobility restrictions, or simply lack of strength). Resorting to a regression does not in any way imply that you are weaker or inferior to others; all it means is that you’re making your own safety the top priority and maximizing the effectiveness of your time in the gym at the current level of fitness you’re at.

So for example, if an individual has never hip hinged before, it would make sense to learn the basic hip hinge movement pattern via mobility drills, cable pullthroughs, and the like before moving onto trap bar deadlifts, then sumo deadlifts, and finally conventional deadlifts (the most technically difficult to master).

3. Women tend to recover faster than men and can handle higher volume training. Now, this isn’t to say that women have the green light to train six days a week (not that we really see that anyway). Rather, rest periods can be a little shorter, or perhaps some active mobility work can be incorporated into a training session to keep a woman from getting bored as she keeps an eye on the clock. It’ll help pass the time and also make her minutes in the gym much more well-spent rather than scrolling away on her iPhone (which I am often guilty of.)

So maybe something like the following:

A1. Hip thrusts 4 x 6-8

A2. Bodyweight lateral lunges 3 x 10 each side

And piggybacking on point #1 above, faster recovery means that it’s okay to hit the lower body more frequently throughout the week. A well-programmed 4-day full body split is completely feasible for women, and they will have no issues whatsoever with overtraining.


Now, depending on how nitpicky you want to get, we could discuss additional differences such as Q-angle, muscle fiber types, and how the ladies probably spend less time pretending to wipe the sweat off their foreheads with their T-shirts in order to get a peek at their abs. But I think that’s far more myopic than we ever really need to get.

When it comes down to it, all you really need to remember are the basics that hold true for both sexes: compound lifts over isolation exercises, heavy weight selection (ie. constantly challenging your body’s muscles), more pulling than pushing movements, and more posterior chain exercises.

Besides that, train hard, eat big and sleep well.

And log your workouts on Fitocracy, duh.

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