Men and women are different; anyone could tell you that.
In the context of exercise, there are important differences that we need to be aware of to get the most out of your workout. For example, men and women have different body types, muscle masses, and hormonal makeups. These then show up in different responses to exercise.
Body type and muscle mass are usually easier to pick out of the differences.
Women are perceived as weaker than men. But, if you look at the absolute strength and body weight of individuals you will find that women are only about 5-15% weaker than men:1
This goes to show that the muscle in both men and women operate the same in their innate qualities. Looking at the specific build of men and women, women have wider hips than men which help with childbearing.
Biomechanical issues and cultural issues should be considered as well. Women are often weaker in relative terms in the vastus medialis muscles, hamstrings, erector spinae, and scapulae retractors. An initial structural balance assessment will reveal what the woman needs to address first.
Hormones also play into how women and men respond differently in exercise.
The two main hormones are testosterone and estrogen. Higher testosterone levels allow for more hypertrophy for men than women.
During an exercise bout a man’s testosterone will rise during and up to an hour after exercise which aids muscle growth. Whereas women have little to no testosterone level increases.3
However, estrogen plays a huge role for women and is why they tend to have better metabolic characteristics than men. This is seen through the fact that in endurance training men have 3-5 times more estrogen receptors in muscles than normal.
This increases the uptake of glucose in the cells which allow for better metabolic responses in the body for men and more naturally and easily for women.4
Women will gain most of their hypertrophy gains in the first year of training and then plateau dramatically even though strength gains still happen through neural adaptations. Women only have 60% of the number of nuclei per muscle fiber than males, which is why they are less prone to muscular hypertrophy after the first year of training.
The other aspect of the differences between men and women is their recovery time during workouts.
This is important to pay attention to if you want peak results. Trained women tend to need less recovery time than trained men do.
The difference in the recovery time is seen through the higher inflammatory response in men than women during an exercise bout. Initially, women need more training frequency than men. Literature shows that they need at least 3 days per week per muscle group in the early stages of training.
Through each of these areas, we can see the importance of how to train women and men for their best assets.
Men and women have differences, but it is the way we understand and train these differences that positions each person for peak performance.