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Do Women Need To Train Differently Than Men To Build Muscle?


Almost everyone who trains in the gym aims to build more muscle. In professional terms, muscle building is referred to as "hypertrophy". This article will explain the differences between men and women regarding the optimal training for hypertrophy. 


The article will also answer the main question of: "Do women need to train differently than men to build muscle?"



In-depth knowledge for your new & fit self.



gender differences


Differences Between Men and Women For Muscle Building

Although the differences in the optimal design of strength training between men and women are not very significant, they are still present to some extent. On average, women have only two-thirds of the absolute strength compared to men


This is primarily due to the higher proportion of muscle mass that men naturally have. However, the relative strength between both genders is comparable and almost identical. Women generally have more strength in their legs than in their upper body, whereas men have relatively equal strength distribution in the upper and lower body.



Bio-Mechanical Differences

Women typically have a narrower upper body than men, resulting in lower strength of the upper body muscles, especially those responsible for pressing overhead movements (e.g., shoulder press or dips).


However, women have significant potential to build strength in the muscles below the hips, namely the glutes, thighs, hamstrings and calves.



Different Muscle Fibers

One of the biggest differences between men and women is the distribution of muscle fibers. Women typically have a higher proportion of type 1 muscle fibers (approximately 27-35% more compared to the total number of fibers). However, women have about 60% fewer muscle fiber nuclei in total. 


Additionally, women have a higher capillary density, which, due to the predominance of type 1 muscle fibers, allows more tissue to be perfused and more blood to flow at once. This results in better removal of metabolic waste products. Type 1 fibers are primarily responsible for endurance performances. Many studies show, in contrast, that type 2 muscle fibers, which are primarily responsible for strength and power performances, are slightly less abundant in women than type 1 fibers.



Hormonal Differences


hormonal differences


Testosterone

On average, women have only two-thirds of the muscle mass compared to men, primarily due to different testosterone levels. However, this does not mean that women cannot build as much muscle. Relative to their starting point, women can build just as much muscle as men.


However, because women naturally have fewer muscles to begin with, the absolute amount is lower. Due to these differences in testosterone levels and the resulting baseline muscle mass, it is not possible for women to build as much absolute muscle mass as men.



Estrogen

Estrogen is a female hormone that men also possess, although in slightly lower amounts than women. Estrogen is very important as it aids in muscle regeneration and prevents muscle breakdown. This means that healthy estrogen levels promote muscle growth and can also protect bones, joints, and ligaments from injury. 


Estrogen generally enhances muscle contraction and can improve muscle strength. It also enhances the binding of myosin to actin, resulting in stronger muscle contraction and thus more strength. This provides an advantage for women in terms of muscle building.



Differences in Training Approach between Men and Women

Due to the different distribution of fiber types, women recover faster from training and require less rest between individual training sessions. Additionally, women can "tolerate" more volume, meaning multiple sets and repetitions of each exercise. 


Women can also train with heavy weights, just like men. In fact, many studies show that it is much more effective for women to train with heavy weights rather than with light weights in a higher repetition range.


Within the realm of hypertrophy, women can make significant and rapid progress with heavy loads and fewer repetitions, making this type of training ideally a core component of women's training approach.


Due to the higher number of type 2 fibers, men excel in performing explosive exercises and developing speed and power. Therefore, it is more advantageous for women to choose a slower tempo for repetitions and to train less explosive power (e.g., sprints, box jumps, etc.).



Conclusion

Many women fear becoming too muscular or looking masculine. However, this fear is largely unfounded, as women are not capable of naturally achieving a male appearance in terms of muscle development, regardless of their training efforts. 


The optimal training approach differs only slightly between genders. Men may require slightly more time for recovery and may perform better with lower volume training than women.


The general approaches for recommendations are relatively similar and do not differ as much as many would assume.


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Sources Of Information:


  • Lundsgaard A-M and Kiens B (2014) Gender differences in skeletal muscle substrate metabolism – molecular mechanisms and insulin sensitivity. Front. Endocrinol. 5:195. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00195

  • Enns, D. L., & Tiidus, P. M. (2010). The influence of estrogen on skeletal muscle: sex matters. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 40(1), 41–58. https://doi.org/10.2165/11319760-000000000-00000

  • Roth, S. M., Ivey, F. M., Martel, G. F., Lemmer, J. T., Hurlbut, D. E., Siegel, E. L., Metter, E. J., Fleg, J. L., Fozard, J. L., Kostek, M. C., Wernick, D. M., & Hurley, B. F. (2001). Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 49(11), 1428–1433. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2001.4911233.x


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