It’s no secret that men and women are physiologically vastly different creatures. This becomes exceptionally clear when we’re talking about anatomy and hormones, two things that contribute to reaching specific health and fitness goals. For this reason, men and women differ in the ways they should approach training for fitness.
Reaching different fitness goals
Often, men and women have different fitness goals. While we don’t want to make absolute judgments based on generalizations, to begin this discussion, we must make room for some.
The first generalization is that men often train for strength or size. Women, on the other hand, are not generally concerned with how big their muscles are and many are not interested in strength training to a high degree. Men go to the gym to lift heavy weights and feel strong, while women go to the gym to maintain their figure and “feel the burn.”
To all our strong women:
Physiological differences and exercise
Generally, men have larger frames and higher testosterone levels than women. In studies, higher testosterone levels are associated with muscle gain and weight loss. This means that men will generally be leaner and stronger than women. The larger frame of men means that they have relatively bigger hearts and lungs which helps a lot with cardiovascular exercise.
Estrogen causes women’s bodies to hold more fat than men. The biological purpose of this is to enable women’s bodies to be more capable of child-bearing. However, this becomes an issue for women when they try to lose weight.
After trying our in-app yoga classes, we often have a lot of 8fitter’s asking, “Are women more flexible than men?” Physiologically, women have longer, more elastic muscles that enable them to outperform many men in flexibility tasks like forward folds, pigeon stretches, squat depth and more.
Some other training differences between men and women include:
- Recovery: Women recover more quickly than men after a bout of exercise.
- Fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers: When men gain strength and size, their bodies often develop more fast-twitch muscle fibers than slow-twitch muscle fibers. When women gain strength and size, their bodies develop fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers almost equally. Fast-twitch muscles are the ones we activate during HIIT, sprints and other explosive exercises. They are thicker, quicker to contract and wear out faster. Slow-twitch muscles are activated first during aerobic exercises (cardio) like running, biking and swimming. When slow-twitch muscles wear out during those exercises, fast-twitch muscles take over.
- Energy usage: Women’s bodies prefer to use fat as energy, while men’s bodies generally use a high level of carbs, combined with protein and fat. This is why nutrition is so important if your goal is to lose weight — especially for women.
Fitness goals and physiological differences between men and women contribute to the way each gender trains — and there are some things to look out for to avoid injury.
First, women tend to be more quad-dominant than their male counterparts. This means that during squats or similar movements, women are more susceptible to valgus knee movement (when the knees collapse in), which can result in injury. To combat this, it’s important that women focus on strengthening their abductor and glute muscles, and stretch the adductor muscles. Some exercises that help with this include:
- Bulgarian split squats
- One-legged glute bridges
- Banded clamshell
- Banded squat (pulse knees out at the bottom)
Like we mentioned above, men tend to be less flexible than women. This prohibits them from achieving proper form and body position during complex movements. Men can take a note from women and either hit the yoga mat or spend more time stretching to increase the elasticity and range-of-motion of their muscles and, in the end, prevent injury.
For women who desire to develop their fast-twitch muscle fibers, it’s important to include activities that incorporate explosive movements like sprints, plyometrics, or perform other movements — like the ones in your 8fit HIIT workouts — explosively.
Finally, due to women’s smaller and generally weaker bone structure, it’s important that they add weight training to their exercise regimen to help increase bone density. Some of the exercises in the 8fit app allow you to start with light weights (1-5 lbs) to build this strength gradually.
Differences in mindset
When we ask 8fitters about their workout regimens, here are some of the things we hear:
- Lifting weights will make me “bulky.” Women are particularly worried about this but, the fact is, while they may gain muscle and even lose body fat, most women don’t have sufficient testosterone levels to attain a level of muscle mass similar to men. If your goal is to gain muscle mass, nutrition is key.
- Yoga and stretching will make me lose strength. Some men we’ve talked to perceive stretching and yoga as feminine. However, those two things, paired with a regular strength routine, will help you reach your goals faster and without injury. Focus on dynamic stretching before a workout and static stretching post-workout when your body is warm.
Nutritional considerations for men and women
Nutrition is an essential piece of the weight loss, muscle gain, and weight management puzzles. When you download the 8fit app and set up your nutrition plan, you can rest-assured that meals include just what you need to reach your goals. Below are more guidelines from our team of nutritionists.
Nutrition considerations for women
Due to women’s low bone density, particularly after menopause, it’s important to get enough protein, calcium, Vitamin K and Vitamin D in their diets. In addition to these nutrients, remember what we mentioned above: One of the best ways to build and maintain strong bones is through strength and weight-bearing exercises.
- Protein: Unsweetened yogurt, tofu, beans, eggs, seafood
- Calcium: Dairy, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage) fortified plant-based milk, tofu, canned salmon
- Vitamin K: Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage), fish, eggs, meat
- Vitamin D: Fatty fish (salmon, tuna), dairy, eggs
Being that their bodies metabolize fat better than carbs, upping dietary levels of fat and protein — while lowering dietary levels of carbs — may result in better performance and help women reach their goals. Foods to help with this are proteins like salmon or other fish, grass-fed beef, chicken, and turkey, and healthy sources of fat like nuts and eggs.
Nutrition considerations for men
Men’s metabolize carbs well, so in addition to consuming adequate sources of fat and protein, men should focus on eating healthy carbohydrates in the form of fruits and vegetables to their meals. Our best advice: Start small and add one extra serving of fruit or vegetable to every meal. So, if you’re go-to meal is chicken, broccoli, and rice, add a serving of kale, peas or carrots.