Should women train like men?

A woman displaying grotesque muscular development as a result of lifting heavy weights…



There is simply too much B.S in the fitness industry…


I rarely (if ever) start a post or email with statements such as this but something about the crazy weather lately has put me into a strange mood.


Or maybe it was the infomercial I saw last night…


Yes, I think that was it. Maybe you have seen it too. It is called “Brazilian Butt Lift” and if you ask me the infomercial is more like soft core porn instead of an exercise related advertisement.


There are others like it too (with many more to come).


Companies and celebrities telling you that a woman should train differently than a man.


You can probably guess what my take is on this but before I tell it like it is I want to explain a few things about muscle fibers and muscle size.


There are two types of muscle growth or hypertrophy (as it is also known) – sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.


Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to an increase in the volume of non-contractile protein and fluid between muscle fibers. This is the type of “growth” that occurs with light weight, high rep training. This is also known as “the pump”. The buildup of fluid causes a temporary increase in muscle size that lasts for a period of up to an hour or two and causes the muscles to look bigger. This is why Saturdays are always chest and back day at the gym as guys “pump up” before heading out to the bar wearing a shirt they bought at Gap for kids… but I digress.


Myofibrillar hypertrophy is more functional than sarcoplasmic as it involves an increase in the actual number of muscle fibers (density) and an increase in contractile protein. This is the type of muscle growth that is a better indication of strength and is more permanent (if the training stimulus remains consistent). Myofibrillar hypertrophy occurs when training is performed using heavier loads and low reps (approximately 5 or less).

Note: Research shows that the ideal rep range for muscle growth occurs when protein breakdown is the greatest and this occurs in the 8-10 rep range.


If you were to examine the muscle fibers of a man and a woman using a microscope you would find that they are virtually identical. What does differ is the hormone levels of the body where they reside. Women have substantially lower levels of testosterone. In fact, most men have 10 times (or more) the amount of testosterone women possess. And believe me when I tell you that we men have to work extremely hard to put on muscle. Personally speaking, the last time I embarked on a quest to get bigger muscles it was an incredibly arduous task involving a dramatically increased calorie intake and a weight training program that incorporated a lot of volume. This is not the type of program you should follow if your goal is to get smaller.


But here is where it gets interesting- if you are a man and you want to lose fat then you could easily get great results using a program that is very similar to a woman who shares the same goal. Of course the weights used would differ proportionate to strength but the actual exercises used would be the same.


What this means is that regardless of your sex, your goal should ALWAYS dictate the training program.


Train by Goals Not by Gender


Think about it for a moment- do female Marathon runners train differently from males? How about soccer players, swimmers or any other sport?


The same goes for non-athletes as well. If fat loss is your goal then you need to train with that goal in mind and if muscle building is what you need to do right now then that will require a different approach.



Men and women have more similarities than differences and yet for some reason women are often told that, in order to lose fat they should spend endless hours performing cardio and to only lift light weights.



When designing a training program you should first establish exactly what it is you want to accomplish- do you want less fat? If yes, then focus on working the whole body using compound movements with short rest intervals. Man, woman or alien life form this approach will always work better than spending hours performing abdominal crunches, aerobics or “Brazilian butt lifts” (whatever the hell that is).


What about more muscle? If this is your goal then focus on lifting in the 8-10 rep range using many sets for each exercise.


And speaking of exercises…


Why is it that whenever I go to a gym I see women wasting their time on such ridiculous contraptions as an inner/outer thigh machine?


Here is the truth- if you want nicer legs, hips and butt then train those muscles the way they were meant to function. Exercises like squats, step ups, dead lifts and lunges will produce far greater results than any machine you can dream of.


And while I am on the subject you cannot exercise to “lengthen” a muscle. Nor can an exercise program produce “long and lean” muscles more than another. Origin and insertion of a given muscle are fixed and cannot be changed. Yoga is a great complement to a resistance training program but some of the claims surrounding its benefits are a tad bit off…



What I am saying is that regardless of gender the exercises remain the same. What will change are the exercise protocols;


If you want to increase muscle size then train in the 8-10 rep range, rest several minutes between sets, use multiple sets and train to “failure”. According to research, training to failure with lower loads is better for muscle building than training to failure with higher loads (likely due to the increased time under tension).


Don’t want more muscle size? Then don’t train to failure, keep reps low and weight relatively heavy in order to avoid “the pump”.


Want to lose fat? Then use compound lifts performed using moderate weight in a superset or circuit fashion and keep rest to a minimum.


In Conclusion

Regardless of gender, a person should train according to his or her goals. In terms of exercise selection, the way to achieve those goals does not change. What should change is the way in which the exercises are performed (reps, sets, intensity, tempo, rest intervals) and this is dependent upon goals- not gender.

If you want a personalized exercise program that incorporates all of these variables then visit me over at




This post was written by

Bruce – who has written posts on Cutting edge muscle building and fat loss secrets.
bruce krahn is a best-selling author, writer, researcher, personal trainer and professional speaker. he has coached people for two decades both in person and online. he created this site to be an honest source of useful, practical information you can use to improve your health, build muscle, lose fat and get the lean body look.

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bruce krahn is a best-selling author, writer, researcher, personal trainer and professional speaker. he has coached people for two decades both in person and online. he created this site to be an honest source of useful, practical information you can use to improve your health, build muscle, lose fat and get the lean body look.

4 Responses to “Should women train like men?”

  1. Eileen says:

    Great article Bruce. You have set out your opinions on this subject in a methodical and logical fashion. A very interesting read.

  2. jane says:

    i always thought men and women should train differently, but this has definitely put a new perspective on things. great article!

  3. April Hamilton says:

    I laughed when you commented on when you see women wasting their time on contraptions such as an inner/outer thigh machines. I use them periodically because I dont mind those machines as much as squats, lunges, etc.

    I enjoyed your article and am forwarding it to both my sons who are 23 and 19, they workout often and I think they would find it interesting.

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