Friday Roundup: Should Strength Training Be Gender-Specific?

The benefits of strength training can be shared between the sexes I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who validated what I’ve been feeling for a while: It’s frustrating to be told that female personal trainers and writers should only serve female clients and readers.  That doesn’t mean niches aren’t super valuable. For example, if you want to enjoy the benefits of strength training, optimal conditioning, and healthy eating you can look to workoutnirvana.com to learn how. If you’re looking for advice on running, not so much.

But it’s always irked me that if I followed this gender rule, only women could benefit from what I offer. I’ve had many female and male clients who’ve loved their online training programs and learned from my articles.

However, most web sites, forums, Facebook groups, books, and services cater to either women or men. I’m not saying these are wrong, but it doesn’t always have to be this way.

When we keep guys and gals separated in the online fitness world, we remain separated in the weight room, too.

True, when you’re just starting out with strength training it can be intimidating and scary to train alongside experienced – and often male – lifters. And if you’re looking to fix something that’s completely gender-specific, like hormonal issues and fat loss, obviously we need to address women only. But when it comes to strength training,

I believe we should divide people by goals, not gender.

A web site like workoutnirvana.com, which teaches you how to build muscle, burn fat, and eat healthy, can meet the needs of both guys and gals. When guys and gals stick together we can enjoy the benefits strength training even more. This applies to both the online world and in practical life:

  • There’s no need for women to be steered towards articles primarily about “toning.” Unless a person is interested in bodybuilding, strength training principles apply to both sexes. Sure, guys have a lot more testosterone and gals have to work even harder to build muscle. But we will use the same methods to get there.
  • If women avoid being grouped with “the guys,” we remain insecure about our abilities. For some women, (I believe) it promotes an underlying belief that we’re not as good as the guys when it comes to lifting weights. And this can lead to quitting.
  • We can learn from each other. Historically, guys have been strength training a lot longer than women. But when I’m in the weight room, guys are learning from me, too. I use techniques they’ve never tried and I know how to progress my workouts to get fantastic results more quickly. And I’ve taken note from guys who rest longer, too, to work on strength instead of just aesthetics.
  • Guys respect chicks who can lift! If guys don’t see women crushing it in the online world in forums or groups – or in the weight room – because we’re staying with our own kind, it’s more difficult for them to accept us as “one of them.”
  • If more women lifted with the guys, strength training would no longer be male-dominated. The benefits of strength training are HUGE for both sexes and women need to get on this.
  • You’ll have confidence that you can. Even if you currently work out at home, you might someday have access to a free membership to a gym or want access to more equipment. If you’re already comfortable interacting online about weightlifting with the opposite sex, you’ll be more comfortable in real life.

Obviously, these are my own opinions based on what I’ve seen in the online world and in person for many years. My hope is for guys and gals to not only coexist but thrive together in strength training environments, even when we also want to group with our own sex elsewhere.

So with that in mind, I present to you my gender-neutral advice and expertise. If I have something gender-specific to say, you will know it.

Photo credit: kool.cbslocal.com

This article originally appeared on workoutnirvana.com.

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Comments

  1. I am passionate about this subject for many reasons. My WHY is to empower women by giving them their health back. I’ve wanted to help women all of my life, although fitness was not originally where I had envisioned my career. I do train men as well as women, but I am more comfortable with them because I am fulfilling my passion when I get to work with them. I believe that goals should define anyone’s training program, regardless of gender, but women often have different goals and different ways of seeing their body then men. Our hormones do make us different which means using the same gender neutral principles of strength but applied differently. I work with mostly beginners and I want them to achieve strength and confidence, no matter where or who they chose to work out with in the future. I want them to feel safe while they learn and be comfortable so they can focus on the task at hand. Women can do anything men can do but there is nothing wrong with doing it differently. I applaud your stance but I stand firm with mine.

    • I hear you on this completely and love it that you’re so passionate about helping women feel comfortable. I don’t see a lot of sites or groups where regular, non-bodybuilder guys and gals interact. Might our readers and clients be able to reinforce and support each other more than we give them credit for? True, there are hormonal differences that affect the way our bodies react to diet for sure. But what do hormones have to do with strength training? The principles of progressive overload are the same. Yes, we see our bodies differently, but unfortunately women are mostly encouraged to be slim – that’s what we’re told we should focus on (I know you focus on MUCH more than this). I find this sexist, so I respect the strength-training sites for women that do not focus on this (but that then brings me back to the question – why separate women?).

      • I think some women just want to be with other women. I know when I started I stayed in the women’s only room at my co-ed gym for a long time. (Thank goodness there was a squat rack in there.) I don’t separate them, they are searching for a separate place. I don’t think this is a science or training question, I think this is a comfort question. Strength training principles are the same, of course. Hormones many not play a part in strength but they absolutely impact fat loss.

  2. Of all the classes I’ve taught over the years, my very favourite was a small group training class (6 participants, 6 weeks, 2 sessions per week with body composition change as the goal). The groups were always mixed; usually 2 men and 4 women. I loved how each influenced the other. The men became more interested in improving their health (rather than just building their biceps) and the women were motivated to lift a little heavier than they might have done on their own.

    While my preference is to train women my age with similar goals and abilities (and these are the clients who do seek me out 😉 ), I still enjoy the opportunity to work with men. And I don’t program according to sex; everybody gets the program they need to work towards their health and fitness goals!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking read Suzanne!
    Tamara recently posted..Strong is the new skinny; yay or nay?My Profile

  3. Amen, amen. In my online work, I focus on women because that’s my preference. But in the gym, I train men and women about equally. Hello—we all have the same muscles and benefit from the same stimuli. And since there’s no such thing as “toning,” I avoid the subject altogether.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Are you stuck at a weight loss plateau?My Profile

    • Bah toning! Women are so brainwashed by celebrity trainers like Tracy whats-her-name and say “never lift more than three pounds.” Makes my brain explode.

  4. I think goals should be goals, gender should not matter. I think that different genders do have different goals but most of the information that is provided can benefit both depending on the goal.
    Toni @ Runninglovingliving recently posted..The Difference is in the SneakersMy Profile

  5. I see the world as runners and non runners…jk. I can see both perspectives and it is often a matter of personal comfort. As long as I am being trained by someone confident and motivating then I don’t care who they are. As for lifting or working out in front of men, with the lifting I feel intimidated, but mostly because I know they have more knowledge than I do otherwise what men think of me at the gym is not something I worry about. I am working out to get healthier and because I like doing it. I might not be able to do exactly the same as a guy, my body just isn’t built the same and I am good with that. I don’t want to be huge, just strong and unless I do some hormones I won’t be bulked up the same, it’s literally not in my nature. When I focus on doing my best for me and competing against myself I am much happier. And since there is no such thing as toning I guess the next thing you will tell me is that crunches won’t give me flat abs? 😉
    Jenn Speer recently posted..“Food” for thoughtMy Profile

  6. Thank you for promoting this notion and adding another voice to what I feel is a cause to educate women and demystify the weight room. It’s important that there are more of us not just giving lip service but walking the talk…Bravo! The confidence I have gained as a bodybuilder provides a value I cannot measure, and I’m so grateful that other muscle-y chicks before me helped pave the way for those of us joining in to debulk the myth of women and weights.
    43fitness recently posted..The FitSocial Conference Drive-ByMy Profile

    • So great to connect with you Casseye! I saw your FitSocial post and that’s when it connected that you live in the area, which is also very cool. You look fantastic and I love your blog… love that you are also a muscle-y chick who is a positive role model for other women looking to change their bodies, no matter what their numerical age.

  7. Suzanne, I agree with your hypothesis! I push myself much more when I’m training around men and have to admit I get a flare of satisfaction whenever I load more weight onto a leg press machine after a guy walks away from it. Keeps me competitive with myself!

  8. I think this is such an interesting conversation. I am currently following a program that was designed by a man for both men and women and getting good results from it.

    However, one of the trainers whose blog I follow, writes and trains women exclusively, and she insists that women should follow for-women only workouts… that they are geared for women’s bodies.

    It is confusing for me, as a non-professional, to know what is the best advice!

  9. I also think that men and women can share the same workout plans, but they breed different results. Just depends on that person and their body. Either way, getting in the weight is POSITIVE!

  10. I personally think it makes no difference. Each body is different, regardless if it’s a man or a woman, and training can be shared with no problem. I do believe, though, that men and women should have different expectations for their results, due the nature and characteristics of each gender. Thanks for teasing us to think about that!

  11. I just recently got into lifting weights and this blog has some really good points. I can say that i do push myself more when i am working out with male friend or working out around men. I feel more satisfied about my workout when i know i can do almost as much as a male in the gym.

  12. Love this post, because it is so true. I have heard that throughout my life how women should train different than men. Why? I never understood it. Or why I see women’s only boot camps. I personally like having a male in the group, because sometimes, I will push harder when I see him going hard.

    I remembered taking yoga at this new place and kept seeing Men’s Yoga for Athletes class on their schedule. I took Yoga for Athletes at another place and loved it. This was a class that was hard to get in to, as well, and it was mostly females. I asked the yogi about it and I was told that male athletes need different kindof stretching than women athletes and that he would have to ask the other men to allow me in to the class. I said whatever and would continue going to the old place for that class. My teacher kicked our ass and I walked out of that class feeling like jello.

    • I do think we can get energy from learning and training with the opposite sex. Sometimes there’s things going on in women’s groups that are a relief to step away from.
      Hilarious that the men had to approve a woman in the class, kind of like an old-school golf course!? LOL! Well, it’s true that the genders like hanging out amongst themselves, and there will always be that.

  13. Personally I don’t think it’s necessary, but every girl should understand and be familiar with their bodies first, and how it differs with the males.

    This way, they can really control the phase of their strength training, and maintain a healthier body.

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