Demystifying Training Principles for Women

I want to address this idea of what most women have said at least once in their lifetime. However, men should not be discouraged by this article as it is also relevant to them, there is no reason why men and women should train differently. While men can lift a certain way to gain size (hypertrophy), a woman can lift in exactly the same way but build a ‘toned and lean’ look which is what this article will aim to clarify in order to put this myth to rest.

Firstly, I feel it is important to define the term “bulky” and how this presents. Typically, women use this word to describe an undesirable appearance. However, there is no strict definition of what “bulky” looks like which brings me to my first point, the idea is completely subjective. When it comes to our bodies, it is up to each individual what level of muscularity we desire. What one woman finds bulky, another may find slim, or just right; the ‘Goldilocks’ principle!
Generally speaking, people use the term to describe a person who has a significant amount of muscle mass. However, there is still a myth amongst women that they will gain muscle size lifting heavy resistance. Indeed, you can make muscles larger from weight training, however that is not necessarily the result and there are more training principles to consider if looking to gain or just maintain muscle size.

Factors known to affect strength gain and hypertrophy include gender, age, physical activity level, previous training status, and endocrine status (hormones). However, gender is one of the main differences on skeletal muscle morphology and function.1 The main gender difference which impacts the way we train is the amount of testosterone and growth hormone that men have in comparison to women. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the ability to grow in size and strength. Most men produce 6-8mg of the male hormone testosterone per day, in comparison to most women who produce 0.5mg daily.2 The 15-20 times difference between men and women, makes men more equipped to gain muscle and consequently makes it incredibly difficult for women to achieve the same size. Of course there are outliers and some females may have slightly more testosterone than average, however they still will not achieve the “bulky” appearance similar to a male physique. The females that compete in body building competitions, have women believing that this look is purely based on lifting heavy weights. Eating clean and portioned meals, training twice a day for at least 12-18 weeks and taking specific supplements, are all factors which competitors follow to build a bodybuilding physique.
Another difference between men and women is the contrast of muscle mass distribution, especially in the upper body.3 Generally, males carry more muscle mass than women which in conjunction with male hormone differences, are the two main factors why men who strength train appear more “bulky” than females who strength train. By purely strength training, women lack the right muscle mass distribution and balance of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, to put on muscle mass the way men do.