I will start today’s entry by addressing some common fitness myths regarding female training. Both male and female gym-goers can benefit from this knowledge as I always like to educate my readers about both the practical and scientific part of fitness.
Before I get into the subject, I would like to address the misconception that females can alter their body shape to look like a males with strength training alone. If I could have this written on every piece of fitness literature online, I would, unfortunately, I can only stress it as many times as I already have.
Fitness for women, unfortunately has not been commonly understood or given any proper analysis by the majority of people, I therefore look forward to sharing some insights that can truly allow my readers to understand just how beneficial strength training can be.
Question #1: Do women have the natural capacity to have manly bodies?
No, women will not turn into males if they decide to go heavy on the weights because their bodies do not produce as much testosterone naturally as men’s bodies do. Therefore you naturally will not bulk up from going into the weights section, nor will your body become unfeminine as a result of training weights alone.
Question #2: What is Hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy refers to building muscle and losing fat. This is a process that requires consistency with training and improvement in performance. Hypertrophy is an important concept to understand because once you do, you will be more understanding of how fitness is a process that really requires consistent improvement over a period of time which leads to an awesome physique.
This progression is called progressive overload and this is what leads to your success over time.
Question #3: What is progressive overload?
Progressive overload can best be understood as progress over time that leads to physical changes. In practical terms, it means that the more consistently you lift a weight, or perform a movement with good form and an increase in tension, the better your body will adjust to this stimulus.
Alone, progressive overload, over a long period of time is going to be responsible for your muscular progress. It is not linear and it does require constant effort.
Question #4: As a beginner, how can I design a program that works for me?
Typically, hypertrophy is effective within the 5-7 rep, 10-12 rep range.
Three to four sets of 5-7, 10-12 reps is sufficient per body part in order to be exhausted for growth purposes. If you are looking to gain muscle, aim for this rep range.
Aim for 1-2 minute rest periods between sets.
Question #5: What do sets and reps mean?
Sets are the total amount of the exercise that you will do. Reps are the number of the exercise movements that is done within a set. 3 sets of 10-12 bicep curls, for instance means that you will have performed a total of 30-36 total reps for “your biceps”.
Question #6: Are fitness classes good for fitness transformations?
Short answer is no and it will probably not do much for your body composition.
Question #7: As a beginner, how should I choose my program?
Although some research shows that full body training is ideal for females, I would argue based off of my own experience that body-splits can just as effective for both sexes. Despite female recovery rates being an asset that can help with recovery for full body workouts in high volume more frequently, I personally think that body-splits are a funner and more interesting way of approaching my weight lifting.
Of course, this is different for everyone. I recommend any program that you can stick to at least three times a week that includes compound lifts like deadlifts, squats, bench press, etc. Any weight lifting plan that you can stick to is ultimately going to lead to your success.
Question #8: Is cardio alone going to build my physique?
No, it will not.
Lifting weights and performing squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc will guarantee that your physique will be built.
Now that we have a basic understanding of hypertrophy, you can see how fitness plays one small role in body transformations.
Women, as is covered in my previous article on gender differences, can train to reach a superwoman-like aesthetic if they can understand that their bodies are meant to be strong. They are built to act and look like powerhouses, not just remain soft.
Question #9: What about males? What are my strengths in fitness?
Plyometrics, sprinting, jumping are definite strengths for males. On top of having more testosterone than women, males have more fast twitch fibers than slow twitch fibers. This means that males can recover better from these types of movements which will allow them to be consistent with their training.
Question #10: As a female, what are my strengths in fitness?
75% of females, on the other hand, have more slow twitch fibers than males which gives them the advantage of more slow/endurance type workouts. Which is why females can withdstand long stretches of cardio, however, when lifting weights, females can benefit so much more from higher volume workouts than men. Females recover faster from high-volume workouts so use rest periods to your advantage.
Question #11: I understand, practically, what can you recommend that I do based on my male or female strengths?
Females can definitely take advantage of their natural predisposition towards endurance and can design longer rest periods into their programs and do more overall volume for a body part. Males who would want to burn fat, for instance, can take advantage of their fast twitch fibers by incorporating more plyometrics, sprints and jumps into their workouts mid-sets for instance as a form of high intensity interval training instead of doing low intensity steady state cardio.
As a rule of thumb, both sexes can achieve their goals by listening to their bodies and being intuitive with their training.
Question #12: Do hormones play a role in muscle-building?
Of course they do, in particular, estrogen can help females build their physiques. On top of understanding that women do not have the same amount of testosterone as males, females also have a higher amount of fat in their bodies. This is not “bad”, it just means that women have to train differently.
Hormonal differences complement our biological functions, therefore, women have more fat there in order to facilitate the growth of a foetus, this also explains why females have torsos that look like they bulge out a bit more than males, the reason for this is that the pelvis is tilted to facilitate the growth of a baby, it has nothing to do with actual weight.
Question #13: What about nutrition? How should I eat to transform my body?
As a general guideline, eat in order to grow, therefore place the emphasis on healthy foods.
In terms of macronutrients, make sure to eat 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, this is good for beginners/intermediates, however, for more advanced trainees (males and females) 2.4 grams of protein per body weight works for muscle growth.
Fat can help women in particular build their physiques, so do not avoid fat. 30 grams of dietary fats a day as a standard for both males and females. Finally, Carbs are essential building blocks for any healthy lifestyle. Depending on your goals, carbs can be manipulated but definitely not avoided.
Finally, a weight lifting program has proven to have several health benefits including cardiovascular, mood, and brain benefits that range more than pure aesthetics.
For my female readers, here are some women-specific resources to help you understand how your periods and hormones can be beneficial towards your training: