pic: Should women lift like men?
Should women lift like men?

Women often find that they can keep their weight about the same over many years by just eating sensibly and light cardio.  But often, in their mid thirties or forties, they start getting “soft”.  By only looking at the scale they don’t notice it.  But what has happened is that they have slowly lost muscle and slowly gained fat.  Their shirts and pants still fit (for the most part) but their body composition is far less attractive.  And equally (or more) importantly, they are on a track to become helpless in their older age.  Muscle loss is equated to functional loss – and functional loss is a loss in quality of life.  Muscle loss in your 30s and 40s is slow enough to not be noticed but once you get to your 60s and 70s and 80s, you may be no longer to lift a milk gallon over your head.  Let’s make sure you never get that weak ok?

Should Women Lift Like Men?

This site is geared towards men.  After all, I am one.

But we all have women in our lives – wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, etc.

So whether you are a woman, or know one, or just play one on TV, this post is for you.

Part 1 of 4

So Should Women Really Workout Like Men?

For the past few years, all the “experts” keep saying how a woman should lift like a man.  But is it true?

The answer is yes and no.  I’ll boil it down to one (long) sentence for you:

Women can and should do nearly the same exercises as men, but because women have different goals and different chemistry, the ideal program will usually be different than what a man would use.

I’m going to break this series down into 4 parts.  And if you post an intelligent comment to any of these, then afterward shoot me an email at support@worldfitnessnetwork.com and I’ll send you an example workout for an average women with typical goals.  I’m working on my own ebook for women but that won’t be out until I finish several other projects.

Why Do Some Experts Say a Woman Should Lift Like A Man?

I may insult some people with this statement, but those experts (despite their real talent and experience) aren’t really saying what they think they are saying.  Huh?

Let’s take a very fine book, probably the leading modern example of lifting for women and appropriately titled, “New Rules Of Lifting For Women”.  The subtitle says “Lift Like A Man, Look Like A Goddess.”  Outstanding marketing, that’s for sure!

But the truth is, the workouts they put together look almost nothing like the workouts they put together in their first book “New Rules Of Liftingwhich was for men.

Is the contradiction obvious?

I hate to say it, but even talented people get caught up in their own hype.

So which should we believe, their marketing slogans or their actual routines?

The answer is that it depends on your goals.  I could argue that for some women, the workouts in the “book for men” would be ideal.  And conversely, there are some men who might be better off following the workouts in the “book for women”.

It All Begins With Goals

Designing a great exercise program starts with your goals.  While no two people have the exact same mix of goals in their lives, there are common buckets we talk about when it comes to fitness:

[This is from http://worldfitnessnetwork.com/2009/11/what-are-your-ultimate-fitness-goal/ ]

1)           Lose Fat

2)           Improve Endurance

3)           Gain Strength

4)           Increase Muscle Mass [hypertrophy]

5)           Feel Better, Be Overall “Healthy” (subjective)

6)           Maintain everything at your current level

7)           Recover From Injury

8)           “Look Better” [body proportions, composition] (subjective)

For the average guy and gal, there’s a lot of overlap in which goals matter.  But what are your top 2 or 3 goals?  Your Ultimate Fitness Goals (UFGs).

Most guys will have different UFGs than most women.

An obvious example: For most men, muscle size will rank much higher than it would for most women.

Plus, within each of those UFCs, there are many possible targets (for example, “how much muscle?”  “how much fat?” “how do you define feeling better?”).  The result is an infinite range of UFGs.

The LeanLifters annual periodized program hits on all of these (aside from major injury recovery) and works for the majority of people, whether male or female.  But they were indeed designed for men.

But here’s the killer point…

Most women and men should be doing similar lifting:  heavy weights, compound movements, 45 to 60 minutes of intense lifting, 3 to 4 days a week.  That really doesn’t change for most people, male or female.  So maybe a good take-away for you is that women should change their attitudes about how heavy is heavy, and how weight training fits into their life, and think “more like a man” in that regard.  I’ll explain more about what that means in the next article…

Next Time:  The Myth Of Muscle Tone


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9 Responses to “Should Women Lift Like Men?”

  1. Hi

    I’ve been steadily increasing my weighs for 6 months now (doing old fashioned 5×5) and can now squat 115kg (255 lbs) and deadlift (90kg) 195lbs. I mix this up with interval sprints and some circuit workouts. The men at my gym are freaked – they are constantly interupting me asking if I’m aware of the weight I’m loading on. Apparently as a woman, I’m not “meant to be lifting heavy weights” and “I will look like a man”. I’m not a lean lady, but nor am I overweight. I definately have curves. My goal is to become lean, but am finding it very difficult – especially when I get these comments about bulking up. Any tips gratefully received!

    Carmen, NZ

  2. @Carmen – I find that male attitude obnoxious and just plain wrong. If I were you and they said “Are you aware how much you are loading on?” I’d bat my eyes and say, “Oh, no, I had no idea, big boy. Maybe you can try doing a parallel squat with 255 for 5 reps and show me how?” Blink Blink. Then watch him fail because 90% of guys can’t do 5 reps with proper form at 255. Seriously, that is a nice load and I’m impressed.

    So in terms of leaning out, do NOT stop doing heavy weights. The key to leaning out is diet. My guess (based on absolutely no facts!) is that you probably eat “pretty good” but to get lean and stay strong, you need to eat really, really good.

  3. Hi Darren,

    My password is buried deep in my e-mails and im being lazy and putting the post here,lol.

    In regards to your question ‘Should women lift like men?’, I firmly believe the answer is yes. Not identical mind you, but definitely like/similar.

    Why do I say yes?

    Muscle needs to be progressively overloaded and fed accordingly to regenerate into the athletic/toned body we desire(Lets face it, how many people dont want to look good from exercising, not many).

    Muscle is not smart, it reacts and contracts in accordance with the task at hand. It doesnt know if we have a can of beans or a light dumbell in your hand; it creates a force to move it and in this case
    not much. You could lift this for hours. This leads onto my point, which is, you must use a weight/load that challenges you to enduce a training effect.

    My opinion differs a little on your view on Alwyn & Rachael Cosgroves Books, New Rules of Lifting & Womens Rules. They are nearly ten years apart so they would have a few changes, but I feel the womens rules, which is more recent has got a lot more relevant evidence based theories included. Its funny, but in the summary of the New Rules(earliest), the author says that he will in the future most likely not use what he is did then. He says he will contradict himself in future, but with continued education.

    Personally I like to progress my female clients down to 4×6 in the last week of a 4 week cycle and I wouldnt go lower in reps in this as it tends to get a little uncomfortable and form can suffer. Safety first, but intensity a close second,lol

    To sum it up, the hardest part in determing the training outlay is getting the right load and working of your % rep max. That will be whatever in relation to the individual; male or female. Males are naturally stronger. They will lift more, but women should lift the % of RM and build it up. Keep control of the calories and one will not bulk up. You will look great.

    Sorry for the long post, but I just started typing………..

    Cheers,
    Byron

  4. Darrin… I LOVE your site.. I love the info I obtain from it. It matters not if you are male or female… the main concept is the same. A healthier lifestyle. Recognizing that it is NEVER too late to achieve this goal. At almost 53 years old and a ‘newbie’ to the world of fitness and weight lifting… I have found my passion in life. It doesn’t matter that I discovered it at 50 years old. What matters is that I was able to lose over 75 lbs 3 years ago and keep it off. What matters is that I strive to be a role model for others my age whether they are male or female. It is important to remember this is a ‘lifestyle’ we are after. Personally.. I wish I had discovered all of this a long long time ago and I think I really might have gone into olympic weight lifting. Oh my gosh… I get giddy under a barbell…I get excited lifting a 35 lb DB doing a 1-arm row. I am so thankful that I have better health. I am so thankful I can do 100 burpees in 5 groups of 20. I am so thankful that I know I can transform my body into anything I want to.. I just have to ‘want to’ bad enough and learn about the best and healthiest way to get there. I love that people think I am crazy when I push a 90# plate across the gym floor and then go run 10 sets of stairs. I started off 3 years ago walking 3.2 on the treadmill holding on for dear life and now I can run for 30 seconds on a level of 12! This healthier lifestyle does not discern whether we are male or female.. We have to put ourselves out there and not be afraid to get out of our comfort zone. The biggest challenge I face when teaching my bodyworks class is to get ‘my girls’ to pick up at least a 10 lb DB. I keep assuring them there is no way they are going to look like a “MAN”.. that’s NOT going to happen. MUSCLE is sexy.. I am now wanting to take my fitness to the ‘next level’ and see how ripped I really can get. At the same time it is hard convincing the guys that ‘fitness’ is much more than lifting a heavy weight as well. You have to have all aspects. I love the look on their faces when I challenge them to at least 10 burpees…hahaha.. IT is all so exciting. Thanks for all your great POSTS…I look forward to them every damn time!
    Lisa
    Atlanta, GA

  5. Carmen – I hear what you are saying! I got really caught up at one point in the amount of weights I was doing. I’m like you, not super lean, but also not fat by any standards and was able to do 3 sets of 10 bench press with 50 lb dumbells in each hand! However, it got to the point where my arms became too big to fit in any of my suit jackets!

    I found that cutting back my weights to approx. 2/3 of my maximum and doing 3 sets of 12-15 instead helped me to tone up without the bulk. It doesn’t turn heads in the same – but if you want to lose some bulk, I think it will help. However, if you are happy with the way you look, then don’t change a thing!

    Best of luck!

  6. I’ll definitely agree that women should not be afraid to lift heavy. I’ve really been encouraging my wife (she’s 42) to do the same workouts that I do, and it is paying off for her. She was initially afraid of bulking up. I had to tell her several times that I was doing the same exercises that she was doing (and I had been doing them since before she started) and I’m hardly big & bulky. She’s afraid she’ll bulk up because she played soccer for several years as a child and has those “soccer thighs” that girls sometimes get. I’ve told her that doing squats & deadlifts & lunges will even out the leg muscles, and it has been working.

    It is pretty cool watching her in the free weight area of our gym outlifting most of the young teenage guys. Of course there are plenty of the high-school football guys there who warm up with my maxes, but I think they’re somewhat impressed that someone their mom’s age is in there at all.

  7. u r website very good information &exercises thanx

  8. how woman can do squat without making their quads bigger. when women try to get bigger butt  by doing squats their quads get too bigger . is there any trick to do squat to get  bigger butt without getting their quads big ?

     is there any other  exercise besides squat which makes the butt bigger without making the quads bigger.?

  9. Check out  Brett Contreras's site.  He specializes in female glutes.

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  1. Should Women Train Like Men | Train Like A Man | Women Should Train and Lift Like Men
  2. Women Should Train Like Men | Women Don't Get Bulky Lifting Weights | Fears of Women Who Lift Weights

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