Should Women Do the Same Type of Workouts as Men?

November 16, 2009

Today I would like to post an exclusive guest post by Anna Dornier from Path to Fat Loss. Anna was recently certified as a Russian Kettlebell Instructor by Pavel Tsatsouline himself. This is like the Navy Seals of personal training, in my opinion. Not easy at all! This certainly peaked my interest. Kettlebell workouts are tough, but getting certified at Pavel’s school is a whole different deal. In this guest post, Anna is going to address whether a woman should train like a man. So many people have various opinions on this, that I predict some serious discussions in the comment section. Bring it on!

Should Women Workout Like Men?

[I think most women want to be fit while still looking feminine. The argument is on what type of training to achieve that look.]

Should Women Do the Same Type of Workouts as Men?
-by Anna Dornier RKC; NASM, CPT

Let me start out by defining how men typically train. Most men tend to train their chest and biceps (I call these the mirror-muscles) and then maybe perform a couple of deadlifts and a set of squats. In other words, a typical male workout is usually not well rounded in terms of exercise choices.

Most men who go to the gym come in pairs.

You can usually find them near the weight machines. They watch football games or sports news during their “rest periods” while their buddy is doing his set. They talk for a little bit and then they do a couple more sets. I see this to be a typical male workout because this is what I see in the gym. So, if this is what we’re talking about then, my answer is a big NO.

I’m not saying that this is true for all men.

Times are changing and there’s definitely improvement in how men train especially if you are an avid reader of Rusty’s blog. If there is one lesson that I would take from men’s training, it would be to lift heavy. More importantly, the point is to lift heavy with free weights. Yes ladies, you won’t get big and bulky when you do this. We’re going for the dancer-type look – long, lean, strong, and effortless with all the curves in the right places. Just tune in to any dancing program to have an idea of what I’m talking about here.

The question should be, “should women train like real men?”

In this definition, real men are big, strong, and flexible. They perform more well-rounded routines that target other muscle groups besides the mirror-muscles. Then, my answer would be yes.
Should you do a workout that was originally designed for a real man? 150% Yes! I like the saying, “Lift like a [real] man, feel like a goddess.”

So, how should women train then?

For beginners, I would suggest going for higher repetitions with lighter weights. By light, I mean to have a weight that you can lift for about 15 repetitions and still have a challenging workout or set. It may take a few sets to determine that weight especially if this is your first time training with free weights. Lifting 10 lb dumbbells would be a good start but I suggest that you increase the weight right away if you feel that the weight is too light and you’re not working hard enough.

As you get accustomed to working with free weights and building up your strength…

I would suggest going for lower repetitions with heavier weights. I like to stay in the 5-8 repetition range and perform 3-4 sets of each exercise. When you stay within this rep range, you will find that you will be able to lift heavier and increase your strength without sacrificing form. Moving forward, you will want to increase the weight in each exercise every week so that you are continuously challenging your body and stimulating your muscle fibers to grow.

The goal is to train for strength.

With strength comes muscle-building and with muscles comes a nice, sexy physique that you can be proud of. Think Jessica Biel.
Now we head over to which exercises to perform. Total body exercises will give you more bang for your buck (or in this case time). They are efficient because they recruit a lot of muscle groups in one exercise so you end up burning more calories in one workout in a shorter amount of time.

Most people will see a huge benefit by just doing the basic exercises…

…like squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and planks or any other core exercises. You would also benefit from back exercises such as rows and lateral pull downs because most women (or just people in general) tend to slouch. So, activating your back muscles will fix that. Last but not the least, get proficient at performing all challenging bodyweight exercises such as pulls ups, chin ups, and all varieties of pushups, etc. This will increase your strength relative to your bodyweight which in my book is the true test of strength.

Have fun and add some variety to your training.

OK, you may have noticed that most of the strength training workouts that I recommend are very regimented with reps and sets but, I also like to have fun and keep things fresh. I do this by playing around with my “cardio” routines.

Like most women, I have been guilty of doing steady state cardio for ridiculous amounts of time at some point in my training.

But, as soon as I learned that HIITs and Tabatas are the way to go, I immediately took advantage of all the choices that I have when I do them. For intervals, you can use all sorts of equipments or modalities such as kettlebells, medicine balls, jump ropes, salsa dancing, pole dancing (you read that right), and even your own bodyweight!

To give you an example here is a kettlebell interval workout that I love to do either at the end of my strength training or on my off days:

  • 5 Double Swings
  • 5 Double Squats
  • 5 Double Cleans
  • 5 Double Push Presses

This workout is done ladder style. For instance, after the first set, rest for 30 seconds. Then, perform 4 repetitions of each exercise for the second set, rest for 30 seconds. Perform 3 repetitions for the next set and so on. You can increase the intensity by using heavier kettlebells or reducing your rest time. You can also make this workout longer by starting with 10 repetitions and going down from there.

Take Away

To review, I give you these 5 rules:

  • Stick to perfecting the basic exercises
  • Lift heavy free weights and lift heavier each week
  • Make your cardio intervals fun and challenging
  • Focus on training for strength and everything else will fall into place
  • Train hard but always, always have fun!

That’s it! If you follow these simple rules, I guarantee that you will become a lean, mean, and strong goddess in no time. Forget about the late night ab equipment informercials and supposedly slimming diet pills. These 5 rules are way superior to any of those products combined and will get you closer to your goal faster than you’ve ever imagined.

<-----end of article----->

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It sounds absolutely brutal (torn up hands, coughing up a lung, etc.) My RKC Experience

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

PowderBlue December 10, 2009 at 5:42 am

FitJerks Fitness Blog

your comment is rude. Sorry.

Isis December 18, 2009 at 3:15 pm

what would you recommend for a women that wants to trim and cut up her upper body and gain in her lower body. I need at least two inches more in my glutes.

Ty December 19, 2009 at 3:52 pm

That’s rubbish to generalize and say that most men train chest and biceps only. Every gym I’ve been in has had everyone training their whole body in a balanced way. That’s due to good education, people understand how to train properly.

Basically women can train the same way as men, but women have different priorities to men. It’s just understanding what women want and customizing a workout programs to suit their needs.

carla December 26, 2009 at 11:30 am

@ Manda: You check out your food intake. I am also a girl who lifts heavy and for a long time I was just getting quite bulky for my taste. And before anyone suggest that my body fat may have been high, no I was at a respectable 11%. Anyway, I took a hard look at my food and decided to make my portions smaller. 6 times a day of course but smaller portions. If you dont “overfeed” your muscles they won’t get too bulky. Worked for me. No, I did not and do not starve and I also did not lose my muscle mass.

Anyway, these were my two cents.

carla December 26, 2009 at 11:35 am

Not natural? seriously, please tell me you are not training with pink weights doing 50 reps or whatever other silly training programme. Heavy training is relative, it depends on the person, how fit he or she is, and perhaps even more, how disciplined and how capable the person is of “hurting” him/herself while training.

Get off the treadmill people. If you are on it, hit it hard, do interval trainings. Get on to the weight training area and make sure you sweat. Sitting on a machine (I am not a big fan of machines anyway) for 2 minutes, looking around, making sure people can see you. it is working hard, intensity and at times not necessarily volume.

Personal trainers who claim that women shouldn’t train like men, should revise their own training ideas. They are still in the days of horrid aerobics.

Jan January 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Great article, makes sense. But I have a question though. I used to be a javelin thrower and now am stuck with huge shoulders and arms. Yes, women do get bulky, maybe not bulky to guys, but to us, HUGE.

Anyway, when training as a thrower, I used to lift really heavy weights, and I was thinking my bigger upper body is the result of that. Any advice on how shave off a little muscle mass in that area??

Anna February 11, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I don’t know. I really go back and forth on this one. Sometimes I’ll get really hyped and hit the free weights for a month listening to everyone saying ladies won’t bulk up if we lift weights. Then I end up looking like a comic book superhero (I’m 5’10” and pretty lean), not the ones from the movies but the ones from the actual cartoon!

I’m trying to find a balance that works for me. Right now I’m doing HIIT, followed by steady state cardio with some planks and other core routines in it.

What is for sure is I’d rather be muscular over flabby soo that being said I’ll definitely do more resistance training if things start to look out of shape.

James Reno April 1, 2010 at 11:19 am

We should all do a variety of exercises, and mix them up. Cardio, weights, stretching and high intensity like tabata etc. Keep the body guessing and adaptable. Within those guidelines adapt to your specific sport.

James Reno

Margie April 13, 2010 at 7:42 am

Hi Rusty!

I’d like to say that I’m a BIG fan of your blog and I spend hours here everyday lol.

Anyway, I have never used kettlebells, but it’s something I’d like to try out. I prefer working out at home and would like to ask for your opinion on how much should the kettlebells I will buy should weigh.

Oh and my current workout plan is planks, HIIT (jump rope/treadmill), steady state cardio, and I soon plan on incorporating kettlebells. Can I ask your opinion about this? And in what order might you suggest I do these?

I hope to hear back from you! Thanks!

Robin H May 21, 2010 at 9:33 am

I have to sympathize with Manda. So many people say women can’t bulk up much because of lack of testosterone. They’re only speaking out of theory and not experience (it’s often men who say it). I’ve seen guys work for weeks to gain a half inch in their calves. I could probably do that in 2 days, though the LAST thing I want is bigger calves! I guess I’d be an ideal candidate for a sex change.

The fact is, certain women DO have a bulking up issue. Looking relatively lean is not hard for me, but looking thin and graceful is. Sometimes I feel like the only times I’ve looked feminine in all my clothes were when I was not really exercising and eating anorexically, partying, etc., resulting in somewhat thin legs and arms (“thin” is actually kind of pushing it here. Proportionately normal, I guess would be more accurate).

Rusty, I have a feeling this demographic is much larger than many people think. I’ve known many women with a similar issue, and just looking at their bodies, I know they’re not making it up. It’s even more of an issue in today’s world where models, actresses and, yes, probably Bond girls tend to have a BMI of around 18 with very delicate musculature and long, willowy limbs (I would be hospitalized if my weight fell that low).

While I’m certainly grateful that I can look healthy and fairly fit without trying too hard, I would sure love to look feminine in a sundress without resorting to unhealthy strategies 🙁

By the way, Manda, I agree that Pilates is a GREAT toning program for women like us. It does help a lot when I have the money for it (it really requires a good trainer, one-on-one or VERY small training groups, and proper equipment, etc. = $$$CASH$!!). Even then, it’s not the best for fat-burning and overall health benefits (at least in my experience).

Robin H May 21, 2010 at 9:50 am

PS: I’ve seen Asian cosmetic clinic websites advertising a procedure using botox on calves (for women) to make the muscle smaller. I guess I’m really naive, but I always thought walking required functioning muscles… :s

Anyway, I just thought that was kind of disturbing 😀

ncarreon May 23, 2010 at 7:10 am

Women who are on intense workout just like men tend to look more like a man in her the body shape. I know lots of female athlete who is looks like a male in her body appearance.

Robin H June 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm

For anyone still following this topic, I have been doing intervals for the past month along with the warrior diet. i started with HIIT sprinting for two weeks, then i’ve been doing Craig Ballantyne’s crazy eight body weight circuit (sometimes adding ten minutes of jump rope afterward). i have definitely burned some fat and look and feel better overall, but there’s no doubt that my thighs are looking thicker than if i were just doing steady-state cardio. this is the part where i typically back off and gain weight again because i’m not happy with what’s happening to my legs.

wedding aisle runners June 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Men and Women have different bodies and should do whatever it feels right for their bodies.

Daniel July 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm

You cannot say how women should or should not train without making a judgement on how you think they should look. The same holds true for men.

It really depends on what the person wants. Most men would want to add on muscle mass. Almost everyone wants to lose bodyfat. But not everyone has the same physique goals. I have met women who are so skinny that they would like to gain some FAT to look more feminine.

Do you know how many cookies the girls in the 50 cent videoclips have to eat to get a nice booty?

You really cannot make such generalisations like in this article. I have seen videos and pictures of competitive female Olympic weightlifters who are not bulky at all, but also of female competitors who look like the incredible hulk. It’s not just drugs, some people are just genetically more prone to gaining muscle size with little effort.

Silent August 11, 2010 at 9:36 am

Great site. It’s very unconventional. Dying to try new things. I would like to know your opinion about this:
I am 5’3, around 104 pounds 16,5% BF (ehem), light frame-pear shape 36 years old.
I see some definition in my arms and the “four pack” 😉 but my hips and glutes show no improvement. In this case, do you think 3 reps of knife lifting and slicing will do?
Seriously, I don’t know what to do anymore. I know how to deal with the upper part, but what about the lower?

Thank you for your time

Seane September 7, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Exercise must a planned and measured undertaking that is tailored for the individual. It is fantastic gaining guidence such as here, but ultimately one must consider their own health, abilities and objectives.

Meeshmeesh September 26, 2010 at 1:16 am

I am a 46 year old woman, who has trained hard for the past 27 years. I have a very muscular build, low body fat. I build muscle very easily. I have to say, the only way to train is to train hard. I lift heavy, I mix it up, and I do exercises that get the most bang for my buck, like dead lifts, walking lunges, squats, push-ups, etc. etc. This is how I have always trained. I will never look like a man. To the contrary, my body is very feminine, very curvy, and very defined. I tell everyone that strength training is the fountain of youth. It helps with my bike riding, with my running, and with my swimming. It has kept me looking like a woman in my 30’s, even after having three children. So, my advice to all the women out there is: if you are going to work, than give it 100%. Push your body to beyond what you think you are capable of, and then push it some more. Don’t be afraid of getting bulky. Instead, embrace the feeling that comes from feeling strong and sexy at the same time. I feel blessed that I happened upon this secret when I was at the tender age of 19. I will do this for as long as I am physically able.

Nu Era Fitness March 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Meeshmeesh. Bottom line, the only way to train…TRAIN HARD. The key is to focus on core strength and conditioning. When you do this, man or woman, you are improving and developing your overall physical fitness. You’re getting stronger. You’re getting faster. You’re getting leaner. You’re getting tighter. To actually “bulk up” takes a little additional work. Men especially like to focus on bigger muscles and a bigger physique, however, this means they’re also changing their diet, taking in more calories and protein, and focusing mainly on heavy lifting. Kettlebell Workouts are a great solution for both men and women, and they target complete total body fitness. But remember, however you train…TRAIN HARD!

Cam2Cam June 23, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Train Hard and Train Heavey. This applies to man and woman alike. Unfortunatly most woman a still afraid of muscle growth, fearing they will end up like Arnold.

Mika @ muscle warfare August 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

Nowadays women can do nearly all what men can do. As in fitness, I think women should do the same as men.

Men are always more flexible and stronger than women but women has the power and will to have that desirable and beautiful body.

Terry Crews Diet June 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

But for me, woman have limitations when it comes in workouts, they can workout but slight because it’s not really good if a woman have a muscles. They can workout for fitness and to loss weight.

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