I’m going to level with you, and women please don’t gasp when I say this.
Honestly, I don’t train women that much differently from men. However, there are a few things worth considering that you should take into account that are just physiological differences between men and women and that influences training.
One of my main objectives in my training sessions is to help bring balance to the system, or homeostasis.
The thing is, homeostasis is a little bit different for everybody.
Some people are really tight through their hip flexors and weak through their glutes, so we stretch the hip flexors and strengthen the glutes, effectively bringing better anterior/posterior — fancy words for front and back — balance.
Another example might be in the upper body where I often find that people are strong and tight through the internal rotators of the shoulder (pecs, lats and subscapularis) and weaker or elongated through the counterbalancing muscles (mid and low trapezius muscle fibers, the 3 external rotators of the rotator cuff, rhomboids and serratus anterior)
Bet you didn’t expect the anatomy lesson this post too, huh?
Other people like a few of the examples below are really strong elsewhere, inflexible, immobile or just not strong enough and it eventually wreaks havoc on the system.
Anyways here is how I differentiate training women and men:
1) Type/Kind of Training
We do most of the same kinds of lifts for both Men and Women. The lifts don’t really change, just the application.
We still focus on big compound movements and use accessory movements to counterbalance imbalanced aspects of the individual body on a case by case basis. Individualization is a requirement of both.
We progress Men and Women similarly, but in actuality it has been my experience — and there is some ample research to support this — that women get stronger, faster than men.
They just have a lower upper limit, relative to their bodyweight, in this regard because of 1/10th the amount of testosterone and androgens.
Women generally make the nervous system adaptations for strength training faster than most comparable de-conditioned men.
The downside is that they often lose strength faster too, which is part of the reason they are more susceptible to hip fractures later in life — along with osteoporosis, calcium absorption, iron deficiency and a few other potential factors.
3) Flexibility/Mobility Tendencies
Women generally — though not exclusively, it should be noted that we still always assess, you’d be surprised by the differences I’ve often observed — have more lax joints than men, so we emphasis more stability training — isometric and quasi-isometric activities — in the warm-ups and accessory work, particularly for the hips and shoulders.
Consequently we do more mobility training with men, who are often tighter through the hips and shoulders and need more flexibility and mobility.
*I recommend getting a movement assessment if you are unsure what I mean, or leave a comment, we’ll talk.
4) Q-Angle Difference
Women have a larger Q-Angle than Men — the angle of difference between the hips and knees — because the hips are wider, to make room for child-bearing.
This makes women far more susceptible to things like patellofemoral pain when not training appropriately, it also increases the likelihood of ACL injuries — women experience this injury about 70% more frequently than Men.
Consequently the hips also tend to be more internally rotated in women, so we do a lot of external rotation work, again to balance the system.
We’ll do this in combination with a lot of hip stablity training particularly for the glutes (glute med, but the rest of the gluteals and sometimes the external rotators as well), which counteract that natural tendency towards the rolling of the knees inwards on most exercises, including running.
Generally speaking we also find that many dudes, have a lack of internal rotation, which can lead to low back pain, so we try to open up the hips a little through internal rotation with those guys.
In a population that is predominantly quad dominant, glute training is usually a necessity. Women generally have a tendency to roll the knees inward, which creates a lot of stress and increases the likelihood of pain/injury.
We do a lot of training at various tempos — from slow to high explosive movements — to teach good recruitment at various speeds. We also find that single leg training can really help with this phenomenon so that we learn good movement patterns that are useful in sport and every day life.
Train on one leg more often, forget about the BOSU.
Women wear heels, men generally don’t, though some dress shoes for men have quite the heel.
Heels can throw your whole body out of whack but putting you into a forward lean posture. A 3″ heel can account for almost a 20 degree deviation, which means a lot of forward stress, especially on the quads.
Which as you may now know, most people already have a tendency to favour that muscle group in their legs, and that can lead to pain down the road.
Heels also lock up the calves and contribute to patellofemoral pain too.
We end up doing a lot of release work on the calves, a lot of calf stretching, a lot of strengthening the front of the shin and mobility work with most female clients who wear heels regularly.
6) Damn You Rectus Femoris!
The one area where many women are still tight is Rectus Femoris, one of the strongest hip flexors and quad muscles, so we incorporate a lot of dynamic and static stretching for this area — in addition to Psoas release/activation generally and glute work.
Sometimes Psoas is the problem too, but because of this, women are generally more anteriorly rotated in the hips than their male counterparts.
Too much of a pelvic tilt can again, lead to back pain.
I can’t think of many women I’ve worked with, off the top of my head, that have a posterior tilt but I have quite a few men who are. Almost all women I see have an excessive anterior tilt — as a generalization.
7) Core Training, Yeah Baby!
We generally do more core stability training with women as a percentage of volume (front plank, side plank, glute bridge, deadbug, or quadruped variations) as this is generally a weaker area, particularly post-pregnancy too.
We still do loaded core work with both sexes, I just generally find that women need a little bit more, so please stop doing 50 crunches, 50 different ways!
Pregnancy is another issue altogether, though it too — sorry ladies! — can wreak havoc on the system, increasing laxity and decreasing core stability/control.
8) Tissue Quality
Remember that women tend to be more lax in the joints, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t experience the feeling muscle stiffness.
It just means their range of motion might not be as largely dependent on the flexibility of their muscles/tendons, and is more dependent on the laxity of the ligaments in their joints.
Many women I work with are struck with the incredible urge to stretch, even though their range of motion may be borderline too much (hypermobile), and that excessive range of motion will often lead to injury at some point too.
As a rule, we tend to focus more on tissue quality work (myo-facial release, foam rolling, massage, etc…) and less on static stretching as a whole, with these individuals, so as to relieve that feeling of ‘stiffness.’
We’ll also do even more stability work in an effort to try and create stiffness through a particular area of the body that is craving stability.
Although active static stretches (a type of stretch where the opposite muscle group must contract, therefore creating stability through a stretch) and dynamic stretch variations are often very useful in this regard because they require building strength through the opposing muscle groups, which can lead to improved stability in a joint.
Did I miss anything? Leave a note in the comments…