The book title goes, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and it may be true at the gym too. When it comes to working out, gender plays a distinctive role in how we work out.
Research by Weight Watchers and published in Weight Watchers She Loses, He Loses: The Truth about Men, Women, and Weight Loss, found that men and women have different attitudes to weight loss and fitness Land of the Wind. More men believe that exercise is enough to slim down, while women take more practical approaches by combining diet with fitness.
One of the key areas of differentiation was the enjoyment factor. More men than women actually enjoyed exercise. “This doesn’t mean women don’t know they need to be physically active or don’t do it. But with guys, to sweat is a badge of honour,” said the study.
From a purely physiological view, men and women are built differently, so different workouts will have different impacts for both sexes.
Muscle mass and hormones are some of the major differences in women and men. Men have more muscle in comparison to women, making them physically stronger.
These differences play out in weight loss, most noticeably, as men store their fat differently. With women it’s typically more spread out, so weight loss is slower while men tend to lose abdominal fat fast. On average, women have about 10% more body fat than men.
This doesn’t mean women need to hold back on the treadmill. Where it counts, a woman’s muscles and ligaments are still capable of doing the job of aerobics. “Women can get really strong, but their smaller skeleton and muscle mass, loose joints and lower testosterone generally prevent them from being able to build man-size strength,” explains American sports scientist, Tony Boutagy in an interview with ABC News.
That said, the man-size strength and muscles means that women don’t need to run screaming past the weights section. Contrary to popular belief, weight training does not make women big and bulky. This can only happen if you have the XY chromosome and it’s your distinct intention to build huge muscles – which takes time and effort. Strength training in fact, is proven to speed up weight loss and tone you all over.
Women will also tend to enjoy and do better at fast-paced, circuit workouts, explains Rich Sturla, an American fitness consultant. “Women are better built for these workouts, while men tend to more enjoy slower paced workouts. Women do tend to be less powerful than men due to lower overall muscle mass, lower lung capacity and smaller hearts. However, their ability to recover after high intensity exercise is often greater. This means that women will often need less rest time after exercise, and can get back into the next exercise sooner.”
Your age is also a helpful indicator of what you should be doing at the gym. Dr Michele Olson from the American College of Sports Medicine advises, “In the early years women need to focus on bones and men on aerobics. It’s important for younger women to take on activities with impact (like jogging, skipping and step aerobics) to develop good bone density. Bone density can fail women in their 40s while men tend to have robust bones until late in life.”
Benefits for both
Essentially, men and women still have the same bones, nerves, fibres and tissues so there’s no reason we can’t work out similarly.
Both genders should be doing cardio and strength training.
Yoga for instance, is not just a female thing. Women tend to be more flexible than men with longer, more elastic muscles, but yoga is a good equaliser to boost flexibility and tone muscles in men.
At all ages and stages, heart health is important, says Dr Olson. Women and men should both be doing low-impact cardio exercises like cycling and swimming.
What you get out of the gym depends on your attitude too, and here men and women could learn from each other. Most experts seem to agree that men “go harder” and turn workouts into intense events. Women train for effectiveness also, but are generally less forceful and extreme (think of the usual grunting suspects at your gym!).
In her book Strength Training for Women, author Lori Incledon, notes that men aren’t worried about how they look while they’re working out, which perhaps motivates them to work harder, resulting in a more efficient workout and results to boot.
And aren’t results what it’s all about at the end? “In most cases, men and women should exercise in a similar way, with the same guiding fitness principles,” reiterates Sturla.