There are clear differences in fitness marketing when it comes to women versus men. Men seem to have the overwhelming need to build muscles and lift weights. For women, the approach is lighter, with an emphasis on cardio and low weight lifting. In essence, it leads us to believe that men and women should train differently from one another. Based on this cultural messaging that transcends the ages, the question is: should women build muscle? And if so, how?
There are some physiological differences between men and women. Men naturally have more muscle mass due to higher levels of testosterone. Women have on average two-thirds the muscle mass of men and double the body fat. You would think that because of lower levels of testosterone and muscle mass that women will have a more difficult time gaining muscle, but that is not the case. There is practically no difference in muscle building in men and women. A study published in Stronger by Science, looked into 25 studies comparing muscle growth between both sexes. On average, there was only a 0.97% difference between men and women in their ability to gain muscle. It also finds that women have relatively better strength gain rates between 20-49%, breaking the misconception that women struggle to get stronger.
Women can build muscle and get stronger. For those of you women scared of looking too muscular, do not be. As a reminder, women start with a lot less muscle mass than men. Even though growth rates are similar in both sexes, men have the advantage of gaining absolute muscle mass since they naturally have more muscles to begin with. Therefore, unless you are trying to build muscles for a professional completion, lifting weights will not make you look bulky.
Women may also have more endurance than men. Women also have more estrogen hormones, like estradiol. This hormone increases fat oxidation, reduces muscle damage and inflammation. Therefore, women tend to recover quicker than men do after exercise.
Should Women Build Muscle?
The short answer is yes. Strength training is the kind of training that allows you to build muscle. We will discuss this later on, but it is an incredible tool to add to your day-to-day exercise routine. Building muscle has wonderful health benefits such as:
- helps to boost the metabolism: metabolism means the amount of energy and calories that we burn during the day. We burn calories while we run and walk. However, we also do it when studying, working, and sitting down. This is known as resting metabolic rate. When we build muscle, we increase the resting metabolic rate that makes our body burn more calories even when we are not exercising
- improves posture: studies showed that building muscle improves the posture of women after six weeks. It also helps with chronic back pain
- replaces fat with muscle: strength training will help you burn fat more efficiently, but also, you will be able to substitute that fat with muscles. Muscles give your body a more lean and toned appearance. We can choose where to build the most muscles, which can basically sculpting the body and create curves
- improves overall health: building muscle will help you increase your endurance (how long can you last doing a specific exercise), boost the immune system, and enhance your cardiovascular health
- increases confidence
How Can Women Build Muscle?
Building muscle can be achieved by using strength training. In history, cardio workouts have been recommended for women over strength training, promising that it will help us burn fat quicker. However, this is not the case. Cardio is fantastic for endurance and losing some fat but does not help to build muscle. As previously mentioned, muscles are essential to improve your metabolism and increase calorie burn while you are not exercising. Strength or resistance training consists of exercises designed to increase endurance and strength. Even though it is not considered cardio training, adjustments can be made to improve your cardiovascular health as well. You can practice strength training on your own or with the help of a trainer using weights or not. A lot of women are now turning to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which uses both strength training as well as cardio exercises.
Something to keep in mind is the menstrual cycle. Performance varies between both halves of the menstrual cycle. Most likely due to mood changes and lower energy levels. Adjusting the frequency and type of exercises on each half of the menstrual cycle will help to better navigate these changes.. However, the responses to training are very similar for both men and women. It comes down to the goals that each individual is shooting for.
If your goal is to lose weight, get stronger or get healthier, muscles are essential. High-intensity resistance training is important to preserve lean mass and stimulate fat loss creating a toned and defined look.
The truth is women should be lifting weights just as much as men do. Strength training will help you lose body fat, build muscle, create curves, tone, improve body composition, and rev up your metabolism so you can feel lighter and not be overly concerned about the foods you consume.