Week one of Women and Weights is in the books. Last week we discussed the core, it’s importance in injury prevention and exactly what it feels like to engage your core. Then we went over several different exercises that test one’s ability to engage and maintain their core. This week we are discussing upper body movements. This is where we start seeing some major differences in the sexes. In general, men and women respond to resistance training in similar ways. However, differences exist between the sexes in overall muscle mass, strength and hormone levels. The upper body movements are where this becomes most obvious. Upper body movements are much more difficult for women. Why is that, you ask?
Men tend to be larger, have more muscle, they are leaner and have higher levels of the sex hormone, testosterone. These sex hormone related strength differences are mostly found in the upper body. Women possess lower body strength levels similar to men relative to their body weight, but men have greater upper body strength relative to their body weight when compared to women. According to top trainer and researcher Brett Contreras, women possess 40-60% of a man’s upper body strength. That being said, when comparing strength per-pound of fat free mass (i.e. bones and muscle) the differences become less apparent. Women’s muscles are capable of producing the same amount of force as men’s muscles.
In our women and weights seminar this week we will be discussing proper form and will practice a few movements to help ladies increase their upper body strength. Here are a few women specific strength training tips to get you excited:
Learn how to engage your core and maintain it while exercising. Many women starting a strength training program initially posses poor levels of core stability; they utilize an array of lumbar-pelvic strategies when lifting and often end up overarching (excessive hyperextension) the spine during planks, push ups, pull ups and deadlift movements. If you lose your stable core during an exercise, stop the movement and re-engage before continuing.
Work your weaknesses. If you are already really flexible, focus less on stretching and more on building strength and stability. Women tend to have greater mobility in the shoulders, hips, upper back and pelvis and are more likely than men to possess hypermobility.This hypermobility results in less stability and a greater risk of injury. Women are also more likely to over-prioritize cardio. If your cardio is already sufficient, work on building some strength.
Utilize eccentric movements in your training. Women have good reactive or elastic strength, but poor starting strength compared to men. This means it is easier for a woman to lower herself down from the pull up bar (i.e. muscles are lengthening, eccentric movement), than it is to pull herself up (i.e. muscles are contracting, concentric movement). Use caution with eccentric training, as this can cause greater microtrauma to tissues, resulting in greater muscle soreness. Additionally, don’t short movements. Keep working throughout the entire range of motion; don’t just drop off the pull up bar, or drop the bar on a deadlift. Concentrate on lowering all the way down.
Do several total body workouts each week. Women have an advantage in recovery time. They tend to fatigue less and recover faster, meaning they can train the same muscles frequently throughout the week. There is no need to spend one day each week on a specific body part (i.e. chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, glutes on Wednesday, quads on Thursday, etc.) like many of the men in your life may be doing. One day each week on certain body parts might not be enough to produce the changes you desire. However, please remember, there is no such thing as spot reduction. There is no amount of tricep extensions that will get rid of ‘granny arms’ if you aren’t fueling yourself properly and engaging in other strengthening movements.
For more training tips and some hands on advice come to Women and Weights Wednesday nights at 6pm at the Downtown Athletic Club. Even better, schedule a one-on-one appointment with me, or email me to join my newsletter. Women and weights will only last until February 11th. Also, much of the information here can be found in Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body by Brett Contreras.