By Jay Pesi
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus,” to humorize the differences between men and women.
Aside from the obvious physical variances, the questions arise: Are men and women really that different physiologically? And do we need to train differently in order to reach optimum physical fitness for each respective sex?
The short answer is no.
While there are some important physical and physiological differences between the two sexes (e.g. hormones and amount of muscle mass to name a few), physiologically speaking, all muscles (regardless of male or female) look and function the same way.
Thus, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) asserts, "There is no sensible reason why resistance training programs for women need to be different from those of men."
The fitness programming variances witnessed in the typical exercise selection for each respective sex are mostly due to personal preferences and interests.
For example, many women worry that weight training will leave them resembling a female Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"That's borne out of a misunderstanding of muscle physiology, where the belief is that if you lift heavy weights you'll bulk up, and if you lift lighter weights for more repetitions you won't," explains sports scientist Tony Boutagy.
The truth is, women's lower testosterone levels will limit the muscle bulk they will gain. Estrogen is also a big factor that aids women in post-strength training muscle repair. It is an anti-catabolic hormone that wins in muscle repair, reduces protein break-down during exercise and protects women against muscle damage.
On the flip side, many men avoid group fitness classes as attendance is typically female dominant. However, men could benefit from stepping into a few group fitness classes. Pilates being a prime example. Pilates strengthens the core, improves posture, coordination and develops often neglected muscle groups, such as the pelvic floor. Strengthening in this capacity is extremely beneficial to all facets of life, regardless of the participant’s gender.
When it comes down to it, while men and women do have differences, our bodies can benefit from similar styles of training. However, how you ultimately decide to train comes down to your individual needs, your goals and your fitness level.
Jay Pesi is a certified personal trainer specializing in strength training and functional training. He is currently a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at the FIU Wellness and Recreation Center at MMC.