Does gender matter?

Most blog posts about health and fitness that you can find today probably won’t distinguish between men and women. The chances are that they will focus on a particular issue in the industry and discuss it as if gender didn’t exist. It isn’t controversial to say that there are obvious differences between men and women but it might be if you were to say that they should train in completely different ways. The important question isn’t whether or not it is controversial, but rather is it accurate. 

The first thing to say is that what we are seeing in the gym has massively changed in recent years. I think most people are past that point of saying that women should stick to the cardio machines and men will take care of the weights. To that extent we are seeing men and women train more similarly in order to tackle similar fitness goals. I guess the reason behind this is that when you look at the more general fitness goals, both sexes have to do the same things in order to achieve them. Losing fat and building muscle will always be the result of combining weight training and aerobic exercise, no matter what your gender is.

The problem with that as a basis for training though is that it ignores the obvious physiological differences between the sexes. Essentially, if that’s what you subscribe to, then what you are saying is that a man and a woman who lived wholly similar lives would develop physically in almost the same way and that any differences in their progress couldn’t be put down to gender anyway. No one is saying that both the man and the woman wouldn’t lose fat and build muscle, it’s just obvious that this wouldn’t happen at the same rate.

Probably the main physiological difference between men and women that directly affects our ability to train is our hormones. Men and women have a completely different hormonal make-up and that has an impact on how you should train. Where times have thankfully changed is that it wasn’t uncommon in the past to say that women have less testosterone than men and therefore shouldn’t concern themselves with weights. But now we recognise that for women their comparative lack of testosterone means that they will have to work harder to build muscle, rather than taking a back seat when it comes to resistance training.

Hormones extend quite obviously to the menstrual cycle in women and this can make their training regime become more complicated. Again, simply ignoring that gender exists doesn’t tackle this whatsoever. The way that women can maximise their results is to fully understand their cycle, so that they know which sorts of exercises are more appropriate at a particular time. Hormone levels obviously change in men too but this is far less understood and not thought to have such a direct impact on results in the gym.

Then you have to consider the differences in goals between the sexes. Even if you assume that men and women should train in exactly the same way, that is only desirable if their goals are the same too. Obviously I’m not going to sit here and say that all men want to look a certain way and women want to look a completely different way. But if you accept that the goals of two people, regardless of their gender, differ, then you also have to accept that the way in which they train must differ too.

So should men and women train differently? Well the premise of the question makes it difficult to answer. All people should train differently if their goals are different and I don’t think that many people would dispute that. What seems to me to be more reasonable to say is that anyone who is training should be aware of how any aspect of their life could have an impact upon their results and gender is of course one of those aspects.

Ollie Lawrence
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