Although the never-ending battle for gender equality rages on, there’s one place we can all agree on the difference between the two sexes: our bodies.
In the spirit of equality, celebrity trainer Nat Bardonnet explains that though our biological and metabolic variances are evident, the way men and women work out doesn’t need to be terribly different. But, the results will be.
“The main thing to keep in mind is that there are hormonal differences between males and females that will cause them to react to exercise in slightly different ways,” Bardonnet says. “We are not built the same: Men are bigger, stronger and have more testosterone than women. In general, women are just over half as strong as men in their upper bodies and about two-thirds as strong in their lower bodies.”
Beyond strength, there’s a difference in the way male and female bodies process and store fat.
“Men’s metabolism burns calories faster, whereas female metabolism tends to convert more food to fat,” she says. “Women store the extra fat in their breasts, hips and buttocks and subcutaneous fat in the bottom layer of their skin, giving their skin its softer, plumper feel.”
So how does this impact our workouts? Bardonnet says it’s all about the results.
“Females will probably struggle a little more with that last bit of stubborn body fat, but physiologically speaking, both males and females do still have quite a bit in common,” she explains. “Females don’t need a completely special way of training, but the results will be different.”
Where the differences do lie is in the method. “Men work out to gain muscles, and women to gain shape,” Bardonnet says. “Men focus on their chest, arms and shoulders (‘the mirror muscles’), whereas women focus on their glutes, legs and abs.”
Bardonnet adds that the motivation is different, too. “For men, it’s all about competition; getting bigger biceps, larger pecs and rounder shoulders. In my opinion, women like the cardio, burning fat, toning, flexibility, sculpting, shaping and socializing part of a workout.”
Another key difference: “I find that women like diversity, whereas men can do the exact same workout for years,” she says.
And what about the myth that weights cause women to bulk up? Bardonnet dispels that. “Many women believe that lifting heavy weights will result in a bulky or ‘manly’ appearance. The truth is, women do not have the levels of testosterone men do, and thus cannot ‘bulk up’ without the help of steroids and years of serious dedication.”
That’s why working out the same way a man does won’t lead to looking like a man. “The fundamental difference in hormones makes it easier for men to put more muscle on their frame. Because men have more circulating testosterone and women have more estrogen availability, the results of training can be different,” says Bardonnet.