Are female bodies really that different to male when it comes to the mechanics of lifting weights?
We already know how differences between male and female strength athletes affect our training style and adaptations.
Generally speaking, females tend to respond better to higher training frequencies than men. This is probably because we aren’t as physically strong, so are less likely to place max demands on our nervous system and muscle tissue as a result of workouts. Higher training frequency is not just possible for us, but can often be the best course of action. Plenty of women thrive on a training frequency that would cripple a lot of guys. Full body workouts, or upper/lower and push/pull splits can be a great way for women to strength train (rather than traditional body part splits).
And, of course, female athletes have much lower levels of testosterone than men (even men who don’t train), and our levels of oestrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone rise and fall pretty dramatically during our menstrual cycle.
If you look at a male and female skeleton side-by-side, there are very few differences. The main one (and certainly the main one which would affect lifting) is the structure and width of the pelvis and hips.
So what about the structural and mechanical differences between women and men? What are they and how do they affect how we train and compete?
We wrote about this in an earlier article, but basically women tend to have a wider angle between points on the quadriceps and patella tendon. This won’t necessarily lead to any problems when lifting, but can be a factor in knee injuries, valgus collapse (medial knee displacement), and hip internal rotation. It’s certainly worth being aware of this mechanical difference if you like to squat!
Lower Body Strength
In general terms, women tend to have greater lower body strength compared to upper body strength, and less of a hamstring/quad strength ratio. This is just one good reason to pay particular attention to strengthening and stabilizing the entire posterior chain.
And women tend to be naturally more flexible than men, which means they can stand to do more stability work in their routines. Don’t neglect flexibility and mobility work altogether, but tip the balance in favor of more stability and activation work. Working through full range strength exercises will train your strength and stability, whilst encouraging your natural flexibility. And be aware that at certain points in your life, you may experience unusual levels of joint laxity, so be sure to program your workouts accordingly.
Hyper-Extension Of The Lower Back
Pay attention to your low back when you lift. Some women tend towards over-extension of the lumbar spine during compound lifts, and body weight movements like push ups and plank holds. Spend time learning how to control your core to prevent hyper-extension.