“But I don’t want to get big and look like a man...should I really be lifting weights like that or are there special workouts that only women should be doing?”
I’ve heard questions like this countless times over the years. Despite the “strong is the new sexy” movement, women are still afraid that if they start working out “like a man” they’ll end up looking like one.
Friendly reminder, ladies: we don’t have enough naturally occurring testosterone in our bodies to pack on the same amount of muscle mass that most men do.
If you’re fearful that by doing several of the same exercises as the guys in your gym you’ll morph into a female version of Arnold, please stop stressing about that and instead focus on training for your goals, not your gender!
What You Should Be Doing in the Gym
To have strong, well-rounded and balanced physiques both genders need to work all of the major muscle groups. And guess what? There’s not a complete list of separate exercises that are gender specific. We all have the same shoulder muscles, leg muscles, biceps, etc., so always keep in mind what helps a man develop strength and muscle is going to help us ladies develop that strength and lean definition, too.
In case you’re not quite convinced yet, I’ll let you in on a little secret...the first gym I ever joined was an all women’s gym, complete with pink seat covers on all of the equipment. There was no special “women’s only” equipment or machines, it was all the same that you’d find at any other gym you walk into around the world. Dumbbells, barbells, weight plates, cables...all of it was there at that female-focused gym.
Priorities matter for programming
Sure, there are some areas of our physique that we may pay a bit more attention to than men when we are working out and vice versa. Again this goes back to training for our own specific goals, not our gender. Chest and glutes are the major muscle groups that come to mind here.
While women shouldn’t neglect training their chest muscles, it’s unlikely that we’d prioritize that area as much as a male would. After all, haven’t we all seen those guys at the gym where EVERY day is chest day? Likewise, it's the same deal with glute training for us ladies, right? Of course, we all want strong, shapely glutes, but I’d have to say that women typically spend a bit more time in the gym focusing on building that specific muscle group than most men do.
As women, we typically store body fat in different areas than men. I know I have certainly performed exercises to specifically add lean muscle to areas that I’m prone to storing more body fat (that pesky glute-hamstring area comes to mind for me here). Of course, this approach may vary from one woman to the next, but I think each gender would tell you that they give a bit of extra attention to areas where they store excess body fat, even if they can't spot reduce (that's an entirely different topic).
The bottom line
There’s not a separate list of exercises that are “only” for men or “only” for women. A shoulder press for men is the same as a shoulder press for us ladies. I can perform a sumo deadlift the same as the guy next to me, and guess what? We’re both getting stronger and working on our fitness just the same!
Bottom line is if we want to achieve the shapely, defined shoulders and arms, round, firm glutes, strong and defined legs...we know that we’ve got to perform some sort of resistance training to achieve those goals! We can vary the number of sets, reps, amount of weight we’re lifting during each training session, adjust the intensity and other factors in order to train for our specific goals, not our gender. As with any goal, consistent effort is key and will be rewarded with results!