In episode 4 of hybrid unlimited, Molly Galbraith talked about some similarities and differences between women and men when it comes to strength training. She referenced a meta-analysis, performed by Greg Nuckols, that revealed some surprising data. Let’s go over those results…
Before we begin, remember that a metanalysis is essentially a study of studies. It pools the results of many studies into a single large study. Any random effects or biases present in one study shouldn’t affect the final result. Through the magic of a statistical model, we put a bunch of individual study data and out pops a summarized result that gives us more statistical power and more confidence in the results.
The results for this one were somewhat surprising..
It turns out, according to the data, women gain relative strength and muscle mass at rates virtually identical to men. Women sometimes seem gain relative strength faster than men. Some of this effect could be explained by the fact that “untrained” women in the studies were relatively less trained than similarly untrained men. The term “untrained” necessarily doesn't mean that everyone starts at the same baseline. Women in the studies might have less sports experience and traditionally women's sports don't involve the same amount of upper body work. So when they started training, they had more “room” to gain relative strength, especially in the upper body.
However, from strength sport competition data it does seem that very highly trained women seem to continue to gain strength deeper into their training careers, closing the gap on similarly competitive men. At the moment we don't have a good understanding of this possible female enhanced strength development effect. What we do have is another example of where science challenges conventional wisdom.
This above data suggests that not only do women not need “remedial” strength programs, but they might respond to identical strength programs better than men in many cases. But women are not identical to men. So how are they different? If most differences can be explained by differences in body weight and lean mass, what’s actually important?
There are a few things that make women different than men….
Women are not a different species than men, but women are also not just “small men”. Most of the people who exercise happen to have two X chromosomes, but there is a gap in the understanding of how women respond to training. Whether you are a female, you train females, or maybe you just know a female or two, it's important to consider how gender might (or might not) influence training.
The good news is, despite relatively small differences, the fundamentals of training are the same.
Women may not be small men, but we are people too, and we deserve confidence through strength.