Although there are numerous differences between men’s and women’s bodies, our muscle tissue is actually identical. And as we age, both sexes lose about five pounds of muscle per decade. But since men naturally have more muscle than women, this loss can particularly affect females. Men also have larger skeletons, causing bone loss to begin later in life and progress more slowly than for women. The good news is that members of both sexes can reap the benefits of weight training, including increased muscle strength and size, improved balance, stronger bones, a faster metabolism and a leaner physique—especially if they train in a way that suits their gender best.
When creating a strength routine, the American Council on Exercise recommends the same guidelines for men and women: Work all major muscle groups—legs, abdominals, chest, back, arms—two to three times a week on nonconsecutive days. Perform 8 to 12 reps of each exercise, and when that starts to feel easy, increase the weight by five to 10 percent. All strength training is good strength training. Still, certain areas of our bodies tend to lack lean muscle mass, depending on our gender, making certain strength exercises better choices for women and others for men.
Producing a small amount of testosterone prevents females from developing too much muscle—good if you’re worried that strength training will “bulk you up” like a body builder, not so good because lacking muscle mass is linked to less bone mass, which ups your risk of osteoporosis. Plus, as estrogen levels drop with the onset of menopause, the loss of bone mass increases rapidly, causing signs of osteoporosis to appear earlier for women (age 40-65) than for men (age 65).
For women, the abdominals, hips, legs, glutes and upper body can all benefit from improved lean muscle mass. Opt for double-duty compound moves that target several muscle groups and burn more calories than an exercise that just works one part of the body.
Give the Mountain Climber with Push-Up a try:
What It Does: Targets abdominals, legs, chest, arms
How to Do It: Start in push-up position with your wrists aligned under your shoulders, feet shoulder-width apart, abdominals engaged and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Lift your right knee toward your right tricep, then return to start. Lift your left knee to your left tricep, then return to start. That’s one mountain climber rep. Complete 10 reps. Then, bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the ground for a push-up and rise back to start. Complete this combination of 10 mountain climbers and one push-up five times.
Be careful not to…let your back arch or sag to prevent pain or injury.
Testosterone is responsible for increased muscle mass in men. The hormone also contributes to stability and balance, as well as endurance. But don’t rely too heavily on Nature’s advantage. As your testosterone levels decline, which may not be an inevitable sign of aging but rather a result of underlying health issues that can be treated, you may notice a loss of muscle mass and muscle weakness—and some may experience unexplained bone fractures or, though rarer, osteoporosis.
Men will also benefit from moves that work multiple muscle groups, strengthening muscles in the upper and lower body, as well as the core.
The Barbell Rollout accomplishes this:
What It Does: Targets your core, glutes, chest
How to Do It: Place a barbell holding 10-pound weight plates on the floor in front of you. Starting on your hands and knees, grasp the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your abdominals, tighten your glutes and keep your back straight as you roll the barbell forward and your arms and torso straighten; keep a slight bend in your elbows. Focus on using your core to push you forward and roll you back. That’s one rep. Perform 12 reps; complete three sets.
Be careful not to…roll the bar out too far, causing your hips to sag or your lower back to arch. As you become stronger, you'll be able to roll the bar out farther.