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Female Training: What Needs To Change

Thereís no shortage of information out there with regards to building muscle and losing fat, but often this information is not specified directly towards female fat loss or female muscle building.

There’s no shortage of information out there with regards to building muscle and losing fat, but often this information is not specified directly towards female fat loss or female muscle building.  As such, many females wonder if they should be making adjustments to their training program and diet due to the differences in their body chemistry compared with that of a male.

There’s no doubt that there are big differences when it comes to male bodies versus female bodies, but how much do these differences affect the way males and females should be training?

That’s what we are taking into consideration right now.

Females and Muscle Building

Female BodyBuildingThe first factor to take into account is the ability of females to build muscle and what may need to change with regards to their workout program.

First off, the most dramatic difference between males and females is the testosterone level in the body, with females having a much lower level of free testosterone than males.

Because of this, females will build muscle tissue at a rate of about half of that of males. So, if you’re female, you should not expect to keep up with your male counterpart as far as building muscle is concerned because that is very unlikely to happen.

Most males can build muscle at a rate of one pound per month, while females build at about half a pound per month, assuming an already in a trained state.

While weight lifting in general will increase testosterone levels, for women, it’s still never going to be enough to match males.

Maintaining realistic expectations then with regards to your ability to build muscle is the first thing that needs to be taken into account.

The next thing to consider is your recovery ability. Most females will have a lower tolerance for high volume or intensity exercises, so your workout program should be adapted as such.  While a male might be able to go into the gym and perform four sets of bench press, shoulder press, and rows with max effort, a female might do much better with only three.

For her, pushing through four sets may be possible, but there would be a good chance that she will require a lengthier period of time to recover from such a session, keeping her away from her workouts longer or setting her up for overtraining if she choices to ignore this fact and train anyway.

So, one-adjustment females might want to consider making is reducing the total volume of their workouts.  That’s not to say you can’t take it up to the four set range, you just need to do so while taking into account everything else you plan to do during that session.

Doing this will help ensure that you don’t push it too far and wind up injured.

Finally, when considering food intake, females, like males, will need to have a calorie surplus present in order to effectively build muscle tissue. But, due to the fact that they will build muscle at a slower rate, it’s a smart move to decrease this surplus slightly, so excess fat is not gained.

Females also have a greater tendency than males for storing body fat due to their elevated estrogen levels, so they will want to be especially careful with the surplus.

While a male should be using a 300-500 calorie surplus each day to build muscle, a female should half this, taking in 150-250 calories extra a day when trying to build muscle.

Females and Fat LossFemale Fat Loss

Next, we look at females with regards to fat loss. Again, there are small differences between males and females with fat loss as well, so certain adaptations should be considered.

First, the biggest difference between males and females again comes down to the discrepancy between testosterone and estrogen present in the body, which affects how the fat cells develop in the body.

Potentially one of the biggest effects these hormones have on the body is with where they cause fat storage to take place. Women typically tend to store more body fat on their legs, while men have a greater tendency to store fat in the abdominal area, particularly with regard to visceral fat (fat that’s stored within the organs and body tissues, rather than directly right underneath the skin).

So, for most women, they are going to have a different ‘target’ area they are trying to remove body fat from.  While you cannot spot reduce specifically to one point in the body, different leg training programs can increase the chances that fat will be removed off of the legs.

Further, due to the fact that most females have a lower level of muscle mass tissue, their metabolic rate will be lower and they may require a higher deficit to experience a good rate of weight loss in comparison with males.

Also, due to the fact that females have a higher basic requirement for body fat storage, they are not going to be able to bring their body levels down as low as their male counterparts are (12-15% is essential for women, 2-5% essential for men).

When a female tries to bring her body fat percentage below that 12% value, she’s very likely to see disruption in the reproductive system as well as other negative health consequences.

In terms of diet for fat loss, many women find they do better using a lower carbohydrate approach to fat loss in comparison with males.  This could partially be due to the fact that when fasting, females have a lower plasma glucose level than men despite having a higher level of free fatty acids.  Females tend to rely on fat metabolism more when dieting, hence it could be a signal more dietary fat in the diet will make them more comfortable through the dieting process.

When trying to get to very lean levels for fat loss, women often will need to incorporate a higher level of cardio training into their program to really mobilize the lower body fat, however there are still some men who tend to require the same treatment.

Regardless of gender, when approaching the essential fat levels, demanding dietary and workout techniques will most often be needed to continually see further results.

Summing Up
So, to wrap up the gender differences with regards to training, for the most part, similarities still apply.  Both men and women should be lifting heavy weights in order to stimulate muscle growth.  Women will not grow nearly as large as men without enhancement (steroids), and this is due to the biochemistry of their body.

Likewise, both men and women will need to utilize a hypo calorie diet combined with a good weight training program and smart cardio to mobilize body fat stores, but the area of the body they are trying to target may be different due to the nature of fat deposition between the sexes.

Finally, one interesting fact to note is that females, due to their higher body fat composition, tend to be at a higher risk for dehydration than males, so it is especially important that regardless of their goal, females are looking after hydrating themselves before, during, and after the exercise session takes place.


Aerts, JM. (2007) Gender-related differences in metabolic response to fasting. Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, The Netherlands. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Sept; 92(9):3646-52.
Arnaud, MJ. Et al. (2008) Influence of gender and body composition on hydration and body water spaces.  Clinical Nutrition. Oct;27(5):740-6.

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