Gender Based Programming

Should a female follow a different program than a male?

There are a ton of trainers and coaches who get criticized for making specific programs for males and specific programs for females.

On the surface, it makes sense. There are no special exercises that work for females that don’t also work for males, and vice versa. The basic muscle building principles apply to both genders. Sure, women tend to recover slightly better between sets and workouts than men do, but it’s not a significant enough variable to completely change the way you approach your training program.

There’s no hard and fast rule stating which muscle groups women “should” focus on and which ones men “should” focus on. There is nothing wrong with a female following a balanced weight training program. However, in reality, most females have certain muscle groups they want to target more than others, and they tend to be different than the common muscle groups men want to target.

Women usually want to improve their lower body (glutes, hamstrings in particular) while most men are more into developing their upper body (even though based on statistics, women find well-developed glutes to be an attractive male trait). Because of these preferences, there may be some merit to making programs geared towards men and other programs geared towards women. In this short article, I’m going to explain why. 

I’d like to start out by being perfectly clear: if your “women’s program” has a bunch of pink 2.5 lbs dumbbell curls for hundreds of reps and bodyweight donkey kickbacks, it’s bullshit. But if it has effective muscle building exercises for muscles women commonly want to build, and fewer exercises for muscles women commonly don't want to build, it may make sense. 

For example, if a woman wants to build her glutes but not her chest and traps, would it make sense to have the same amount of upper back and chest volume as glute volume? Probably not. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with women wanting to prioritize different muscle groups, this is just the norm. A glute focused program will likely attract more women than men.

Conversely, if a man doesn’t care about his glutes and hamstrings that much, but wants to build a huge upper body, would it make sense to have the same volume for chest and back as glute and hamstring volume? Probably not. 

When trying to build muscle, your program must factor in recovery. If you’re going to add extra volume for a specific muscle group or a few specific muscle groups, you must take away some volume from other muscle groups. Continuing to add volume slowly over time is one thing, but suddenly adding 6-8 extra sets of focused muscle group work in one week without also subtracting from elsewhere isn’t the smartest approach. Therefore, when you add volume for one muscle or muscle group, it’s usually a good idea to subtract volume from another. 

For example, a program might have 15-18 sets of glute focused work, 12-15 sets of hamstring focused work, and 15-18 sets of shoulder focused work per week. This is considered relatively high volume using a muscle group per week metric (the most common way to track volume in a hypertrophy program). If most females aren’t interested in growing huge pecs and traps but their program also has 12-18 sets of pec and trap training per week, it’s likely going to detract from their recovery from their targeted training, yielding lackluster results. However, by simply cutting the trap and pec volume in half and keeping the other volume where it’s at (or in some cases, adding to it) they’ll recover better, make more progress, and are more likely to see the results they're looking for. This could easily be labeled as a program geared towards females. 

On the men’s side, if they’re satisfied already with their glutes and hamstrings, but want to really pack muscle on their upper body (whether this is sound logic or not), perhaps it’s best they follow a program with a lot of upper body volume and less lower body/posterior chain volume. Again, this will yield better results because they won’t be as fatigued from training muscle groups they don’t want to grow anyway. 

A big caveat to this is that although men and women tend to have certain muscle groups they care more about, it’s not the best idea to completely avoid training the muscle groups they care less about. There’s still value in training every muscle group, even if it’s just brushing up on it with minimal volume and a bit less intensity to manage fatigue. In this case, I’d recommend just that - doing just a few maintenance sets and staying away from failure (2-4 RIR) on movements for the muscle groups you don’t care to improve at this time. 

There are plenty of ways to make programs more male or female centric. That being said, some women want to train everything, and some men want to train their glutes and hamstrings, and that’s fine!

Regardless of the program you use, the basic muscle building principles still apply. Great exercise selection and execution, progressive overload, and consistency. If you want to focus more on some muscle groups than others, great! 

But before you consider scoffing at a “male program” or a “female program”, consider the fact that sometimes they’re created for an educated, well-thought-out reason. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published