Many experienced and novice certified fitness instructors assume that they can’t work with male and female clients simultaneously because the physical differences are far too great, or there will be complications with the workout program and design.
While there is some truth to the idea that male and female fitness clients require different training and fitness approaches, it’s also important to realize that these differences are much less pronounced, evident, and subtler than we realize.
Some of the key facets to keep in mind when training male and female clients, and designing more specific, varied workouts for their needs, include:
It’s difficult to compare men’s and women’s physical strength
At the surface level, it’s easy to declare that men and women have different strength levels and can’t train the same way—and while there may be some truth to that, it’s not as black and white as it seems.
It’s like comparing apples to oranges, and drawing parallels between both of them is ineffective because men are generally larger on average, have more muscle mass, and thus have greater strength. Due to their build and higher muscle mass, it’s easy to declare that men are stronger, but with the right conditioning and by removing variables and genetic makeup, women are pretty close, proportionately.
Rather than getting into the complexities and minuteness of how their strength varies, you should focus on honing and maximizing that strength through well-rounded workouts that target the same primary muscles.
Physical strength is measurable but not universal or objective and should not be taken at face value alone, but rather, based on each individual client and their experience level.
Men tend to have stronger upper bodies, while lower body strength is similar
With that overall difference in mind, it’s important to recognize that men’s and women’s strength also varies based on the different areas of the body. While lower body strength is proportionately similar for both sexes, with women having 66% of the same lower body strength, they lack upper body strength having only 52% of that, on average.
This may be relevant to training and fitness decision-making as trainers work on developing and improving the areas that are lacking.
Essentially, you can focus on overall body and lower body strength the same way for male and female clients, while offering upper body modifications for those who need to build their strength further. Core movements like pushups, pull-ups, lateral raises, bicep curls, and others are all valuable for improving upper body strength for women, without risking injury or strain.
Women will not bulk up from lifting and strength training the way men might
Another key difference that several female clients are also concerned about is the impact of lifting weights, and it’s time to settle this debate once and for all: lifting weights doesn’t make women bulky.
In fact, lifting weights has some incredible benefits for women and men both, from strengthening joints and bones to building lean muscle, giving your clients some of the most amazing outcomes. As a certified fitness trainer, you must encourage all your fitness clients, regardless of gender, to train with weights, and incorporate healthier movements in their training routines.
Women simply do not have the same level of testosterone as men, which makes it impossible for the average woman to bulk up and have their muscles grow without supplementation, or unless they have naturally high testosterone. If you have female fitness training clients, you need to educate them about how strength training and lifting will help them achieve their fitness goals faster, whether it’s a leaner body,
And women are more prone to injury during basic and advanced lower-body moves
However, it may be surprising that despite their incredibly strong lower bodies, women are also more prone to injuries in this region. This is due to the varying physiological makeup, including the structure of their hips, which are wider, shorter limbs, varying angles at the joints, and other differences that affect how women’s exercises and workouts must be designed.
This means that you, as a trainer, must pay greater attention to injury prevention and management while still incorporating strength-building moves. During your fitness trainer certification courses, you will learn more about this and understand how women’s and men’s physiological makeup vary and why it’s important to factor that in.
Often, you may need to limit their range of motion, impact, and intensity and stick to a variety of basic and advanced movements, enabling them to get maximum impact and benefits without injuries, accidents, and long-term damage while still building muscle and improving stability.
Stability is more necessary for women before intensive movements
This brings us to another very important difference in training approaches for female and male clients: the need for more stability. Due to the physiological differences mentioned above, female clients will often require stability work before intensive movements.
From more dynamic warmups to building more stabilization in a joint to rehabilitation effort, there’s a lot to work on before pushing them to lift and squat heavy, jump high, and perform intense exercises and workouts.
Fitness trainers may be able to work on stability and strength simultaneously for male clients, but often female clients may need to segment their workouts for injury prevention. Stability should be a core tenet of any successful workout routine or program, whether you’re working as a personal fitness trainer or with a group of clients, building stronger joints and tendons through movement.
It may slow down strength progression and results, but it’s an important component for overall results.
The hormonal makeup differs and impacts how men and women train
The human body is incredibly complex and comprises multiple systems that keep it functioning and running optimally, and among those is your endocrine system. Hormones are responsible for many bodily functions and tasks, including energy levels, body composition, water retention, muscle-building, and more. While men tend to have the same hormonal levels throughout the month, women’s hormonal responses change pretty much all the time and evolve with age too, which inevitably affects exercise.
Not only do hormones dictate what the body uses as fuel during exercise (fat for women, carbs, and protein for men), but also how quickly muscle is formed, the degree of water retention, and more.
A good certified personal trainer would factor in how their female clients’ hormones are different from male clients and how to adapt workouts according to them. You don’t need to track your clients’ cycles and design specialized workouts for them, just ensure that you’re not expecting the same outcomes and results from all your clients across the board.
Men and women clients often have differing fitness goals and objectives
When you become a certified exercise instructor, you may be surprised to learn that your clients all present varied, unique fitness goals and objectives when they come to you. Even if you have recommendations and set goals beyond physical appearance and aesthetics, you may have clients bringing you their goals, which are often differentiated between both genders.
For instance, while both may come to you with the objective of weight loss and reduction, men might say they want to bulk up and build a ton of muscle, while women may be focused on getting slim and slender.
This is a generalization, but it’s based on some degree of truth and observation. Male and female clients almost always have some significant differences in their health and fitness objectives. You may need to adapt your routines and plans to accommodate them and help them achieve their goals.
Gender also impacts exercise and fitness behaviors, with many women exercising more than men and engaging in more cardiovascular exercise as a result of that conditioning too.
Nutritional intake and approach also vary between both genders
Despite all the varying physiological and training differences, there’s one common factor when training male and female clients, and that’s nutrition.
However, it’s never that simple because there are also several key differences between men’s and women’s nutritional intake and approach. Though both men and women require a healthy, nutrient-dense diet to sustain them, get them positive fat loss results, and provide them with the energy they need for their workouts, they also have unique requirements. Women’s bodies don’t metabolize carbs as well as men’s bodies do, which is a key difference in designing meal plans for them.
Men typically have a higher calorie requirement due to their larger physique and energy expenditure, while women need fewer calories. Men are typically recommended a higher amount of protein in their diets as well, allowing them to function more effectively.
Generally, all personal and group exercise instructors are advised to eat well-balanced diets, but the differences in recommendations can be subtle and nuanced based on biological sex alone.
You can learn more about your clients’ varying nutritional requirements through our personal health trainer programs in nutrition and fitness, developing a deeper understanding of how to work around these differences.
Progressive overload will need to be customized to each fitness client
As it was fairly obvious so far, there will almost always be differences in the minute details of how you approach workouts and fitness training for male vs. female clients.
Progressive overload is one such area where the difference is particularly interesting. The principles of progressive overload are generally consistent for both men and women; the intensity, degree, and speed vary.
Men tend to build muscle faster and may be able to lift heavier more quickly, too, while women need to go relatively slower. Progressive overload fatigues the muscles and works on the premise of wear and tear, and if women’s bodies are not allowed to get there at a safe and healthy pace, it may result in serious injuries such as ACL tears, rotator cuff injuries, joint and tendon injuries, and more.
The basic principles and approach to training should be the same for everyone
However, the basic principles and approach to training remain consistent regardless of whether you’re working with male or female clients. The core tenets still come down to strength training, cardio, stabilization work, rest and recovery, and nutrition improvement.
It’s important to develop well-rounded workout programs and routines that focus on the different aspects of health and wellness, including emotional and mental health. As a certified fitness trainer, you will learn much more about what your clients want while on the job and through more advanced training programs and certifications.
While the differences between training male and female fitness clients may be only marginal and often negligible, it’s also important to focus on developing workouts that help each client achieve their goals. When you’re working as a certified group fitness instructor, workout programs are more generalized and standardized. But when you’re a personal trainer, the process is significantly more specific. You can improve your practice as a fitness trainer by investing in advanced, specialized training that teaches you how to work and train within a particular niche, such as pregnancy fitness, sports conditioning, or other areas of focus that you may be interested in.
Register for one of our many courses through our website, as we offer both online and hybrid training and certifications for fitness instructors, or contact us to learn more. We strive to make the fitness industry as inclusive and as diverse as possible.