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  • Male vs Female numbers: does it matter?

    In a lot of fitness resources i see a delineation between what a man is expected to be capable of and what a woman is expected to be capable of (even in terms of body weight percentages on a lift, for example). This happens even in the Primal Blueprint by our own Mark Sisson. Often the male numbers on things like bodyweight pull ups or push ups are higher than female numbers. Pullups are the best example, since at the primal movement level the female numbers are less than half the male numbers.

    I know we live in a world where the reality is that women are generally less strong and often that woman are less interested in getting strong because they fear muscle bulk.

    I also know that we are smarter than that and that we recognize that women can be strong and lean and not bulky and, in fact, that it happens all the time.

    But what about those numbers? Is there any legit reason for a woman to be doing less reps on upper body work, when we're comparing BW exercises? Is she not already, on average, moving less weight? Are less reps required? Based on what I know, if anything the female anatomy is better at multiple reps than the male anatomy (and most of the differences really are cosmetic when you get past that).

    I'm designing a workout program for local use and I'm trying to set goals, but mark's numbers scare me. Am I going to be accused of being sexist? Am I being sexist? Or am I being unrealistic in assuming that women should be doing the same number of reps as men?

    Ladies? Do any of you strong grok chicks have experience here? I'd love some support.

  • #2
    I can't directly answer your question but for what it's worth, I was watching the CrossFit games and the female/male heats were identical as far as # of reps, but weight was less.

    One event was 5 rounds of: 5 ring muscle ups, 10 deadlifts, "long" crunches (forget how many reps) and sprints that got longer into the later rounds. The only difference in this even was the males had to do more weight on deadlifts. It didn't seem like the CF games made too much of a distinction here.
    I used to seriously post here, now I prefer to troll.

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    • #3
      I saw that and it's part of what lead me to this. In a bodyweight exercise, by and large, a woman is moving less bodyweight (because on average, they weigh less than the men do). This is what concerns me. i guess at worst, I'll run with baseline numbers and adjust them for reality as needed.

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      • #4
        This is an issue of strength - be it bodyweight or external weight related. The reason for the general delineation is one of empirical evidence. It's not that women cannot achieve this but that it is less likely in the general population. Your example of pull ups is a good one - I would imagine a poll of male and female members on here would show a distinct difference in the number of reps each sex can do, irrespective of bodyweight.
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        • #5
          Okay, so let's say (because it's true) that I'm creating a workout plan with carious fitness "levels" for people. Do i set the female numbers lower? Or do I just accept that many women will fall into a lower level than their male counterparts? I can accept either, but it's a matter of being fair.

          What I want is a system that will walk the line between providing you with merit based advancement and providing you with sweat equity based advancement, even though those are not the same. (ie: a woman and a man might start at the same level, do the same amount of work, and the man might be doing more pushups in the same time. Are they now at the same "level"? or are they at two different levels?)

          i want to be even handed but also fair in regards to my expectations. And like I said, it's hard for me to separate the reality of this with teh social expectations and what not.

          Originally posted by Coach Palfrey View Post
          This is an issue of strength - be it bodyweight or external weight related. The reason for the general delineation is one of empirical evidence. It's not that women cannot achieve this but that it is less likely in the general population. Your example of pull ups is a good one - I would imagine a poll of male and female members on here would show a distinct difference in the number of reps each sex can do, irrespective of bodyweight.

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          • #6
            Well, I don't think you need to worry bout being sexist. Men and women are different - it does not mean one is "better" or "superior" to the other, just different. Steak is yummie, and so is lobster. Neither is necessarily better, just different

            Physiologically, men are different. I read, I believe it was Rippetoe's Practical Programming for Strength (don't remember), that women's max strength is generally much less than men's in proportion to body weight, but that they can do significantly more reps of 85% 1MR than a man and have less fatigue afterwards. I wish this didn't sound so vague, but I can't remember where I read that.

            Nonetheless, yes, women and men most likely need different workout approaches. Yes, they both should LHT, but reps and numbers of sets may be significantly different. I don't really know, I'm a guy, and I'm not a wizard at lifting weights (or even close). But logic tells me that there must be differences.

            --Me

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            • #7
              Women aren't as strong as men. Full stop. That's a generalization. It doesn't mean that there aren't women who can't do more pullups than me (there are plenty) or anything else, but on average, the generalization holds true. If you are doing a program for a group, you must take this into account. If you are doing individualized training, you can focus on the individual.

              Case in point: I've been lifting since April. I squat over 300 lbs and deadlifted 320. These aren't particularly huge numbers, but I'm a 40 year old male with no real prior lifting history. Those are near elite numbers for women. Am I a physical beast? No, but I'm a man.

              I outweigh my wife by about 60 lbs, but can do double the pullups she can. She's a better swimmer than I am and has much better endurance, but even pound for pound, I am simply stronger than she is. You have to look at the averages.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Anivair View Post
                Okay, so let's say (because it's true) that I'm creating a workout plan with carious fitness "levels" for people. Do i set the female numbers lower? Or do I just accept that many women will fall into a lower level than their male counterparts? I can accept either, but it's a matter of being fair.

                What I want is a system that will walk the line between providing you with merit based advancement and providing you with sweat equity based advancement, even though those are not the same. (ie: a woman and a man might start at the same level, do the same amount of work, and the man might be doing more pushups in the same time. Are they now at the same "level"? or are they at two different levels?)

                i want to be even handed but also fair in regards to my expectations. And like I said, it's hard for me to separate the reality of this with teh social expectations and what not.
                First of all, I wouldn't go creating fitness plans for people until you have a lot of experience training people. You'll get a feel from clients on what men vs. women are truly capable of after you've pushed enough of them to their respective limits.

                That said, yes, women have less weight to move, but we're also hormonally destined to have less muscle mass than men, period. There's a good quote from Chris McDougal's TED talk about how he can throw a rock and hit a 15 year old who can outsprint a female elite; equality, when it comes to running, doesn't really happen until beyond marathon distance, when women's natural endurance kicks in to even out the playing field.

                I am a big believer that women's strength programs shouldn't be any different, reps-wise, than a men's training program though. The weights the ladies are moving just need to be appropriate to what they can achieve. How that corresponds to body weight exercises I'd love to find out. Maybe you shouldn't calculate it based on body weight, but lean body mass? That would account for the fact that women will have less lean mass than men (since we don't have all that natural testosterone, etc).

                You could always check out the fitness requirements for the military. They have different classes based on gender and age, and I'd assume they're probably pretty accurate as far as what each gender is capable of.
                ~elaine. twitter, primal journal.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by elainevdw View Post
                  First of all, I wouldn't go creating fitness plans for people until you have a lot of experience training people. You'll get a feel from clients on what men vs. women are truly capable of after you've pushed enough of them to their respective limits.
                  This.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Anivair View Post
                    Okay, so let's say (because it's true) that I'm creating a workout plan with carious fitness "levels" for people. Do i set the female numbers lower? Or do I just accept that many women will fall into a lower level than their male counterparts? I can accept either, but it's a matter of being fair.

                    What I want is a system that will walk the line between providing you with merit based advancement and providing you with sweat equity based advancement, even though those are not the same. (ie: a woman and a man might start at the same level, do the same amount of work, and the man might be doing more pushups in the same time. Are they now at the same "level"? or are they at two different levels?)

                    i want to be even handed but also fair in regards to my expectations. And like I said, it's hard for me to separate the reality of this with teh social expectations and what not.
                    I wouldn't worry too much about the system per se but just focus on good quality training and a progressive approach. Whenever I've tried to apply systems to these types of things I've ended up having to adjust everything when people actually turned up.
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                    • #11
                      Keep the reps the same - in crossfit there's typically a 30% weight reduction for women compared to men.
                      ad astra per aspera

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                      • #12
                        I think in things like pullups and muscle-ups, you are seeing the difference in number of reps at a high percent of 1RM. If you tested them differently--for instance adding weight until the person failed to complete the movement for one rep, instead of adding reps to failure--you would likely see something quite different. The men would be pulling a higher percentage of their body weight than the women for one rep. Trained men are stronger than trained women pound for pound, especially in upper body lifts, because women just can't add as much muscle mass to their upper bodies as men can. But, and this is a big but, women's muscles fatigue differently than men's, and this allows them to move more reps at a given percent of their 1RM before failure. I am guessing this is the effect you are seeing at Crossfit competitions. Women are completing the same number of reps as men because their muscles don't fatigue as quickly at high percentage of 1RM, while men are completing the same number because they are lifting a weight at a lower percent of 1RM than the women are.
                        Today I will: Eat food, not poison. Plan for success, not settle for failure. Live my real life, not a virtual one. Move and grow, not sit and die.

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                        • #13
                          My understanding was always that:

                          1) Men had more upper body strength relative to weight than women
                          2) Women had more endurance and pain tolerance than men (obviously, extremes at both end of the sprectrum excepted)
                          3) Men just plain have a higher muscle/fat ratio than women (moderate bodyfat % on a man can be unhealthy on a woman)

                          Now the whole bodyfat thing is potentially protective when it comes to things like pregnancy, giving birth, nursing and fluctuating hormones, so those might be the evolutionary reasons behind it.

                          Though I absolutely stand behind the idea that men and women are equally valuable, I'm also a huge fan of how different we are.
                          Durp.

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                          • #14
                            When it comes to matters of strength and muscularity, most of it has been covered already. But you mention creating programs for female clients. I'm not an expert by any means, so that's why I tend to defer to the knowledge of people who do know...

                            Jason Ferruggia Uncensored: Effective Training Programs For Females

                            While many of the principles of effective weight training are exactly the same for males as they are for females, there are a few differences that need to be pointed out. These differences are not of major concern and the fact is that many females could get great results doing the exact same workouts as their male counterparts. But since I brought it up, here they are:

                            • Females seem to achieve better results with a slightly higher rep range than males- While most males build muscle most effectively in the range of 5-10 reps, females often tend to do better while working in the range of 8-15 reps. Notice I didn’t say 15-50 reps. Remember, that stuff is useless nonsense. Heavy sets of 8-15 reps to failure or near failure are the way to go for most females looking to build muscle and burn fat.

                            • Females can tolerate a slightly higher training volume- Because they are usually weaker and have less overall muscle mass than males; females recover more easily and quickly and for this reason can tolerate a greater number of sets in their training. For males I usually recommend an average of 12-18 hard sets per workout but for females I prefer to stick with 16-28, sometimes even higher.

                            Just because they can tolerate the higher volume, does that mean that they actually need it? This is a question I have often pondered but have never really experimented with because of the mental and emotional aspect of training females (trainers and coaches pay attention). Most females have been conditioned to believe that a good workout consists of sweating their asses off and nearly needing to be carried out of the gym when it’s over. For this reason you simply can not tell a female to do ten hard sets 5-8 reps on squats, rows and presses with long rest periods and expect her to be happy about it. If I had a female do one of my workouts with me that consisted of two sets of squats, two sets of deadlifts, two sets of glute hams and a few shrugs, neck extensions and grip work she would hate it with a passion. It is mainly because of this that I always prescribe more sets for my female clients than I do my male clients.

                            • Females require less rest between sets than males- This is very similar to the rule about training volume. Because they are weaker, less muscular and recover faster, females don’t need to rest as long between sets. While most males will need at least 3-5 minutes between a brutally heavy ten-rep set of squats before they will be able to repeat the effort, most females can do so in just a minute or two; sometimes even less. If they are extremely weak, they may actually be able to repeat the effort in as little as 30 seconds. If you give them a workout that calls for the same rest periods that males use they will be bored to tears. This goes along with the mentality that females have been brainwashed into having; that an effective workout must leave them rolling in a pool of their own sweat and puke.

                            Take note of this if you are a trainer because prescribing shorter rest periods for your female clients can eliminate some uncomfortable situations for you. When a girl is not slightly winded from a set yet you decide to give her a 90 second rest period like you would a guy, you are going to be in for a lot of awkward silence while frantically searching for something to talk about after about the 15th set.
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                            For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either.
                            -- Blaise Pascal

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by elainevdw View Post

                              You could always check out the fitness requirements for the military. They have different classes based on gender and age, and I'd assume they're probably pretty accurate as far as what each gender is capable of.
                              In some countries, the zealous equal rights in everything group, along with a bureaucratic fear of breaching human rights legislation has led to those militaries introducing gender equality to their fitness testing. The effect of this has been to lower the overall fitness levels of these services.
                              Live. Grow. Flourish.

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