Working Out For Your Gender

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Gender Working Out 1080X675 1 | Working Out For Your Gender

There’s no question that men and women are different. Especially when it comes to fitness:

  • Men grunt. Women sigh.
  • Little boys play dodgeball and tackle football. Little girls play ring-around-the-rosey, cheerlead on the sidelines and slow-pitch softball.
  • Men want to bulk up. Women want to tone up.
  • And, men hit the weights, compete on the rugged trails, and play pick-up basketball. Whereas, women are yoga goddesses, group fitness gurus and cardio bunnies—fighting for the treadmills in Orange Theory, filling the roster in Stronghorn boot camp, or front and center in David Garza’s spin class at Love Cycling downtown.

—At least stereotypically speaking.


According to a survey by Weight Watchers, women tend to speak about exercise and nutrition in terms of “slimming down,” and dieting (“I need to go on a diet”).

Men on the other hand speak about exercise and nutrition in terms of “fitness,” saying, “I need to hit the gym.” (Washington Post, 2011)

The same Weight Watchers survey, men tend to view exercise and fitness as more of a sport or fun challenge, whereas women tend to view it as a chore or something they “should do” (but don’t necessarily always want to do). Researchers speculate this is because men are weaned on such sports as football, soccer, baseball and basketball from the time they are kids, and women aren’t always encouraged to do the same.

For these reasons, it’s no wonder only 17% of all women lift weights (CDC, 2012 ). and tend to gravitate to the cardio machines or group fitness first—thinking that more cardio will “burn calories” and help them slim down faster.

In fact, women dominate group fitness & yoga classes.

Women outnumber men in a ratio of about 5:1—5 women for every one man, making up more than 80% of spin, bootcamp and CrossFit group fitness attendees. (Nielsen Global Consumer Exercise Trends Survey 2014).

In addition, the Yoga Journal reports 72% of all yoga classes are taught by women practitioners (even though yoga was founded by men in India (Yoga Journal, 2016).

It’s almost as if an unspoken gender law exists that orders:

“Men lift weights, play sports and compete in races,” and “Women do fitness classes, stretch in yoga and run long distances.”

Stereotypes aside though, why is it that men and women seemingly have a different concept over what defines a “good workout?”

Is this because culture has raised us to believe there is a certain type of fitness that’s best for our gender? Or because science and biology actually shows gender affects the types of workouts we choose?

Moreover, when it comes to improving your personal fitness, and getting the most out your workout, is there ONE way that works better for women, and another that works best for men—solely based on gender alone?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness, here are 10 (science-backed) differences in men vs. women’s response to exercise:

10 Differences in Men vs. Women’s Response to Exercise

Gender Excercise

  1. Men Have More Muscle Mass Overall
  2. It’s no shock that physiologically, men are about 50-60% stronger (Miller et al, 1993) than women by nature’s design due to larger muscle fibers. This means men are able to “get stronger” or increase jumps in their weights much faster than women.

  1. BUT Women & Men Have the Same Strength Potential
  2. Even though men tend to be stronger, pound for pound, women and men have equal strength for their body types, and women have the same potential to develop the same ratio of strength as men.

  1. Women Build a Booty Quicker. Men Build Guns Quicker.
  2. Women tend to have about 2/3 the amount go muscle mass men do, with a larger difference in upper body muscle mass (about 1/2) to lower body muscle mass (about 3/4). Technically, that means if a man and woman have the same size muscles, they should have roughly the same strength (especially on squat day).  Women tend to have an easier time making their legs stronger or shaping that Kim Kardashian (non-implant) booty, whereas men may experience with the classic “chicken leg” phenomenon more.

  1. It Takes Men Longer to Recover From Workouts.
    Since women have lower muscle mass overall than men, women are also be able to recover faster from “harder” workouts than men, simply because there are less fibers. Fit women in particular have lower rates of ATP (energy store) depletion and glycogen depletion during workouts, so they don’t need as long to recover between sets or experience the same drop offs in their power output as men. Additionally, men tend to be able to handle more training “volume” (and need it) more than women. Since women don’t have the same amount of mass men to train, their intensity and workout volume may be slightly less then men to see “results.”
  1. Women Have More Body Fat
    Women have more estrogen then men, and the female body is designed to carry more body fat than men for fertility reasons (without enough body fat, the body and hormones may be thrown “off”). Those two words (“body fat”) get a lot of negative connotations with them, but I challenge you to think about body fat as a necessary part of fitness—particularly if you are a woman. Enough of it (and a regular menstrual cycle for women of menstruating age) means you are healthy.
  1. BUT Women Also Burn More Fat than Men During Exercise.
  2. While women tend to be more “sugar” (glucose) burners at rest, than men who are greater “fat burners” at rest, during exercise, women are able to burn fat faster—particularly during weight and HIIT style training.

  1. Men Benefit More from “Carbing Up” Post-Exercise
  2. Since women burn more fat during exercise and men burn more glucose or glycogen, women use LESS glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. So your trainer’s recommendations about “carbing up” post exercise may not be as necessary as they are for men, and eating a more balanced plate (even healthy fats) post exercise may also not be a “bad thing” for women.

  1. BUT Women Can Handle More Carbs Than Men
  2. Although it may seem counter intuitive, since women have about 30% less muscle mass than men, and twice the body fat of men, women tend to have “better blood sugar tolerance” (i.e. actually may benefit from more carbs in their diet throughout the day) than men, primarily because they have higher estrogen levels than men (which improve the body’s ability to burn glucose or sugar faster). In other words: Men may benefit from a keto (or higher fat, lower carb) diet, whereas women can handle moderate intakes of carbs for overall metabolic health without affecting metabolism or body fat “negatively.”

  1. Women Stall Progress on Lower Calorie Diets &/or Higher Intensity Programs
  2. Men tend to respond more “positively” to a caloric deficit for body fat loss or increased intensity then women, primarily due to hormone differences. For women, calorie restriction and high-volume training influences cortisol (stress) hormones more, leading to greater likelihood of fat storage.

  1. Women Are Not Smaller Versions of Men
  2. Contrary to popular belief that the human body is the same in its overall response to exercise and many studies conducted specifically on men in the arena, women are not just a smaller version of a man. We cannot keep comparing apples to oranges.

    The biggest differences in men and women lie in the hormones: specifically a women’s hormones.

    More estrogen (and greater likelihood for hormone imbalances with exercise) for women influences their:

  • Emotions—Women tend to be more “emotionally connected” to exercise, and their estrogen is influenced by endorphins that make us happy when we exercise (no wonder more women want to feel “more connected” socially through group fitness!)
  • Strength Levels—Pre-menopausal women are generally stronger during the follicular phase leading up to their cycle– as well as the ovulation period (which is when they should focus on progress, training harder, going for a PR, and potentially even eating a little more to support energy levels).
  • Bone Health—Women need to make strength training part of their routine for healthy bones and osteoporosis prevention, especially as estrogen levels decline in later life
  • Fat Storage: Women store fat more easily if we severely due to cortisol’s impact on hormones.
  • Muscle Development—Women have lower testosterone than men and simply cannot “bulk up” like men. The greater influence of bulking up? Nutrition and stress.


There IS no one-size-fits-all when it comes to your personal workout, and no matter if you’re aiming for health, improved fitness or to look good naked, you cannot go wrong with a blend of ALL types of fitness for optimal human potential.

Generally speaking, both men and women need to apply the same general principles: regular weight or strength training for supporting muscle and bone health, a nutrient-dense diet, enough rest to ensure overtraining doesn’t happen, and energy-boosting aerobic activities to supplement a foundational strength program.

Above all, for both genders, do not underestimate the powerful influence of nutrition and lifestyle stress—often the “elephant in the room” for both parties.

Since nutrition and lifestyle (like sleeping enough, not overtraining and daily movement) are approximately 80-90% of all the results you see in the gym anyways, do not neglect these two powerful pieces


Want help in customizing a nutrition, supplement and lifestyle plan to support your fitness and goals for your gender? Contact Dr. Lauryn at [email protected] or call our office at 512.230.7947 today.

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