Should Men and Women Be Exercising the Same Way?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: exercise is good for everyone. That’s one thing we can agree on, but we might not all agree on the best way to do that exercising. But we’re not talking about a cardio versus weights debate, we’re talking about if everyone should be exercising the same way. Should men and women’s workouts look different? picture of a man and woman standing side by side each holding a weight

What Men and Women Both Need

Go to the gym and you might find a little bit of a 7th-grade dance situation going on sometimes (ie, men on one side, women on the other). Men hit the weight machines, women hit the pilates studio and the cardio machine. Or maybe that’s just what you think you’ll find: maybe that’s just a stereotype. More and more, we’re all recognizing the benefits of all types of exercise, for everyone, especially weight training. Cardio is great for, well, cardiovascular health, but it’s weight training that really does the heavy lifting (no pun intended) of fat-burning and strength-building.


Workouts for men and women should include weight training.  We’ve got to just come out and say it, and not pretend that women have to include weights in different ways than men do. For example, take a look at workouts aimed at men, and at ones aimed at women. They can often be more similar than you’d think, it’s just that the terminology used to describe them is different. Workouts for men claim they’ll get you “ripped,” “strong,” and “powerful,”. Whereas similar workouts for women claim they’ll get you “tight” and “toned,” and will “shape you.”


Shying away from talking to women about strength training in the same way that we would talk to men just furthers that erroneous belief that doing intense and/or heavy lifting sessions will get you “bulky.” So gyms and stores put out those little pink weights for women, when in reality, women can and will benefit just as much from the same, heavier workouts that men are doing. 


After all, when you talk about “toning” or “shaping” certain areas of your body, what you’re really talking about is changing your muscle makeup. Muscles are what shape your body, and it stands to reason that more muscle equals more muscle tone. Wanna build something perkier on your body? Well, you’re gonna need muscle to do it.


That means, according to Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, co-author of “The New Rules of Lifting for Women,” many women would actually benefit from lower reps and more weight to hit muscle fibers that are only stimulated with those types of lifts.”


And as an added bonus, building more muscle means boosting your metabolism, and burning more fat!


What Women Should Do More/Less Of illustration of a woman working out in a gym

With all of the above being said, there are a lot of things women tend to do in their workouts that could be tweaked to make things more effective. For example:


  • Focus less on the quads, and more on the back of the legs/glutes – Women are actually more quad-dominant than men, so they can skip the endless leg presses. Instead, they should do some compound exercises like squats and lunges. And then work their hamstrings to balance out their quad strength. Try exercises like hamstring curls, good mornings, and deadlifts.
  • Work the upper body more – Yes, women have great legs, and they tend to work them – a lot. But they shouldn’t skip upper body day – just think how great it feels to be able to do full pushups and pullups. Not to mention the improved posture, better muscular balance, and the sexy look that comes from a strong upper body.
  • Rest less – Yes, you heard us. We’ve been told that women are just, well, not as strong as men. So that often translates to they can’t do as much and need to rest. But that simply isn’t true. In fact, according to Dr. Forsythe, “Women do tend to be less powerful than men due to several factors, such as lower muscle mass, lower lung capacity, and smaller hearts. However, their ability to recover after high-intensity exercise is often greater than men’s. This means that women will often need less rest time after an exercise bout or set. And they can get back under the bar or back in the circuit sooner. So, exercise programs that prescribe significant rest periods may make a woman feel bored.”. That doesn’t mean women should be doing endless reps. But they should be challenging themselves with circuit workouts that include a variety of exercises. 
  • Re-evaluate why they do yoga/pilates – Being a dedicated yogi is great in some ways, but in some cases, women do it because they’ve been told they’ll get “longer, leaner” muscles. But there’s no such thing: muscles can’t get longer, because they’re attached to your bones. And they can’t get leaner because they don’t contain any fat, and can’t “turn” to fat. Again, yoga can be great in a lot of ways. But it also doesn’t allow you to progressively overload your muscles as weightlifting does. So don’t skip one in favor of the other.

What Men Should Do More/Less of illustration of a man on a work out bench lifting weights above his head

So now we’re looking at you, guys. And you probably know what we’re going to say, since a lot of it will be the opposite end of the spectrum to women’s issues with workouts. Guys should think about:


  • Working their upper body more effectively – We don’t want to keep perpetuating stereotypes, but it seems like a lot of men like to focus on those upper body muscles that get noticed first: biceps/triceps and chest. But they shouldn’t ignore their mid/upper back. Since those muscles will give them better muscular balance, healthier shoulders, and better posture – and make their upper body look even more awesome, we promise.
  • Resting a little more – Just as women will probably get more out of their workout if they vary it more, and keep moving through lots of circuits/exercises, men will probably have a more effective and enjoyable workout if they do longer, slower workouts that involve putting all their effort into a single move, and then rest before moving on.
  • Adding in a little yoga – Guys could really benefit from varying their workouts, including adding in something like yoga, which would help them with their range of motion, not to mention help their muscles recover from those intense lifting sessions.

Bonus: Does When Men and Women Exercise Matter?

When it comes to all of the above, the bottom line is that yes, there are a few things that men and women could be doing differently to get the most out of their precious workout time. But in the end, there are no exercises “for men” or “for women.”. Ah, but when it comes to that precious “time” part, there might be a difference.


In fact, a study from this past summer found that men and women might actually have different optimal times of day for exercising, especially when it comes to the mood-boosting effects of working out. Just check this out: according to Dr. Asad R. Siddiqi, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Weill Cornell Medicine in NYC, “The men studied had greater improvement in perceived mood state than women. Exercise seemed to decrease tension, depression, and anger substantially in men regardless of the time of day, whereas improvements in tension and depression were only seen in women who exercised at night.”


a clock drawn on a chalkboardBut there were other pretty fascinating differences, as well. For example: 

  • Women who exercised in the morning reduced more total fat and abdominal fat, lowered their blood pressure to a greater degree, and increased lower body muscle power.
  • Women who exercised in the evening saw more improvement in their upper body muscle strength, mood, and satiety.
  • Men who exercised at either time of day improved their physical performance.
  • Men who exercised in the evening saw benefits in heart and metabolic health, as well as lower fatigue.


The purpose of the study was not actually to make comparisons between the sexes. And it’s not completely clear why men and women differ in these ways. Or why men and women got different results at different times of the day. But the findings could certainly be worth testing in your own life! 


We’d love to hear from both women and men out there on your exercise habits. If the time of day is important to you, and if you feel like you need to work out differently from the opposite sex. Until then, remember, whoever you are. Getting fitter and stronger is always a great goal, however you choose to do it! 

Co-written by Joanna Bowling