Exercise Needs: Men vs. Women

Men and women have unique fitness needs and wants.  Both need to maintain a good bill of health as well as a healthy weight.  Men typically want to build muscle mass while slimming down around the midsection, whereas women often want to lose weight, slim down and tone up, especially in the thighs, butt, waist and arms. In order for both men and women to achieve these goals, they both must do cardiovascular and weight training while following a proper diet. With some variations in resistance, intensity and duration, men and women can undertake similar exercise regimes.

Cardio training is important for our overall health and weight management, and it is necessary to tone muscle. This can include anything from basketball, a boxing class, fast walking, indoor or outdoor cycling, jogging, swimming, jump rope, etc.  Men tend to shy away from cardio training, unless it is a sport, but both men and women should do at least 30 minutes of cardio every day. To maximize one's workout, cardio can be combined with strength training, such as doing a set of push-ups followed by one minute of jump rope.

Strength training for both men and women can be achieved in variety of ways by using body weight for resistance, free weights, machines or resistance bands, among others.  Since men are typically stronger than women and want to bulk up around the chest, shoulder and arms, they should use heavier weights, more resistance and fewer repetitions.  Women, on the other hand, tend to prefer sculpting and toning their muscles while avoiding building bulk.  While they should use lighter weights and do more repetitions, women should still occasionally lift heavier weights and use fewer repetitions so that they can build strength; rest assured, the occasional round of heavy lifting will not result in bulk. For their part, men who are new to exercise should build a solid base before putting on muscle mass.  They should start lifting lighter weights with higher repetitions for the first four to six weeks as this will help build endurance and reduce the risk of injury. 

To achieve a total body workout, some of the best exercise choices for both men and women include a warm-up round of body weight exercises, i.e., push-ups, squats, and lunges,  followed by a routine that targets all of the major muscle groups: shoulder press, dumb bell chest press, lat pull down, and leg press. Men that want to build their upper bodies should add the following five exercises: pull-ups; incline chest press or bench press; upright rows; bicep curls; and triceps press-downs.  Women who want to slim and tone should add another 15 minutes of cardio, such as jump rope or running to their regular exercise routine.  Weights to help women tone common problem areas should include the following: shoulder raises (front, lateral and rear); triceps kick-backs; bicep curls; plié squats; and abdominal crunches.

For optimal results, the higher the intensity, the better the outcome.  A great way to increase the intensity of your workout and burn more calories in less time is to alternate strength and cardio exercises.  For example, lift a set of weights and then jump rope or do jumping jacks for one minute.  Alternatively, run for three minutes on the treadmill followed by three sets of any strength exercise.

With weight training, many men make the mistake of overdeveloping their back or chest muscles. To reduce the risk of injury or developing musculoskeletal distortions (poor posture), it is important to have a balanced total body routine.  Women make the mistake of using weights that are too light and work only the small muscle groups that burn minimal calories.  For maximum results, women should use challenging weights (5 – 12 lbs) and work all muscle groups.  

Both sexes must diversify their routines.  They should incorporate both cardio and strength into their workout routines and avoiding working only some muscles.  A comprehensive approach to exercise that engages multiple muscle groups is highly effective.  Combining exercises, such as squats with shoulder presses, is a great way to get more bang for your buck – you will work out more muscles in one exercise and elevate your heart rate.  Other great combinations include squats or lunges to bicep curls, deadlift to upright row, and forearm planks to push-ups. 

Several studies have shown that men and women have contrasting attitudes towards weightloss. Men tend to believe that exercise alone is enough to slim down, whereas the women tend to focus on both diet and exercise.  Research also shows that men tend to enjoy exercise more than women who see this as a chore.  Women should try to find an exercise that they enjoy and can do with friends while men should make an effort to eat healthier. Men also tend to emphasize weight training and working out at higher intensities than most women, while women tend to do more cardio and use lower weights.  Since both cardio and strength are necessary, these attitudes and tendencies limit both men and women from achieving their ultimate fitness goals.

In order to improve overall fitness, both men and women need to adopt a consistent work-out routine that is high in intensity and includes both cardiovascular and strength training, complemented with a healthy diet.