I’m not trying to create any inequality but physiologically there are significant differences between males and females. This is all due to the anatomy and hormones, two things that contribute to reaching specific health and fitness goals.
Understanding and catering to these differences are vital to building success and longevity in endurance sports. For this reason, endurance training for women and men should have different approaches.
Here’s the basic landscape: If a woman follows a general training program designed for a dude (or rather a program not designed to take a woman’s physiology into account), she will most likely end up overtrained, slow, and have extra body fat. – Dr. Stacy Sims
First, Let’s explore why endurance training for women is different physiologically.
Usually, a woman’s body tends to hold more fat compared to a male and that’s due to estrogen. This becomes an issue for women when they try to lose weight but on the flip side, women tend to use fat over carbs to fuel their muscles.
Using fat more than carbohydrates for energy means the muscles will lack the explosive power as the males possess but it won’t run out of energy as quickly.
Hence women are better suited to handle muscular endurance activities. It also means females are metabolically healthier than males.
Generally, women tend to have more slow-twitch muscle fibers compared to fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscles are the ones that provide sudden energy for explosive efforts, sprints, etc. Slow-twitch muscles are the ones we use mostly during aerobic exercises such as running, biking, or swimming.
Also, slow-twitch muscles are more fatigue resistant. It means, women recover quicker than men after an exercise session. Better recovery equals more fitness gain, hence endurance training for women should on utilizing this strength.
Anatomy and Mobility
Though females tend to have more fat, there are differences in where that fat is stored, and also the characteristics of the fat. Females tend to have more peripheral fat (fat stored between the muscle and the skin) and wider hips.
Wider hips have a biomechanical impact during running, jumping, and landing as such activities can put greater forces through knees as well as hips, lower back, and ankles. On the contrary, females have more joint flexibility that contributes to a greater range of motion. That does provide a serious advantage in performance also.
Physiologically, women have longer, more elastic muscles hence they have superior muscular flexibility. That also means they need to perform more stabilizing exercises to prevent joint and ligament injuries.
Women tend to be more quad dominant than their male counterparts, meaning that they carry more muscle in this area and tend to lean more towards quad activation. Often times the hamstrings and glutes lag behind which causes an imbalance between the front and back leg muscles, which may cause injuries.
These physical attributes necessitate a different approach to endurance training for women.
Here are some of the things female athletes can follow to make the training more specific.
Focus on the posterior chain muscle
Glutes and hamstrings together form the posterior chain. You should train them specifically to correct the imbalance that I mentioned above. Some of the best exercises include:
- Deadlifts and their variations
- Leg curls
- Glute bridge
- Bulgarian split squats
Incorporating such movements into your schedule will do wonders to develop that balance between your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
You’ll benefit more from doing endurance type training
As mentioned, since women have more slow-twitch muscle fibers, they have a greater potential to utilize those muscles through steady-state training over HIIT. To start off, adding more endurance workouts is key to build that base.
Once the proper base is there, slowly incorporating lactate threshold workouts as well as drills. In general, women have smaller lungs and hearts, therefore aerobic fitness is key to progress towards the next step. Once enough base is there, you can include some sprints or HIIT workouts to develop the explosive power.
Use less rest between intervals
Since women need comparatively less recovery, they can easily increase the effectiveness of their workouts by reducing rests between the interval sessions. Also, it reduces the workout duration and thus makes it easy to incorporate into your busy working life.
Don’t try to reduce the resting period drastically though. Start with a 30-60 seconds reduction depending on the interval duration and intensity.
Add frequency and consistency
Increasing the volume raises the endurance dramatically but it’s very difficult for all the working women or homemakers to allocate extra time between all the daily commitments. The easier way to increase the volume is to actually increase the frequency of the sessions.
Women not only recover faster between the intervals but also recover faster after a session. So, adding more shorter sessions in the week over longer workouts are a better approach to build that volume. It also helps to maintain consistency and focus.
Add strength training
In general, women have smaller and weaker bone structure. Strength training is a fantastic way to improve bone density. Moreover, it helps to build muscular strength and strengthens ligaments to prevent injury.
As a starting point, you should perform high reps with minimal rests in between the sets. Focus on the compound movements such as Bench Press, Overhead Press, Squats, Deadlifts, etc. Also, add supporting exercises that are related to your endurance events. Spending 30-45 minutes in the gym twice a week is more than enough to see the benefits.
Therefore, dear ladies, you’re no slower nor weaker as most people perceive.
In fact, in ultra-endurance events, female athletes are stronger and far more capable to outperform any of their male counterparts. For that, endurance training for women needs to be specific and reliable.
So next time when you hear the phrase “Run like a girl”, take pride in it. You are on your way to a glorious journey.
On a different note, I wrote on why the keto diet isn’t a great solution for endurance athletes. Click here if you want to read about it.