More often than not, I see a drastic difference in the exercises used, training principles, and even diet in many cases between women and men. You may see men bench pressing and doing classic lifts, while women may be seen doing these new dynamic routines and even add resistance training to cardio. The main question we can ask – are they necessary, and do women and men require different training?
No. Not to a huge degree.
What builds muscle for a man, in most cases, also builds muscle for a woman. So when it comes to the training exercises specifically for a visual, aesthetic and muscle-building standpoint, what is going to build a muscle for a man for a specific body part will mostlikely also optimally develop the same muscle for a woman. However, the differences between what body parts are emphasized in competition are very different, so this may effect the routine specifically, the amount of sets and emphasis put on specific muscle groups, etc. Let’s break it down.
Training for a Man
It is pretty straight-forward what most men, on a muscular level, want to look like. Big arms, Wide and large shoulders, and basically every muscle part being big with less emphasis on the glutes and, depending on if the person is doing it just for cosmetic effect or is training in the physique division, possibly less emphasis on legs all around.
As a bodybuilder, I can say every muscle group is prioritized for me to obtain a balanced physique and to have good symmetry and flow. Men should train heavy and add in a combination of low repetition training with higher (12-20 reps) training for the hypertrophic (muscle building) response. Compound movements, as with women, help to build a base and stimulate whole-body growth.
Training for a Woman
Women have very different goals across the board. You can see a Bikini competitor that does much more cardio and focuses on legs and glutes, or a figure competitor that trains more like a bodybuilder and focuses on having very pronounced delts with a tight waist, or even modern day women’s physique or female bodybuilding which is the equivalent to male bodybuilding in many aspects.
Women, for any muscle group, should STILL implement compound and heavy free weight exercises for muscle groups wanting to get the most growth. A squat may be the best overall leg exercise for a male, and that is also true for a female. Many times we see females getting caught up with strange dynamic sets (these sideways skipping on the treadmills, giant sets using unfamiliar leg routines, etc) because they believe as a female or a bikini athlete that that’s what they specifically need. The human body on the level of hypertrophy/muscle building, however, will respond the same way as with a male – with progressive overload to the muscle group.
Some of these new exercises and techniques are pretty useful and stimulate the legs/glutes great (I’ve incorporated the sideways one-legged leg press as one) but for overall muscle growth, 8-15 reps (varying to lower reps with high weights) will build the same muscle group best, as a single set with standard rest in between. Diet and cardio will take care of the conditioning in the same aspect, so there is no evidence that a particular exercise, form of cardio, or combination of both will effect conditioning in any different manner than a caloric reduction.
Diet is where the differences may be more prominent. Because of the difference in our hormones, females may find certain supplements and hormones to play a different effect. Women will be able to consume soy protein, where men may stay away from it due to the estrogen effects that it has. Similarly, fats and other supplements (DHEA for women) play a varying role depending on the genetics of the individual as well as the sex. Women also, in perspective to their current level of development, have a better response than men to anabolic drugs such as anabolic androgenic steroids. As we all have seen, they also have more drastic differences between their normal look and the changes in their jaw, nose, facial hair, etc so the use of androgenic substances should only be used as a last effort.
You do NOT need androgenic substances to be a Bikini competitor
Unless you have the worst genetics possible, a Bikini competitor should not be needing any androgenic substances (anabolic steroids) to build muscle. Modern society pushes drugs and we see many females using anavar and weaker anabolic substances but do not have the diet and training in place and have not been training very long. Even an Olympia level Bikini body is easily obtainable by the average person, granted they have the correct genetic shape – which is the biggest factor.