Do women work out differently than men? I think so
POSTED BY: Levi Jansen on March 2, 2018, 10:25 a.m.
From how they live and what they believe, women often have a different fitness journey than men. Here are things I’ve learned along my journey working with women.
One differences between the male and female fitness journey is the wonderful high heel. You know that shoe that makes your feet ache and your balance, well, nonexistent? Guys don’t have to worry about that. While this is not a warning to never ever wear heels, daily wear can take a toll on your body. First of all, high heels put a great amount of pressure on your first metatarsal, or your big toe, as well as the rest of the front of the foot.
While that big toe is our main source of balance, this means that women may eventually become so used to balancing on the front of the foot that it starts to become the default position. In addition, the low position of the front of the foot in comparison to the high position of the back creates plantar flexion, or having the ankle pointed down, which also causes the toes to curl downward. Your calf muscles in the back of the leg get accustomed to being tight, while muscles in the front of the leg, like the anterior tibialis, get used to being stretched out beyond a natural foot position.
So how does this affect a woman’s fitness journey? Let’s look at the squat movement.
The Squat: The Move Some Love to Hate
The squat is one of the basic building block movements a trainer will use when you work out. It is superb to build ankle flexibility and mobility and works to build strong glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and other leg muscles. Unfortunately, if our calves get used to being tight and our shin muscles get used to being elongated, this creates a squat where you will want to fall forward, eventually causing ankle pain, calf pain and back pain. The best thing a trainer can prescribe is a plethora of ankle mobility stretches, as well as strengthening those weaker muscles.
FOWO (Fear of Working Out)
Another difference I notice training women is that some have gym anxiety. This is something both men and women may get when starting a new routine, coming to a new gym or anything “new” that’s challenging. Women tend to manifest this as a much more extrinsically anxious experience, while men have an intrinsically anxious experience. Let me explain.
In discussions I’ve had with Time 2 Change Fitness for Women members about beginning a new routine, I often hear this: “What if I do something wrong?” and “I don’t want to look weird.” On the flip side of that, from men I generally hear, “What if I’m too skinny,” or “Well, I don’t look strong enough.”
One of these is intrinsic (who I am, what I am), and one is extrinsic (what I do). So what can you do about these thoughts? Every time you go to the gym, remember you are going for yourself and for the sole purpose of working out. A powerful thing I learned when I first began to work out at the gym was that, if you’re really focused on exercising, there is no time to care what others are doing!
I’m a Fan of Emotional Support
Another thing is emotional support. When I began working for Time 2 Change, I was so excited to work with women who had special health and fitness considerations — for example, lower back problems, movement problems in the core and trunk from pregnancy or the dreaded tight calves, which I mentioned.
There is another special consideration that I come across regularly: emotional support. I became a trainer to be an exercise “prescriber,” someone who looks at the body and immediately knows how to help you to walk upright, reduce back pain or be able to run around with the kids in the backyard. But I quickly realized that in a women’s fitness center, I get to offer emotional support. Whether it’s a problem sticking to a diet program, losing that last two pounds or helping you realize you can make it through the rest of the workout, I’m here to listen.
I’ve learned that a soft-spoken and open answer shows I hear and understand — and a “good job” can be more valuable to a woman than it is to a man. Self-efficacy gets a great boost when you receive kind and compassionate instruction underscored by a solid base of knowledge and experience. I’ve witnessed that emotional support may be the biggest “exercise” I can prescribe, and I’m lucky enough to frequently advise it.
Celebrate Our Differences
The female fitness journey is often different from men’s, and that’s a good thing. Coming from a male-dominated sporting past, I’ve learned that a supportive answer can keep anyone on track. I’ve also learned that women have different thoughts when it comes to stepping foot into the gym. And most importantly, I’m grateful I don’t have to wear high heels to work.
I enjoy helping coach women in their health and fitness journey. If you haven’t started your journey yet, trade those high heels for tennis shoes and go work out. And when you do, know that you are the best you in the building!
For further reading about body consciousness while exercising, Levi recommends reading the Journal of Sports & Exercise Psychology, Volume 16 Issue 1, page 70-82. He also is a fan of information shared by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.