Men can benefit greatly from properly designed strength and conditioning work. It is worth discussing some of the specific strength training recommendations for men, and how those recommendations can apply to women as well. However, these recommendations can change based on variable circumstances and training goals. Every individual is unique and different, so knowing as much as we can about how to take advantage of our strengths to overcome our weaknesses is critical.
Everyone can benefit from strength training
Concerning guidelines and benefits of strength training, in reality the reasons and recommendations to lift are largely the same regardless of gender. The most common recommendation is to perform strength training exercises at least twice per week targeting all major muscle groups while also performing cardiovascular exercise throughout the week. Regarding health benefits, they range from the regularly discussed health markers like bone density, blood pressure, heart health, cholesterol, increased lifespan and so on.
There are also numerous benefits related to mental health like reduced depression and anxiety along with improved brain function and memory. Strength training will make you stronger and give you more muscle mass and energy for daily living, and as such can lead to improved mobility and quality of life. Lastly, muscle mass is metabolic currency with real impacts on how your body processes everything you consume, and importantly impacting your glucose levels.
There are a lot of things that everyone shares in common, but we still need to consider some of the important things for men to consider during a workout.
How do hormones affect training?
The most obvious factor for men to consider is the differences in hormones and their amounts, namely testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone is commonly associated with increases in muscle strength and size. This statement is mostly true in regards to strength, since testosterone doesn’t necessarily directly contribute to the act of force production. However, testosterone does contribute to gains in muscle size, and oftentimes a bigger muscle is also a stronger muscle.
On the flip side, estrogen can have some properties related to muscle repair and recovery. The balancing act the body plays in hormone regulation is a difficult one to decipher. If you think your hormones are affecting your ability to perform in the gym, you should seek advice from a medical professional. We recommend focusing on your own incremental progress rather and customized plan to reach your goals.
If you’re interested in learning more about women and strength training you can learn more in the other posts detailed on our blog.
A note on the 1 rep max
The 1 rep max can be used as a programming tool and you’ll often hear it bantered about. Before we delve into some of the research it’s important to explain a few things about how 1 rep maxes and percentages factor into programming to make them a little easier to digest. First of all, a 1 rep max (1RM) is the maximum amount of weight someone can lift on a given exercise, usually associated with squats, bench press, and deadlift. The second thing to know is the percentage of a 1RM.
When writing a workout for someone interested in the big power lifts, you might base your program on percentages based on your 1RM. For example, you could reasonably expect that someone could perform around 7 reps at 80% of their 1RM, give or take 1 or 2 reps depending on the individual. However, going to failure on a hard exercise is more likely to lead to burn out — not progress. We recommend staying 2-3 reps shy of failure to avoid form breakdown.
Equally important in long-term development is a smart and scheduled fluctuation between energy systems. Whether you’re keyed in on strength, hypertrophy or endurance, shifting to another system and set/rep scheme can be instrumental in breaking through plateaus and helping individuals stay motivated and progressing towards a wide variety of goals.
Strength training differences for men and women
So, are there any big differences that we can expect when actually doing an exercise program? Absolutely. In fact, men are able to handle the workload from more conventional programs, while women can handle the workload from the more extreme ends of strength training.
Three separate studies examining strength training differences found that the rep ranges and intensities can have a massive impact on recovery, both in between sets and after a workout. When males follow a more traditional strength training approach — like 5 sets of 5 reps at 80-85% of their 1RM — they can expect to recover better compared to women doing the same workout. However, if the workout changes to either 20 sets of 1 rep at 100% of their 1RM, or 10 sets of 10 reps at 70% of a 1RM, then women surpass men in handling that volume.
It’s worth saying that out of the three different protocols used in these studies, the chances you’ll find the typical gym goer doing either of the two workouts on the extreme ends are extremely low. 20 sets of 1 rep at 100% and 10 sets of 10 reps at 70% are both an extremely high amount of volume and intensity. Regardless of gender, doing either of these workout schemes aren’t likely to lead to appreciable results compared to a more moderate and balanced training plan.
What this means for men is that you shouldn’t stay too far out of moderation. We talk about having moderation in everything, more so when we talk about diets but also in strength training. 1 set on an exercise probably isn’t enough for you to see results, but it’s also a safe bet that 20 is too many. A better approach would be performing 2-5 sets on a given exercise, for 3-20 reps depending on what you’re trying to work towards.
Generally speaking, fewer reps at higher weight will lead to greater strength gains, while higher reps and lower weight will lead to more endurance gains. Also, you’ll want to do more than one exercise during a workout; if not for building a well rounded and healthy body, then at least to have some more fun and variety in your training. Our advice? Stick with the tried-and-tested methods guidelines for strength training. Don’t max out all the time or crush yourself with absurd amounts of volume.
So, are there specific training guidelines for men and women?
Prepare yourself for a potentially boring answer, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence to suggest that training should be that different. Technically speaking, women can handle more training volume than men can, but all people can benefit from some form of exercise. The biggest difference will come down to the motivations to start and continue exercising in the first place, but even then those motivations will differ from individual to individual.
Important components for men to include
In addition to two or three days of solid strength and conditioning work, it’s important to include intervals a time or two each week. Mobility is an important element to include several times each week, even if just for 5-10 minutes per session. Cardio work is also important and studies support 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in per week.
How do you put it all together?
Having a plan is key. Check out this post for three specific workouts designed with men in mind. Or better yet, let us help! As professionals we’ve got the education, tools and resources at our finger tips to support your goals.
Author Travis Robe, CSCS, is a Personal Trainer at Hyatt Training with a BA in Kinesiology. In addition to his experience with strength training, he is also a lifelong martial artist. He believes in using fitness as a way to build discipline and confidence to overcome any challenge life may present you. Learn more about Travis, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.
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