Play to your strengths and you’ll leave him standing.
Okay, so he may have the monopoly on muscles but there are plenty of areas where women have a natural advantage over the opposite sex in the gym. ‘There are obvious skeletal, muscular and hormonal differences between the sexes,’ says Sam Johnson, a clinical associate professor in the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences. ‘However, many of these differences leave women with a physical advantage.’ Play to your strengths and you can push your fitness to new levels – and leave your man gasping for breath.
You recover from workouts quicker
A Ball State university study showed that men needed at least 48 hours of recovery time to achieve the same fitness levels as in previous workouts. This compares to only four hours needed for a woman to recover after training and get back to full strength. This quicker turnaround time means that you’ll be able to burn more fat, says Tom Crisp, consultant sports physician at the Bupa Barbican Centre, London. ‘If you typically ride the stationary bike for 40 minutes in the morning, halve it to 20 minutes and repeat the workout at lunch.’ This results in your body working doubly hard to replenish its oxygen stores. ‘And it burns more calories doing so,’ adds Crisp.
You’re a natural at circuits
‘Performing exercises in quick succession with little or no rest in between is an excellent way to build aerobic capacity and muscle endurance,’ says personal trainer Sohee Lee. ‘And it will burn fat.’
So, it’s good news that a Southeastern Louisiana University study found that women are more physiologically suited to this kind of training, and find it less strenuous than men. In the study, men came off worse in every category – oxygen consumption, systolic blood pressure, perceived effort and recovery oxygen consumption.
‘Perform supersets, training opposite muscle groups, so that one rests while the other works,’ says Lee. ‘Circuit training will also raise your metabolic rate for hours afterwards, so you’re still burning calories long after you’ve left the gym.’
You’ll out run him on the treadmill
’Men and women differ in how they transmit the nerve impulses that control muscle force; a woman’s impulses are akin to an athlete trained for endurance,’ reveals Johnson. ‘This means that women adapt much quicker to longer runs, whereas men are more suited to explosive muscle usage, like a sprinter.’ And adding distance to your run strengthens your heart and improves running economy – you’ll use less oxygen to achieve maximum speed and endurance.
‘Safely increase your run time by up to 15 minutes each week,’ says Crisp. ‘Every fourth week, cut the length by 25 to 50 per cent to avoid overtraining, and then start increasing again the following week.’
Your muscle definition is better
Women’s testosterone levels are nothing like a man’s, but while this puts you at a disadvantage in the body-building stakes, it means you have the edge when it comes to looking toned and lean. Scientists from Drew Medical College in Los Angeles have shown that muscle growth depends on blood levels of testosterone. The higher the level of the hormone, the more muscles grow. So women don’t gain much muscle mass when they train with weights. Instead, their nervous system concentrates on existing muscle, which makes for a firmer, leaner and fitter-looking physique, especially if you’re striving for a flat, toned tummy. ‘Do your ab crunches at a fast speed to optimise this advantage,’ advises Lee. ‘The faster you do them, the more you’ll overload the abdominal muscle. Just don’t do it so fast that you can’t maintain good technique.’
Your metabolism is faster.
Don’t sweat the meathead grunting and groaning under the weight stack – lifting lighter loads are best for raising metabolic rate. A University of Southern Maine study found that metabolism was fired up more when performing a single set to exhaustion using a lighter load, ranging from 37 to 56 percent of maximum load, compared to an exhaustive set using 70 to 90 percent of maximum load. Optimise this advantage with the dead lift. ‘It’s a terrific exercise for building whole body strength as it stresses the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors and upper back muscles and you can do it with a light weight, or just the bar bell itself,’ says Lee.