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Thread: Programming for Women

  1. #1
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    Default Programming for Women

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    So I've been interested in the biological differences and the differences in the biological response to muscular stress between the sexes since my girlfriend started weight training. To begin with, it seems to me from my experience with starting strength and having read a lot on strong lifts and greyskull, that the general consensus amongst beginner trainers is to maintain the same programming between male and female lifters. However, I've come across other sources, from online blogs to textbooks with lots of citations (Science and Practice of Strength Training by Zatsiorsky and Kraemer), that seem to contradict this. Namely they say that trained women typically demonstrate less neurological efficiency than trained men. The implications being that women can't actually hit their true 1 RM due to only being able to recruit around 90% of the amount of muscle fibers as compared to men. So whereas men at 85% of their tested 1 RM would hit 5 reps abouts, women at 85% of their tested 1 RM (not true 1 RM) would hit 8-10 reps area. Also, many of these sources seem to agree that women respond better to hitting the same muscle group from multiple angles, such as performing DB curls as well as hammer curls.

    I really have no clue what the implications of this information here is, but I just notice that researchers have documented these differences while people still advocate the same beginner programs for men and women. I can't help but to think that women might benefit from more volume as compared with men to get the same strength gains. Or perhaps that the standard rep ranges most people are aware of for strength and hypertrophy (generally 1-5 for strength, 8-12 for hypertrophy, 15+ for endurance) might be slightly skewed for women. Further evidence of this would be many blogs citing better hypertrophy success for women being obtained when they program their lifts in at 12-15 reps per set, as compared with 8-12 per set for men).

    What is going on here or is this just less significant than I am making it out to be? There is no doubt from all the anecdotal evidence that women respond to 3x5, same as men. I just am curious if all this research might add up one day to saying women get better strength gains working at 3x8.

    Anyway, these are just some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head since helping my girlfriend get started on lifting. Any thoughts on this?

  2. #2
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    In this one particular instance, Zatsiorsky and Kraemer are actually correct. This has been discussed here quite a bit, SEARCH FUNCTION. Our thinking is that for a female starting out, 5s x 3 sets work best for the first 3 months of LP, and then switch her to 5 sets of 3, taking advantage of the ability to handle higher % of 1RM.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by King of the Jews View Post
    do you mean to "3 sets of 5" after 3 months?
    No. Read it the way it's written.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by King of the Jews View Post
    do you mean to "3 sets of 5" after 3 months?
    Wouldn't be much of a change, since he suggested starting with 3 sets of 5.

  5. #5
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    My standard is weight x reps x sets. Unless I detail it for clarity, like I did above.

  6. #6
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    I would add that if you are using triples, then you need a more experienced coaching eye than with 5s. With 5s, if a person can complete a few sets of 5, then you'll know they can do 2-3 reps of the higher weight, generally speaking. But they might be able to do a triple and not lift the higher weight at all, or only for a single - and a single doesn't give you much to work with.

    After coaching enough people you get a better eye for when a person is ready to progress the resistance, and by how much. But this takes a while to develop. It's not something I pretend to have mastered, it'll be second nature to people like Mark.

    Yet another reason lots of people don't make much progress after the first 3-6 months.

  7. #7
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    Sep 2013
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    Thanks for the input. This sounds very interesting and I'll be making these suggestions to her when she starts stalling on exercises. She has made great progress so far on 3x5, particularly a she started very low. When beginning strength training, she couldn't bench or squat the bar, so had to find dumbbell and machine work to bolster her strength until this changed. Overall though, it was a success for her and now she is at a point where she has been doing the exercises as instructed for some time and is still making good progress. There have of course been a deload here and there but her weight progression increases well past the stall point every time so I am not overly concerned about suggesting she mess with her programming yet (sticking with the program until it no longer works seems to be a sentiment that you push strongly in your books). If or when this progress tapers on the 5x3 (3 sets of 5) scheme I will suggest she try a 3x5 scheme to take advantage of the previous discussion.
    One last point, most of this discussion was held in reference to the main lifts. Currently the only assistance exercise she is doing are back extensions, seated rows, and assisted pullups (she has almost no back strength to speak of and really wants to be able to do bodyweight pullups). She works these on a standard 3 sets of 10-12 routine after all the main lifts for the day are done. I believe in standard SS you recommend 3 sets of 10 for assistance work.
    in light of the discussion we had regarding the main lifts, do you have any recommendations for altering the assistance lift set-rep scheme as well?
    If it makes a difference, she is following the scheme of SS that involves no power cleans (A day being OHP, squat, DL, pullup, B day being BP, squat, back extensions, chinup). She tried power cleans but says she just doesn't feel comfortable enough in her ability to do them without getting hurt. To be fair, she only not too long ago started squatting more than the bar weight so I'm not one to push her into something she feels she might get hurt with. That'll probably change when she builds her strength more.
    Thanks for the discussion so far though, it's really interesting to hear you guys weigh in on these points (I'm a science researcher by trade so I like investigating apparent discrepancies between reputable sources).

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