How Women Can Train Differently Than Men


, by Jazmine Lowther

Photography by: imtmphoto

If you were to walk into a gym, would you observe most women gravitating towards easy cardio, light weights, and yoga for exercise? Meanwhile, would it be more likely that the weightlifting section is filled with men pushing themselves to their max? It begs the question...

Should women train differently than men? The answer may be yes... and no.

There are immediate differences between women and men, such as body shape and composition. When it comes to unique differences that affect training, Women need to consider these three main factors:

Menstrual Cycle

Women have natural hormone fluctuations on an average of 28 days, affecting metabolism, thermoregulation, sleep, mood, libido, and more. A consistently regular menstrual cycle, in most cases, indicates health. Female athletes and professionals, such as coaches, personal trainers etc., must understand the menstrual cycle. When female athletes track their cycle and symptoms, they better understand why they may feel a certain way and adapt to training. There are phases within the cycle that optimize gains and others that may make the athlete perceive their exertion higher.

RELATED: Ladies: Should You Cycle-Sync Your Training?

Female athletes can capitalize on gains by increasing weight in strength sessions or tackling high-intensity aerobic workouts and personal bests during the follicular phase (which starts on day one of menstruation) since muscle synthesis is at an all-time high (5). During the luteal phase, the metabolism and temperature increase, requiring approximately a 7% increase in energy needs (3). Protein breakdown may also increase, so eating enough throughout the day will help prevent muscle breakdown and improve lean muscle growth (5). Additionally, in the luteal phase, reliance on muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrates) may be reduced, and fat becomes the primary fuel source; endurance activities may be favored (5). In the three to four days before menstruation, a small de-load in training may be needed as energy can decrease (6). Athletes should keep an open mind as symptoms vary from cycle to cycle; don’t hold yourself back if you're feeling good during the luteal phase.

Photography by: Panya Studio

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Perimenopause and Menopause

Between your late 30s and late 50s, drastic hormonal shifts can elicit body composition changes. To counter lean muscle loss and prevent adipose deposition, an increased focus on resistance training, high-intensity exercise, and a higher protein intake are recommended (6). Additionally, focus on consistent hydration throughout the day as kidney function slows (6). All women, especially menopausal and post-menopausal, should include nutritional and training habits to prevent bone density loss (8).

Metabolic Flexibility

Evolutionarily, women needed the ability to retain fat stores during scarcity. Metabolic flexibility is the ability to respond to changes in energy demands (7), which may require switching between different energy sources, be it fat, carbohydrate, or ATP. Well-trained individuals are more metabolically flexible (4). During submaximal exercise, moderately trained women are more likely to burn fats for fuel, unlike men (2). Women do not need to train fasted to become better at fat burning. Carbohydrates are still required as a crucial energy source for optimal performance and to lower cortisol; fueling before, during, and after is recommended (2,6).

RELATED: Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms Female Athletes Don't Want To Ignore

Training methods for women

Here are some considerations regarding different training methods for women:

Strength Training: Ditch light weights and high reps; grab heavier weights and work towards lower reps instead for increasing muscle mass and bone density. A personal trainer can provide feedback on form and program strength training.

Plyometrics: Women typically have fewer type II (power or sprint) muscle fibers and are more at risk of osteoporosis. Include plyometrics (jumping) multiple times weekly to strengthen type II muscle fibers and increase bone density.

Photography by: AntonioDiaz

High-Intensity Interval Training: Women may benefit from high-intensity interval (HIIT) training even more than men. Especially when approaching or during menopause (1). Include HIIT or VO2max intervals in your training.

Endurance Training: Naturally, endurance exercise suits women physiologically as they typically have more Type I muscle fibers (2, 4). Training programs may not need to emphasize Zone 2 or easy-moderate endurance training as much as male counterparts.

Recovery: Post-exercise recovery may be impacted during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle as there already are higher levels of inflammation. Allow for greater recovery times if needed, or focus on anti-inflammatory foods.

Nutrition: To synthesize muscle, recover, and adapt to training stimuli, women must ingest more protein per lb of body weight, aiming for about 1.4-2.2 grams/kg/day (6). Or, generally, around 30 grams of protein every three to four hours throughout the day (6). In addition, carbohydrates are needed before, often during (it’s best to prevent complete depletion), and after training sessions (6). Carbohydrates will enhance performance, immunity, and recovery and moderate cortisol (6).

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Female athletes should avoid keto or fasting as it increases the risk of Relative Energy Deficit in Sport, which can lead to loss of the menstrual cycle, bone stress injuries, and long-term health issues (Read article: Hormone Imbalance Symptoms).

Let’s Revamp Women’s Training

Stereotypical women’s training regimes are outdated. In many ways, especially for the general population, women should train more like men. Women are often directed to be gentle on their bodies with movements such as walking, yoga, and light weights. This social norm holds women back and prevents them from reaching optimal health. Ladies, don’t be afraid to opt for heavy and low-rep strength training, plyometrics, and high-intensity intervals.

The major difference between men's and women’s training is that women must understand their physiological changes throughout their lives. Start by tracking your menstrual cycle, educating yourself on peri- and menopause, and creating an understanding of how your metabolic needs.

Overall, women should train more like men but with a unique lens that’s individual to every female athlete’s journey.


  1. Dupuit, M., et al. (2020). Effect of high intensity interval training on body composition in women before and after menopause: A meta-analysis. Experimental Physiology, 105(9), 1470-1490.

  2. Lundsgaard, M., & Kiens, B. (2014). Gender Differences in Skeletal Muscle Substrate Metabolism – Molecular Mechanisms and Insulin Sensitivity. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 5.

  3. Malo-Vintimilla L, et al. (2024). Resting energy metabolism and sweet taste preference during the menstrual cycle in healthy women. Br J Nutr. 131(3):384-390. doi: 10.1017/S0007114523001927. Epub 2023 Aug 29. PMID: 37641942; PMCID: PMC10784125.

  4. Maughan RJ, et al. (1986). Endurance capacity of untrained males and females in isometric and dynamic muscular contractions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 55(4):395-400. doi: 10.1007/BF00422739. PMID: 3758040.

  5. Oosthuyse T, Bosch AN. (2010). The effect of the menstrual cycle on exercise metabolism: implications for exercise performance in eumenorrhoeic women. Sports Med. 40(3):207-27. doi: 10.2165/11317090-000000000-00000. PMID: 20199120.

  6. Sims, S. et al. (2023) International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutritional concerns of the female athlete, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20:1, DOI: 10.1080/15502783.2023.2204066

  7. Yang, H., et al. (2022). Energetic Contributions Including Gender Differences and Metabolic Flexibility in the General Population and Athletes.

    Metabolites, 12(10).

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