A lot of trainers would say no. A lot of trainers will say that you don’t need to differentiate between men and women when designing training programs. They’ll tell you that the physiological needs are nearly identical and only the hormones are different; thankfully, I’m not like most trainers.
In fact, I disagree, and I believe that in a few specific ways, men and women need to train quite differently.
Firstly, the idea that only the hormones are different is flawed, fundamentally. I’ve written about this a lot, so I don’t want to rehash, but the fact is that hormones change the game significantly. The hormonal differences between men and women account for more than 90% of the differences in the way men and women actually respond to training and nutrition.
So, while I agree that on just about any level that there are a great deal of similarities in the way you can approach training, I recognize that there are some things that need to be taken into account.
Secondly, I don’t design programs for clients based on some arbitrary assessment of what they are theoretically capable of responding to. Rather, I approach program design based only on the client’s goals.
Forgive me for generalizing, but men and women typically have very different goals. Even when a man and a woman have the same goal—fat loss, for example—they will still have different micro-goals within the context of that macro-goal. Keeping those micro goals in mind is of the utmost importance…especially if you want to keep the client happy.
Having more than decade of experience training people of all shapes and sizes, and with the majority of them being women, I’ve come up with the following list for helping women get better results and achieving that sexy look that most of my clients are after.
Submitted, for your consideration, my top six rules for helping sculpt a sexy female body.
1) Ditch the Lame Warm Up
In most cases, your warm up should bear a fair similarity to your actual training. Given that we’ve pretty much established that slow paced workouts—be they cardio or strength training—are essentially useless, why would you think to warm up that way?
And yet, more often than not, you see women getting ready for fast-paced, intense workouts warming up with a lame 10 minute walk on the treadmill, or an even lamer series of stretches. Both time wasted that could be spent getting you to your goals.
Instead, it is much more effective to warm up much in the same fashion you’ll workout: fast. I always have my clients warm up with full body exercises and dynamic bodyweight circuits.
Skipping rope and performing calisthenic exercises like jumping jacks work the entire body, and prepare you neurologically for the workout to come. This will allow you to get more out of each exercise, as your body will be primed perform as a unit—this is especially true if you do a lot of full body movements in your training.
In addition to that, dynamic warm-ups also get your heart rate up over a shorter period of time, and allow you to burn more calories and get into the groove faster.
All of which is to say that whether your goal is to drop some fat or tone up your muscles, there is literally nothing that a lame slow-go workout can do for you that can’t be more effectively achieved with a fast one.
2) Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Heavy
Given that I maintain that men and women should train differently for differing goals, it stands to reason that I assert there should be certain aspects of training that carry over when goals are similar. One goal that men and women have in common is that we all want a firm, toned, sexy look. One of the best ways to get that look, for men or women, is with heavy weight.
How heavy and how often will depend on the the goal–I have a lot of women focused purely on gaining strength that almost always train using close to maximal weight. I’ve also got a number of athletes who use one heavy lift in every training sessions.
For my clients focused on fat loss, neither of those are necessary; however, I insist that all my female clients spend at least two days per month dedicated purely to heavy lifting (75% or more of 1RM), regardless of their goal. Not only is it great for fat loss, but lifting heavy will help you look better once you’ve lost the fat.
You see, training in a way that utilizes heavy loads is the fastest and most efficient way to increase both neurogenic and myogenic muscle tone; that is, it’s the best way to give you firm, toned look—even when you’re just standing there.
I’m fairly certain my general readership is beyond the whole «I don’t want to get bulky—won’t lifting heavy make me bigger?» dilemma. It pains me to even have to bring it up. But, chances are we’ve got some newbz reading, and for their sake I like to cover my bases and be thorough, so I’ll just lay it all out.
Gaining muscle is a result of a few factors: training methods, dietary considerations, and–as alluded to above–hormonal environment.
In terms of diet, it is exceedingly difficult—not to mention unlikely—to gain significant muscle mass without purposefully eating a Caloric excess. This is why athletes and bodybuilders eat more than their daily energy needs: so that excess will be used for the building of lean body mass.
Regarding hormones, women will always have a harder time putting on mass than men because of certain sex hormones; mainly testosterone. As a woman, your testosterone levels are generally too low to make getting «too big» a concern in a short period of time (although in certain situations, some muscle groups can grow faster than others; more on that below).
So, if you do notice yourself putting on more muscle than you’d like, just lower your caloric intake, and tone down the training volume a bit.
Speaking of training, that brings us back to my main point. Heavy lifting requires low reps; if you don’t do a greater number of sets, the total workout volume drops dramatically, and you are left without much stimulus for muscle gain.
And THAT is exactly what we want: to keep the weight and volume in the right balance to allow us to reap the benefits of heavy training without putting on mass.
To that end, I recommend that women spend at least two days per month doing some heavy training. To get you started, here’s a heavy full body circuit:
3 sets of 5 reps for each of the following:
- dumbbell squat
- dumbbell push press
- Inverted row (add weight if necessary–or do pull ups!)
- Alternating reverse lunges
- Plank (hold for as long as possible)
To determine the correct weight, just pick a weight you can lift roughly 5-6 times. If you can get all 3 sets for 5 reps, increase the weight next workout.
Again, I said at least two days per month. This is the minimum. Speaking generally, I have my female clients training heavy at least once per week; further, there are a lot of women who train almost exclusively with near maximal weights (3-5 reps). So, again: don’t be afraid to lift heavy!
3) Sit Down And Sprint?
Over the past several years, we’ve tried to break people of the notion that if they want to lose stomach fat, they need to do stomach exercises. Now, we’ve got a pretty well established belief in the fitness industry that you can’t «spot» reduce fat…so if you are trying to reduce the size of your thighs and hips, your fat loss will come from all over and you just have to let your body determine how much visible reduction occurs.
What if that assessment is only partially true? I contend it very well might be.
A few years back, I attended a seminar led by Dr. John Berardi, who is an expert in the field of sports nutrition. He is also a world-renowned trainer who works with some of the most elite athletes around. During the seminar, Berardi made a remark about some Olympic athletes he was training; he had an interesting finding regarding fat loss.
As it turned out, when he had these athletes (all women) do their high intensity sprint workouts on a stationary bicycle, there was a «disproportionately high» amount of fat loss in the lower body. JB and I discussed this, and although he had a lot of data to back this up, no studies had been done. Instead, we just had an interesting factoid.
That was about 8 years ago, and in that time I have had a lot of opportunity to work stationary bike sprints into a good number of my programs; generally for women who found that losing lower body fat was a hardship. And you know what? IT WORKS.
But why? What makes the stationary bike so special?
To be honest, I have no freakin’ clue. None at all…at least, none that I can base on anything but broscience and black magic. I will say, however, that it seems to me that doing timed sprints that you get more efficient and can perform with more resistance overtime…seems A LOT like a «cardio version» of my type of density-based training, which as we all know has been very effective for dropping lower body fat (mainly, because it helps with hormonal optimization).
All I know is, it works—although I should point out that from what I’ve seen, there is some danger of losing some muscle mass on the leg alongside the fat. For most, this is an acceptable risk, and for the rest, an unexpected benefit.
After all, I’ve had the preponderance of my female clients say, «I have too much fat in my lower body.» I have never had one say, «Gee, Roman, I wish I had a lot more muscle in my legs, and I don’t want to do anything that runs this risk of compromising my lower body development, even if it’ll help me lose a lot of fat on my thighs.»
Just doesn’t happen. If anything, I have had a number of female former athletes ask how they can reduce leg muscle mass—and this works for that, as well.
Again, I don’t have a study to back me up on the exact way it works, but, again, I have 8 years of my own experience with clients to back up the fact that it DOES work. If are struggling with this area of your body and you have access to the equipment, you MUST give this a try.
4) Less is More. Or is it More is Less? Or Maybe is be More IN Less. Oh Whatever, Just Go Faster
As I’ve touched on so far, there are a lot of factors we can make alterations to in order to meet the goal of sculpting a sexy female form.
Variables such as training frequency, set and rep schemes, and the aforementioned volume and load (weight) are the most commonly manipulated facets of training. However, one of the variables you don’t hear much about is also lends itself to making some of the best progress.
I’m talking about training density. With regard to training, density can be described as the amount of work you do in a given time period. Density is actually one of the easiest variables to manipulate for progress: simply do more in less time.
Doing more work in less time has a number of incredible benefits: increasing the rate of fat loss, aerobic and anaerobic training, and an increase in work capacity. Over time, increasing density will make you stronger, leaner, fitter, and MORE capable of performing. That has carryover to nearly every other type of training and will have implications for accelerated progress down the line.
One of simplest ways to increase density is to shorten your rest periods. If you normally rest 45 seconds between sets, try cutting it down to 35 or less. Over the course of a 45-minute workout, that adds up and you’ll notice you are feeling a completely different stimulus.
Of course, my favorite way to manipulate density is to structure your sets for TIME rather than REPS. If you are going to squat, rather than just do 15 reps, perform squats for 30 seconds and see how many reps you get. On your next set, try to beat your previous number of reps; maintain good form, but try to in increase speed. Of course, eventually you’ll max out, and can improve by either increasing the time, or the weight.
These methods are great so fat loss, but because of the increased work capacity, often also help to increase neurogenic and myogenic muscle tone: so, increasing your workout density can increase your body density.
You’ll get leaner, firmer, and sexier—faster.
5) Focus on your Assets
Well, we made it this far without me getting to graphic. Ooops. Look, I’m a butt guy, I like butts. That’s my thing. I like when a girl has a nice, well-formed, athletic booty. I’m not sure if that’s me objectifying women, or just being honest (or both).
Either way, this is an article intended to help women build sexy bodies, and to me, nothing is sexier than a good backside. Don’t agree? Well, write your own article then. This is my show, so I say we’re talking about butts.
Or training them, at least.
You already know two of the best exercises for your glutes: the squat and the lunge. Here is a quick way to make them more effective (at least for your butt)
When it to comes to squatting for your booty, go wide. Wide stance squats with your toes pointed out place a greater emphasis on the glutes; make sure to focus on flexing and squeezing as you perform the movement. I’m not going to bother writing a joke here—it’s too easy.
For lunges, go back, not forward. While I don’t want to encourage too much favoritism or fuel the fires that scare women away from training, it must be said that there are certain exercises that put TOO much emphasis on some muscles. For women who want shapely legs and a nice butt without building up lots of quad muscle, it’s often a good idea to use reverse lunges in place of forward lunges.
Forward lunges place a lot more emphasis on the section of the quadriceps at the base of the knee–most specifically the vastus medialus—especially eccentric emphasis. Think about it: when you lunge forward, your lead leg has to «catch» your entire body weight and stop/absorb your momentum, and the muscles around the knee will do the majority of the work.
Conversely, when you lunge backwards, your glutes get a lot more work (on both the moving and non-moving leg) and the section of the quads that run up and down the length of the femur (rectus femoris) get a bit more work.
Overall, you’ll develop strong, shapely legs without having to «worry» too much about over developing the quads. Of course, I should mention that most of the time this is majoring in minutia, but there are those who do put on muscle in the thighs a bit more easily so this is relevant to some. (On a side note, those people would do well with the cycle sprints mentioned above!)
6) Be a Venus
When it comes to being physically attractive to the opposite sex, it’s important to understand that certain body dimensions are visually important, from an evolutionary perspective. In fact, these things are so indelibly burned into the collective consciousness of our species that our definition of what makes a «good body» are heavily influenced by them.
Our progenitors subconsciously credited desirable traits like maternity, productivity, and fertility to corresponding physical attributes. Certain physical traits are what we call mating qualifiers, which means that from an evolutionary perspective, these traits are attractive to members of the opposite sex because of what they imply.
Just as a man with broad shoulders instantly projects an image of strength in our subconscious, a woman with a narrow waist and shapely hips makes us (specifically men) more attracted to that woman because she is built in a way that implies fertility.
The cool thing about this is that even though our perception of what is sexy changes as a society, because of the way these qualifiers work in terms of attraction is based on unchanging ratios, they are still relevant.
For example, by today’s standards, Marilyn Monroe might be considered on the «heavy» side—but we still see her appeal—and can find comparable beauty in modern female celebrities.
The reason for that is the golden ratio, which in this case is going to refer to hip-to-shoulder comparisons and hip-to-waist comparisons. With women, we want the athletic shoulders to taper into a small waist, and then bloom out into sexy hips. This is something called the Venus Factor.
Just as Marilyn was «perfect» at 36-24-36, our current standard of more lithe sexuality a number like 34.5-23-34.5 would be more attractive. The commonality behind those numbers is the ratio of the waist to the hip and shoulders (1:1.5).1
There’s obviously a lot more to it, but that’s a good primer. If you truly want to be sexy—in the truly evolutionary and procreative sense of the word—train in a way that helps you develop a body that falls within those ratios.
This means spending more time focusing on building strong, sexy shoulders using exercises like the push press and lateral raise, as well as worrying less about making your butt smaller and focusing on the strength-building, multi-joint movements that will improve its shape.