Lift Like A Girl


As a personal trainer,  most of my clients are female.  With 10 years of experience training professionally, I’ve come to the conclusion that females have a much higher work capacity than men when it comes to training. Continuing education has also solidified my findings and given me a framework to efficiently train female clients. There are key differences the way men and women respond to various training stimuli.  Much of contrast are the results of anatomical and hormonal differences.   Regardless, men and women can still pursue the same exercise programs, but keep in mind the results will be different.  Below is a table demonstrating the different results obtained from various training stimuli.

Program Goals Males Females
Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) Blend High volume/low resistance and low volume/high resistance Best with higher volume/moderate resistance
Strength High resistance/long rest High resistance/moderate rest
Toning High volume moderate/low resistance High resistance/lower volume
Speed Run Fast Run Fast


Not all women have the same goals. Believe it or not, some women want to pack on some muscle mass. Regardless of the statistical anomalies,  most of the time, my clients are more concerned with toning.  Contrary to popular belief, toning is best achieved with high resistance training.  You can tone with high repetitions, but that will be less efficient.  As highlighted in the table above, high resistance and moderate rest is the key to optimizing muscle tone.  Here is what toning sets look likePerform back squats with 3 Sets of 5 repetitions.  Rest 1 minute between each set.  The total volume is 15 repetitions.


Strength Training is usually left on the wayside by many, especially when the main goal is to tone.  I frequently encounter women that want to tone, inadvertently sacrificing function and strength.  Unfortunately, many do not understand what strength training entails.  For women, high resistance with moderate rest is usually key to building strength efficiently.  Here is what strength training sets looks like: Perform back squats with 5 sets of 5 repetitions with 1 ½ Minutes rest between each set.

Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)

Muscle growth is another response to training that many women try to avoid.  However, muscle growth increase metabolism, improves aesthetics, and improves body composition. Muscle growth is best achieved  with higher volume with moderate resistance.  Here is what hypertrophy sets look like:  Perform back squats with 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions with 30-60 seconds rest in between each set.

Appropriate Load And Intensity

The information above does not complete the entire picture. Certain loads are not appropriate for all lifting exercises.  High resistance is usually best with compound exercises, but not appropriate with isolating exercises.  Examples of compound exercises are: squats, deadlifts, pullups, dips, clean and jerk, snatch, and bench press.  Example of isolating exercises not appropriate for high resistance are:  leg extensions, leg curls, bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, and leg lifts. Contrary to high resistance, high volume and low to moderate resistance are appropriate for most compound exercises and isolating exercises. However, there are exceptions. High volume is not appropriate for olympic weightlifting, such as the clean and jerk and snatch.  These two exercise are specific for improving power.  Typically, 4 sets of 5-6 repetitions are best for olympic weightlifting. Also, the lifter should rest until they are fully recovered, maximizing performance with each set.


Let’s discuss how hormones play a key role in optimizing training.  Unlike men, women’s hormones changes frequently through the month. Hormone changes can give women a blueprint on how to train more effectively. Female hormones that have a profound effect on training are estrogen,estradiol, and progesterone.  Endurance can be improved mostly when estrogen/progesterone/estradiol ratio is highest, which is after ovulation during the mid-luteal phase. Estrogen and estradiol helps to metabolize carbs, protein, and fats. However, progesterone prevents efficient utilization and has a catabolic effect. Consequently, shortly after ovulation when progesterone is high compared to estradiol and estrogen,  muscle breakdown can occur. Considering these hormone changes, it is very important to consume sufficient protein to prevent muscle loss. As mentioned earlier, endurance is best improved during the mid-luteal phase, but with the risk of breaking down muscle because high progesterone.  Make sure that protein intake is sufficient during this phase. Regardless, I believe it is better to maintain good protein intake regardless where you are during your menstrual cycle.


Considering all of the information above, you should have a better idea of how to plan your training and what you will get out of it.  The take home highlights the most efficient load and rep ranges for toning and building. Along with understanding how the female body responds to various training stimuli, hormones play a key role.  Plan nutrition accordingly.