How often women train has greater impact on strength building than increasing weights, which exercise they do or the variety of exercises.
An Australian, world-first review of data on women and resistance training has found the frequency of workouts had more impact on women's muscle development than factors including whether they were supervised and if they lifted to exhaustion point.
The type of exercise women do in the gym matters less than how often they go.
The University of New South Wales paper, published in the journal, Sports Medicine, consolidated 24 resistance training studies involving nearly 1000 women.
Dr Mandy Hagstrom, lead author, lecturer in exercise science at UNSW Medicine and a weightlifter, said she decided to study resistance training and female bodies after discovering there was a lack of gender-specific research.
“I began reading the literature on muscle building and resistance training, and found that every study was based on males,” she said.
Dr Hagstrom and her team of three researchers found that the biggest strength improvements came from the number of days per week that women exercised, followed by the number of repetitions and sets completed.
It doesn't necessarily matter what you do when you're in the gym, just that you’re there and exercise with effort.
The studies her team analysed were based on an average resistance training program which included three sets of 10 repetitions, three times per week for 15 weeks. The women participating in the programs were aged 18-50 and had varying fitness levels.
The women developed an average of 1.5kg of muscle mass and increased their muscular strength by one quarter over the duration of the programs – confirming that resistance training offers significant benefits.
Dr Hagstrom's advice to women wanting to build muscle power is: “Go to the gym and go consistently … It doesn't necessarily matter what you do when you're in the gym, just that you’re there and exercise with effort."
She said there were many benefits of strength training for women's overall health: “Strength training has benefits that are inherently good for women, such as helping prevent or delay osteoporosis (a condition in which the density and quality of bone are reduced) something which women are more at risk of as they lose estrogen.”
Dr Hagstrom said it was not yet known how men's and women's bodies were affected differently by strength training.
“When it comes to how men and women lift, there seem to be two different camps: the one that believes that men and women are fundamentally different when it comes to exercise, which is mainly due to testosterone; and one that thinks that both sexes respond in the exact same manner,” she said.
“The problem is that at the moment, the literature is so poor that we don't even know if there is a difference at all."
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