The other day, I came across an Instagram sponsored post by a trainer that said that women should not perform shrugs because developing those muscles will make women look manly. This confused me; we have the same muscles as men, so why not work all of them? Biologically it is very difficult for women to gain so much muscle that we look ‘manly’ – whatever the hell that means.
Lean muscles can only look pretty. The aesthetics aside, shrugs develop the trapezius which is one of the widest back muscles. Primarily, it provides posture support to the back and spine. It links to the dorsal vertebrae of the spine, scapulae, clavicles, and ribs. You can’t just ignore a muscle that important.
Let me tell you what every industry expert I spoke to had to say on the subject of whether men and women should train differently – Men and women should train the same. That’s the short answer and you may choose to stop reading now. But I’m going to go ahead and explain why.
There are vast physical and physiological differences between men and women and as such, the effect of every exercise is different for the bodies of both. Our hormones, the amount of muscle we naturally carry and the base-level strength are different for men and women (which you have obviously noticed).
The low testosterone levels in women prohibit us from bulking as much as men can. Women have 30% less upper body mass, according to experts. Unfortunately, women can not get as strong and ‘swole’ as men can. So the question of being ‘manly’ is out of the door.
The basic idea of workouts is to work all the muscles in the body. Skipping big muscles just beats that purpose. Sure, everyone has different goals and the workout changes according to that, but dropping exercises because you’re a woman is not necessary. The route to every goal, especially aesthetic ones, is the same for men and women. Men want to bulk and women want to be lean and look good in bikinis. You can’t get either without building muscles. The difference is that these muscles look very different on men and women.
To build muscle, you must train every body part, train hard, and be in a calorific deficit. That rule is the same for men and women. Training with 5 pound dumbbells and skipping the most gruelling exercises is not going to help you lose fat or get strong. Repeat that to yourself – you must train hard to lose fat. You must leave the gym looking like something the cat dragged in for the workout to be effective. If you look picture-perfect at the end of your workout, that workout is doing nothing for you.
So train like a man and adjust the weights and reps as per your requirement. Don’t be afraid of heavy weights or certain moves. Sure, depending upon your requirement, you might need more of one move than another (more upper body strength for an obstacle race, and more lower body strength for footballers, for example) but if you have the same goals as a man, you will need the same workout as them.
My workouts have all sorts of moves that are typically associated with men – chin-ups, push-ups, forearm curl, tricep pushdown, dumbbell pullovers – and I give my best to these moves. While I am stronger and I have gained muscles, I don’t look like the jacked up men I see working on the same moves at the gym.
There are a few reasons for that. They lift so much heavier than I do – their starting weights were more than my current sets of weights. They bulk up more easily than I do because of higher testosterone levels and a natural inclination. My muscles show just after my workouts and not otherwise (sigh) but my frame is so much better, I am stronger, my posture is great, my energy level is better and my recovery is great.