While women may develop a fair amount of strength relative to their size, on average men remain stronger. This holds true for lower-body strength as well as upper-body strength. Women produce less testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, and develop less lean muscle mass than a man training with the same relative intensity. Women can still develop a great deal of strength by following a balanced training program. Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
Strength is measured by the amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition. Common measurements of strength include the squat, bench press and deadlift, with the squat being the best measurement of lower-body strength. A comparison of the squat records for powerlifters of equal weight between genders reveals that a woman will squat no more than 65 percent of the male squat limit for the same weight class. The all-time squat record for a woman is 600 lbs, and for a man it is 1,000 lbs.
Fiber Type and Response
While women exhibit the same sort of response to resistance training that men do, men have both greater fast-twitch fiber size and a greater fast-twitch to slow-twitch fiber ratio. Fast-twitch fibers contribute more to muscular strength, and the ratio of fibers as well as their size are critical factors in limit strength. This is further complicated by the fact that women carry more intramuscular fat than men do. Given time and training, women can exhibit the same type of response to training as men, but the differences in absolute strength always remain.
Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone, or the hormone that helps you build muscle. As a woman, the only place you produce testosterone is in your adrenal glands, and you will produce less than 10 percent of the testosterone than the average man. Your testosterone response increases following heavy resistance training, but this often requires you to train with at least 75 percent of your single-repetition maximum. It takes time and good technique to train with this level of intensity. If you wish to get the most out of your training, you must develop skill then consistently add weight.
Upper and Lower-Body Strength
Women generally have less lower-body strength than men, but this is even more noticeable when comparing upper-body strength. This discrepancy is correctable, but takes consistent training. Over time, the disparity between your upper and lower-body strength will become less noticeable. You must focus on heavy, compound exercises that build strength and train with lower repetitions. Given consistent training, you can close the gender gap with respect to strength limits.
- Powerlifting Watch: Records
- "Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences"; Muscle Fiber Area, Fiber Type & Capillarization in Male and Female Body Builders; D.G. Bell, et al.; June 1990
- "European Journal of Applied Physiology"; Time Course for Strength and Muscle Thickness Changes Following Upper and Lower Body Resistance Training in Men and Women; T. Abe, et al.; February 2000
- "International Journal of Sports Medicine"; Endogenous Anabolic Hormonal and Growth Factor Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise in Males and Females; W.J. Kraemer, et al.; 1991
- "European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology"; Gender Differences in Strength and Muscle Fiber Characteristics; A.E. Miller, et al.; 1993
- "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Effect of Resistance Training on Women's Strength/Power and Occupational Performances; W.J. Kraemer, et al.; June 2001