If you thought that bodybuilding was just a sport for men then think again. By definition bodybuilding simply means taking the effort to craft the body that you want, and in the context of the sport that tends to mean in the gym. There is then every reason that a woman might enjoy bodybuilding and working on improving her appearance in the same way that a man might, and potentially building muscle in the gym to this end.
And of course there are women’s bodybuilding competitions just as there are men’s, and these similarly promote physical improvement through hard work. There are differences obviously, and the physiques considered desirable for women are always going to be slightly different from those considered desirable for men, but ultimately the process is the same.
Differences Between Men and Women
For the most part bodybuilding is the exact same for women as it is for men. It involves the use of repetitive movements under resistance that are designed to tear the muscle fibers and thus trigger growth. These tiny microscopic tears called microtears are what cause the ‘burn’ we feel after a workout, and while we rest the muscle fibers will be repaired by satellite cells that exist near the muscles. These satellite cells are formed of amino acids and this is why it is so important for us to consume lots of protein when we bodybuild so that we have the ‘building blocks’ of the tissue with which to repair these damages. When they are repaired they are built back thicker through the use of amino acids harvested from proteins. To this end, most documentation aimed at male bodybuilders will also be relevant and useful to women aiming to build muscle and tone up.
However there are also some differences between men and women that need to be considered. Here we will look at some of the ways in which women bodybuilders are different that they need to consider:
Women have lower amounts of iron than men. This can be detrimental to a workout as iron is crucial for the red blood cells to be able to carry oxygen and minerals around the body. This concern is particularly acute when women are having their period – of course the large amount of blood loss translates to large amounts of iron lost as well which can result in low energy and poor building of muscles. The best way that a woman can combat this is simply to use iron supplementation, and this is particularly important during the menstrual cycle.
Women carry a little more subcutaneous fat (fat beneath the skin) which it is believed is an evolutionary response to allow them to keep children warmer when they are pregnant. This is of course a negative point for women trying to expose their muscle and create a ‘ripped’ and defined look. The solution is of course to simply increase the amount of CV compared to men, and to use a lower carb diet (though carbs are still important for energy).
Women also have slightly slower metabolisms compared to men which is another reason that they store more fat. This is also a reason that it is important for women to increase their CV relative to men, but also a reason that they may wish to increase other elements of their workout – for instance the use of stimulants such as coffee or guarana (be very weary of ‘thermogenics’ called ‘fat burners’).
Breasts come into play in a few ways for female bodybuilders and create some distinct differences. For instance this will physically alter the appearance and they will also alter what is considered ‘desirable’. If a woman works out her pecs too much and burns too much fat, then she will end up flat chested which isn’t considered attractive.
Another thing to consider regarding the breasts is how they affect posture and performance. A woman with larger breasts for instance will need to look into purchasing a supportive bra if she is going to engage in CV and other rapid movement when working out.
Perhaps the biggest difference of all between men and women is testosterone. Men produce significantly more testosterone and this is what allows them to produce larger muscles and more mass. As the main ‘goal’ of bodybuilding for men is largely to gain mass, this results in very noticeable differences between men and women. And it’s not advisable for women to try to increase the amount of testosterone in their body through supplements either as the other side effects include hair loss, facial hair, acne and other effects considered masculine.
Of course these factors result in a very different shape for women than men. Fat is also stored in different parts of the body for women when compared to men and it is commonly found on the hips, breasts, thighs etc. This can be considered a drawback for women, however at the same time women also find it much easier than men to burn fat around the abdomen resulting in flatter stomachs. Combined with larger breasts this also makes the stomach seem even flatter by comparison.
The goals and what is considered desirable for women are also different. Of course building muscle still features highly, but mass above all else is not as much the focus. For most women it is preferable to be muscular and lean or toned, rather than to be large and bulky as many men want to become.