Yep, strength training can benefit men and women equally

Elizabeth Millard
·3-min read
Photo credit: raquel arocena torres - Getty Images
Photo credit: raquel arocena torres - Getty Images

From Runner's World

  • Recent research published in the journal Sports Medicine suggests resistance training benefits men and women equally.

  • While men may gain more overall muscle mass and be able to lift more weight, women still gain comparable muscle mass relative to their stature.

  • The message is simple: Resistance training is important for those of any age and sex, and can help prevent and treat many age-related chronic diseases, as well as improve strength.

If you’re over 50 years old, or heading that way soon, adding resistance training to your running routine can yield major benefits—and a recent research review suggests that’s true for both men and women.

The findings, published in the journal Sports Medicine, included the results of 30 different training studies involving 1,400 participants, all age 50 or older. Comparing muscle mass and strength gains, researchers found men and women both had gains, but in different ways.

'What’s really important here is the difference between absolute and relative changes,' lead study author Amanda Hagstrom, Ph.D.—a lecturer in the Department of Exercise Physiology at Australia’s University of New South Wales, Sydney—told Runner’s World. 'Men are more likely to gain absolute muscle size, while women’s gains are relative to their body size.'

That means while men may gain more overall muscle mass, and be able to lift more weight, women still gain comparable muscle mass relative to their stature. In many cases, they will also be able to lift weight at the same progressively heavier loads as men, just in lower amounts based on their bodyweight.

Additionally, men and women both tend to have comparable non-weight-room indicators for more strength and mobility as well, Hagstrom added.

'In general, the improvements of strength and size are similar for both sexes,' she said. 'These benefits may range from improvements in markers for health, to things like ease of tasks such as gardening or chores, right down to improved athletic performance.'

One interesting finding for runners, in particular, is that women tended to have bigger increases in relative lower-body strength, which could give them more advantages for boosting running speed and power.

In terms of why this is the case, Hagstrom said reasons aren’t clear cut, but it could be that as men age, they seem to have an accelerated loss of strength in their lower bodies compared to their upper-body muscles.

Overall, the results are a nod toward why older men and women may need slightly different programming, she added.

For example, she suggests older men might benefit from higher-intensity programs that improve absolute upper- and lower-body strength, while older women may see greater benefits from higher overall exercise volume to increase both relative and absolute strength—and may want to increase their upper-body resistance training, too.

For both sexes, Hagstrom advises longer training sessions could have advantages as well. The biggest message, she added: Just get started if you haven’t already, and keep going as you age.

'Especially for older people, both men and women, strength training is very important and can help prevent and treat many age-related chronic diseases, as well as improve strength,' she said.

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