[Gross generalization warning] This post is a gross generalization. There are many women out there absolutely killing - women who are in so much better shape than I am, I am afraid they will find me and beat me up. My girlfriend and sister are among them. I am not critiquing them, or you, specifically. Just observing and generalizing. (and maybe trying to stir up controversy and debate in the comments)
Men do a better job of getting and staying in shape than women. Stay with me for this one.
Fitness levels in the wide world (ok – just the US)
Statistically, more men over 20 are overweight than women (67% vs 62%). More women are obese (33% vs 28%). We’ll call it a wash. Or even that men are fatter on the whole. Could be. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Fitness levels in the gym
What I’m talking about is people who are actively trying to get and stay “fit.” Of the gym-going population, my observation is that the men are in better shape than the women. So, of people actively trying, men are doing a better job. Granted, I have no statistics to back me up. Granted, people’s definitions of fitness are different. Still, look around the next time you’re in the gym. How many people of each gender look really fit? Look like athletes? Would look really good in a bathing suit? I’ve trained in a lot of gyms in the last several years (I can count 13 off the top of my head). The ratios of fit people are different from gym to gym, but on the whole, the fitness scale tilts towards the men.
Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me at all for several reasons. Keep in mind, I’m still generalizing here. Even if you disagree, this is good info, so keep reading!
Reason #1 – Women are afraid of resistance training
To get in stellar shape, 99% of women need to lift, with heavy, compound exercises, at least 2 or 3 times per week. It takes some muscle to have a shapely female body. It also takes some muscle to get to ideal levels of leanness.
Unfortunately, women are bombarded with messaging that lifting anything more than a pink dumbbell will make them hulk out like Ronnie Coleman. This is a tragedy, because it turns so many away from the greatest tool in exercise (heavy weights). For many more words on this topic, see Why Women Should Lift.
Reason #2 – Women eat too many simple carbs
Simple carbs are fattening for most people, yet many aspiring fit women stick with their bagels and rice (and worse things). Bagels, bread, rice, pasta, and sweets are doing the opposite of what you want. Despite the claims on the label, whole wheat bread is not a health food. It’s a fattening food. See Increase Your Carbohydrate Complexity for more. This leads naturally into my next point.
Reason #3 – Women don’t eat enough protein
Similar to reason 1, women seem deathly afraid of eating too much protein, as if it was an anabolic steroid or something. Protein is essential to building the nice lean muscle mass discussed in #1. Eating it will not raise your testosterone and turn you into a man. The insulin response of protein is much lower than carbohydrates, making it much less fat-storing in nature. Shifting consumption away from carbohydrates towards more protein (and fat) will have positive effects for most women.
Reason #4 – Women don’t eat enough fat
The “low fat” trend, which began decades ago and is utterly ridiculous, is still alive and well for many women. Fat creates the least insulin response of any macronutrient, and many types provide an astounding amount of health benefits. While balancing saturated, mono-unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats is important, minimizing fat consumption is not. Also, anything that says “low-fat” on the label, tends to also mean “high-sugar.”
For more on macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein), read this.
For more general nutrition guidelines, check out the Nutritional Habits.
Reason #5 – Women do too much slow cardio
There are many reasons that slow, steady cardio is an awful idea for anyone with physique goals: it doesn’t burn that many calories, it destroys muscle, etc. Unfortunately, many women continue to do it to the exclusion of all else, when lifting and high intensity interval training would do much more for their goals.
I’m picking on women, because they fall into these categories more frequently, but there are many men who hold many of these misconceptions and are shooting themselves in the foot just as frequently. These things are true for everyone, regardless of gender.
I hope this has not offended anyone too badly. If so, please vent (or just discuss) in the comments. To conclude, here’s Bret Contreras’s client Karli banging out sumo deadlifts with 225.