Males and females generally benefit from similar exercise programs for improving sports performance. In capable and healthy athletes of both genders, similar programs can likely be utilized to train both groups of a similar age involved in the same sport. Females may benefit from some additional exercises that target knee stability (e.g., lateral band walks, landing and change of direction technique to eliminate valgus, etc.) to counter the issues associated with the structural difference of wider hips and a larger Q-angle. Perhaps some additional exercises targeting the posterior chain (particularly the hamstring) to counter the commonly seen “quad dominance” in female athletes would also be of some benefit. In reality though, most male athletes would also benefit from incorporating more knee stability and posterior chain work in their programs. Movement assessments and careful review of movement patterns during practice or competition should drive program design and exercise prescription.
One major difference seen between men and women in the weight room is how they handle certain percentages of their 1RM. If you’ve worked with both genders, perhaps you’ve noticed that females somehow manage to perform more reps than would be expected with a given percent of their 1RM. Not only that, but they tend to recover faster between sets as well. A review paper on the topic (Hunter, 2009) suggests that when matched for strength levels (within 5%) men tend to fatigue sooner than women, though this difference can be diminished when contraction variables (intensity, duration) are manipulated. The author concludes that the reason for the difference in time to fatigue among genders is related to neuromuscular differences between males and females but that there is not just one global cause for the difference. The gender difference in time to fatigue does not appear to be the same for endurance exercise. Lambert et al. (2013) showed that when body fat levels were accounted for, there were no differences in time to exhaustion between genders when performing exercise at 100% of VO2 peak on a cycle ergometer.
The strength coach should be aware of not just the structural and anatomical differences between genders, but also the commonly seen difference in time to fatigue in strength based exercises. Prescribing 3 sets of 5 reps at an intensity of 85% may end up proving to be a very challenging task for a trained male athlete while the same set and rep scheme may be less of a challenge for their female counterparts. For the same set and rep scheme the males may require a longer rest period between sets while the women may recover sooner. Assess your athletes and see how many reps they can do with a given percentage. Is there a difference between genders? Programs design can be remain similar but specific rep and set schemes along with resting periods may need to be adjusted based on gender.
Hunter, S. K. (2009). Sex differences and mechanisms of task-specific muscle fatigue. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 37(3), 113.
Lambert, C. P., Winchester, L., Jacks, D. A., & Nader, P. A. (2013). Sex Differences in Time to Fatigue at 100% VO2peak When Normalized for Fat Free Mass. Research in Sports Medicine, 21(1), 78-89.