Women's Fitness

Womens Fitness

I typically group men and women into the same workouts, especially if they are applying for positions in the military, law enforcement, or fire fighting careers. My opinion is that women can perform to the same standards as men (they don't have to) with a little extra work and proper training. I have experienced this personally throughout my years of training with 40-year old moms as well as 20-year old Navy women. Here is an email from a woman concerning basic fitness/weight loss that will provide some insight to the minor differences/focus points in training programs needed for the two genders.

"Is there a difference or different advice you would give to a woman like me who is in her late 30's, who is in moderate shape (I need to lose 20 lbs.) and who is starting all over with her training routine. I have not been able to find a good beginning running program for myself that I can stick to." 

As stated above, there is not a major difference between men and women's fitness needs. We all need cardio-vascular exercise for the circulatory system, resistance training for stronger bones and muscles, flexibility to assist with injury prevention and other sports specific reasons (i.e. for speed). Core strength training is also important for both men and women as a foundation to build upper/lower body strength, running endurance, and better job performance in rigorous professions (such as military and law enforcement).

About the only difference in workouts I provide women other than the components listed above is a focus on the basic trouble areas such as inner/outer thighs, legs, and stomach.  I have found that a steady mix of leg exercises along with biking or running can make a huge difference in toning the hips, butt, and inner/outer thigh areas for women. See ideas in the circuit plan below.

For a running plan, the first six weeks below are designed for a beginning runner or for someone who is recovering from an injury:

Running Plan I - Beginning Runners

Wk Mon Tues
1 1 mile Bike or swim
2 1.5 miles Bike or swim
3* Bike or swim Bike or swim
4 2 miles Bike or swim
5 2 miles 2.5 miles
6 2-3 miles 2-3 miles
Wk Weds Thurs Fri
1 1 mile Bike or swim 1 mile
2 1.5 miles Bike or swim 1.5 miles
3* Bike or swim Bike or swim Bike or swim
4 2 miles Bike or swim 2 miles
5 off 2.5 miles 2.5 miles
6 off 2-3 miles 2-3 miles

* Do not run during Week 3 - bike or swim everyday. Statistically speaking, there is a high risk of injury during the third week of a running program -usually overuse injuries like tendonitis, shin splints, or joint aches. For more info on running injuries and prevention, go to Dr Pribut's site at www.drpribut.com.

Walk a little/run a little for these distances at first if your cardio fitness is lacking to do these distances non-stop. In fact, before you start running, you should find proper running shoes, stretch daily for 2-3 weeks, and start off doing non-impact aerobics prior to taking your first steps of running.  Being 20 lbs overweight will put strain on your knees, back, shins, and other soft tissues of the body so get in cardio shape with biking, rowing, elliptical gliding, or swimming first. Or just walk at a fast pace.

"Can you give any advice on resistance training with weights and the importance of this to women?"

I like to mix in resistance training 4-5 times a week with a focus on upper body one day, and lower body the next. Some days you can mix upper and lower body workouts together if your training week gets tight. One of the easiest ways to get it done is to use a circuit routine and you can even mix your cardio/speed work in with it.  See chart below:

Upper Body Workout Lower Body Workout Full Body Workout
- Circuit workout (no rest) x 2 - Pull-ups - max reps - Dips - max - Abs - max in 2:00 - Bench press - 50% bodyweight  max reps - Pushups - max in 1:00 - Pull-downs - 50% bodyweight (max 3 negatives) - Abs - max in 2:00 - Military press - max reps (dumbbells 10-20lbs) - Bicep curls - max reps (10-20lbs) - Tri ext - max reps (10-20lbs) - Abs - max in 2:00 - Bike or run 5-10 minutes easy - Bike or Run / Leg PT - repeat 3 times - total 30 minutes - 5:00 bike at increasing resistance levels for 1:00 at 5 levels or - run 5:00 fast - 1:00 squats - 1:00 lunges (30 seconds each leg) - 1:00 heel raises - 1:00 jumping jacks - 1:00 stretch legs - Repeat 2-3 times - Pull-ups - max reps plus - Pull-downs - 10-15 reps - Pushups - 10-20 - Squats w/heel raise- 20-30 - Dips - 10-20 - Lunges - 10-15/leg - Crunches - 50 of your choice -Side crunches - 25/side - Lowerback swimmer-30 seconds - Military press - 10-15 - Bicep curls - 10-20 - Triceps ext. - 10-20 - Hammer curls - 10-20 -1/2 situps - max in 2:00 - Light weight Shoulder Routine

References: - New Lower Back Plan - The Best Shoulder Workout - Pull-up Alternatives - The Stretching Plan

Resistance training with weights or calisthenics and adding in abs and lower back exercises is vital for both men and women. By adding resistance training, you will strengthen bones, tone and strengthen muscles, and increase metabolism. Both men and women need this type of training. As far as pull-ups, the common denominator between men and women who can perform pull-ups and other hard upper body exercises, is that they PRACTICE pull-ups and other exercises like dips, pushups, bench press. I have trained 40 yr old mothers of four to do 8-10 pull-ups simply by adding pull-ups to their world. It helps not to be 20-40 lbs overweight when doing any bodyweight exercise and both men and women can use that advice.

"How do you feel about supplements that suppress the appetite and speed up the metabolism?"

I am not a big fan of supplements especially diet pills or suppressants. Eating well is all you need to meet the needs of your body during exercise routines. However, I am aware that life can get in the way of eating well, so if you cannot follow the plan above, (on SOME days) add another liter of water to an afternoon meal replacement bar like Power Bar or Slim Fast Meal Replacement Bars (cookie dough flavor even passes my 4yr old son's taste buds). These both offer vitamins, minerals, protein, carbs, and limit fat so they are good for you if you have to replace a vegetable wrap or whole wheat pasta salad with something easy. Another option is to check out ASAP Meal Replacement Packages made by Never Quit Nutrition - These are quick meals for people really on the go when even an MRE takes too much time to eat. If you are going to supplement anything, only add macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins). 

Related Articles: - Fitness Program Targets New Moms - Exercise and Pregnancy

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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