It is a well-known fact that men are generally stronger than the average woman. I am often asked how this difference is significant. There is no easy answer as many factors can influence the results. Still, there are standards* with regards to the evaluation of one’s physical strength based on the «lifting weight to body weight » ratio. The « lifting weight » being the maximum weight raised in a single lift (a one-rep max).
For example purposes, let’s use a man and a woman, both sedentary, 30 years of age and weighing 155 lbs :
According to the standards in this category*, when doing the bench press exercise, the woman should be lift approximately 90 lbs and the man approximately 150 lbs. For this upper body exercise, there is a 60% difference between the man and the woman. With a lower body exercise such as the leg press, the woman should lift approximately 205 lbs and the man approximately 280 lb. In this instance, the woman can lift 73% of the man’s one-rep max. It is important to state that the standards vary according to sex, age group and fitness level of the individual.
Now, back to our initial question, regardless of the sex, it is essential to perform a strength evaluation exam to establish the correct weight to use in order to achieve desired results. This sort of test must be conducted under the supervision of a qualified personal trainer. Leading exercise science professionals, Beachle and Earle have established that for muscle hypertrophy (muscle mass) to be achieved, 75% of the one-rep max weight should be used in order to complete a set of 10 reps. For example, in the case of the female candidate mentioned above, her leg press one-rep max weight was established at 205 lbs, a 154 lbs weight should be set in order to complete 10 reps. Should she want to simply tone her muscles, only 67% of the one-rep max should be used, that is to say 137.5 lbs in order to complete 15 reps. The prescribed weights should cause noticeable fatigue at the end of each set.
In conclusion ladies, despite the strength differences that exist between men an women, you should always use the maximum weight possible according to the number of reps to be completed without having to worry about developing a « Mr. Muscle » type physique. In closing, here’s a little advice, stop underestimating yourself! You’re stronger than you think. Take the time to have your physical strength assessed so that you may use the correct weight during your workouts and therefore maximize your full potential.
*NSCA’s Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 2000.
*NSCA’s Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 2003.
*Physiological Assessment of Human Fitness, 2006.