When it boils down to exercise, modern-day women are showing men a thing or two about being strong and fit. And it’s not only the elite athletes -- there are just as many female weekend warriors and hard-core gym devotees as males.
There are important physiological and physical differences between the two sexes -- such as hormones, base-level strength, and the amount of muscle we naturally carry.
So, does that mean we need to train differently? Do core exercises, specifically, work differently for women?
The short answer is no.
The muscles of women and men don’t differ significantly, though women tend to be a little longer-waisted and wider through the pelvis. This means that ladies can hit it just as hard as men during exercise -- however, there are a few tweaks they can make to get more out of their sweat sessions. Read on to learn more!
Your Structure Counts
In general, no training method or exercise is off-limits to women, unless they’re injured, or it doesn’t work for them structurally -- but that also applies to men.
That being said, how certain movements are performed will be determined by the structure of your pelvis and how tight or loose your ligaments are. And often, these factors are influenced by -- you guessed it -- your gender.
For example, the pelvis shape that is most common in women tends to result in an over-arch in the lower back. This is a posture known as lumbar lordosis, which is when your pelvis is tilted a little too far forward. It’s a very common condition in women -- and it can cause pain through increased pressure on your spine.
Many strength-training exercises can accentuate lordosis, but you don’t have to avoid them altogether. You just need to make sure you are doing them with the correct posture (try to position your hips in a way, so they are in the same line as your rib cage).
If an over-arched back is an issue for you, prioritize strengthening your hamstrings, do plenty of hip extension exercises, and build a strong core -- these effective exercises will help tilt your pelvis back into a more neutral position.
Flexible Joints Matter
Your pelvis shape -- plus how much control you have over your ligaments will determine your range of movement. For instance, if you happen to be very flexible (hypermobile), it means the ligaments surrounding your joints are loose, putting the joints at risk of damage.
That means you might have to decrease how far you go into certain exercises to protect your shoulder, hips, and knees. While hypermobile joints and lordosis are far more common in women, it’s important to know that men can experience them too. And ladies -- estrogen acts as an anti-inflammatory, so you might not feel injuries as quickly as you should. So if you do feel aches and pains from exercise, don’t ignore them.
Core Strength Isn’t Just For The Girls
Now that women aren’t afraid or nervous to be around the barbell, men could benefit from stepping into a few classes that are usually the domain of ladies -- such as Pilates.
As well as strengthening your core (the muscles supporting your torso), Pilates improves coordination and posture and also develops often-neglected muscle groups, including one that the guys never really think about -- the sling of muscles at the base of the pelvis, known as the pelvic floor.
A strong pelvic floor is linked, among other things, better orgasms and sexual function --yes, even in men. There is evidence it can improve erectile dysfunction, which happens to affect one in five men over 40 years of age.
Here Are A Few Of The Best Core Exercises You Can Try At Home
The side plank is a great yoga exercise that strengthens the arms, abdomen, and legs, all while improving balance. It’s a variation of the classic plank exercise where you build strength by assuming the position of a push-up.
How to do it: Lie on your side with your legs perfectly straight. Lift yourself up with your right forearm, making a diagonal shape. Your left hand should be resting on your hip. Brace your core and try to hold for a full minute. If it’s not possible for you to make it to the full minute, hold for 10 to 15 seconds and rest for five -- make sure your knees and hips stay off the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Want to make this exercise a little more of a challenge? Make use of gear from HYGEAR. Simply attach your band to a low anchor point and start in a side plank position with your elbow directly underneath the shoulder and your feet stacked. With the band perpendicular to you, grab the band with your top arm. Keeping your hips up, pull the band to your chest, keeping your shoulders down. Return to the starting position and repeat. This is an awesome exercise for core strength as well as strengthening the postural muscles of your mid-back.
The coveted bridge raise -- also known as the hip raise -- is an excellent workout to give strength to your butt, legs, and core. People with back injuries can perform this movement to help align their back muscles.
How to do it: Lie on your back with both of your knees bets and your feet flat on the ground. Raise your hips up off the ground so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause for a few seconds at the top, then slowly lower your body back to the floor.
The Gear 1 Extra Challenge: Using a low anchor and the Gear connected to an ankle strap, lift one leg in the air while the hips are raised off the floor. Lower and raise the leg while feeling the resistance coming from the band. Then repeat the exercise on the other leg.
Standing Pallof Hold + Reach
The standing Pallof hold + reach is an exercise you can use to reinforce proper pelvic alignment and strengthen your core while in an upright position. The farther away you are from the anchor point, the greater tension on the band.
It’s key not to allow your pelvis to rotate or have your shoulder start to slouch forward. This is also a great movement to reinforce scapular control and stability while performing the reaching motion.
How to do it: Attach your band to an anchor point at about chest height. Standing perpendicular to the anchor point with your feet just outside the hip, make sure both of your feet are pointed straight ahead. Grip the band with both of your hands and bring it directly in front of your chest. If you need a little more tension on the band, scoot out until that tension is adequate.
Exhale and press the band straight out in front of you until your arms are straight. From that position, drive your arms overhead until they are well above your head, working to keep your ribs down. Finally, bring your arms back down and then bring them back into your chest, keeping your core and glutes engaged throughout.
So, do core exercises for women work differently than they do for men?
No, not exactly. You see, the muscles of men and women don’t differ too much, so core exercises that do wonders for men will be just as effective for women.