It’s time to put to bed the outdated myth that resistance training is only for men. The first systematic review of whether older men and women reap different resistance training results was published recently in Sports Medicine, and it found no differences between the sexes when it comes to changes in relative muscle size or upper body strength.1
The menopausal hormone changes that often occur in women over the age of 50 may influence the outcome of resistance training, which is why this was chosen as the age threshold for the study.
Another motivation for conducting the study was to influence the common industry perception regarding differences in adaptation between males and females. “We wanted to show that there is less of a difference than many people perceive,” explains Mandy Hagstrom, PhD, one of the study authors and a lecturer in the department of exercise physiology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Researchers compared the muscle mass and strength gains in 651 older men and 759 older women between the ages of 50-90, most of whom had no prior resistance training experience.
“In contrast to common industry perceptions, we thought that the relative changes would be similar between sexes,” Hagstrom says. And they were right—older adults can benefit significantly from resistance training, regardless of sex.
“It’s also possible that older males and females may benefit from slightly different exercise prescriptions, with males focusing on higher-intensity strength training, and females aiming to accrue a higher volume (i.e. more sets and repetitions),” Hagstrom explains. However, it’s still important that the actual exercise programs should be designed to reflect individual goals, regardless of sex.