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The argument over whether or not men and women should train differently is an old one.

Years ago, “experts” said women should train with light weights and high reps to “tone” and “sculpt” their bodies, whereas men should train with heavy weights and low reps to pack on muscle. 

In the past few years, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, with many people claiming women and men should follow the exact same training programs. 

And others say that while men and women should follow most of the same training principles, they should still follow slightly different programs for optimal results. 

Who’s right? 

Well, I tend to fall into the latter camp (the principles of training remain the same, but how they’re applied differs for men and women), but I also wanted to pick the brain of author, coach, and podcaster, Mark Rippetoe. 

In this episode, Mark edumacates us on …

  • How and why women differ from men in terms of strength performance 
  • What neuromuscular efficiency is and why it matters when designing a strength training program
  • What vertical jumping skill tells us about motor units, power, and raw strength
  • Why women should train with triples
  • And more …

Press play and let’s dive in!


12:54 – What’s the significance in the difference of a vertical jump?

32:26 – Why do singles for women translate into better performance?

44:20 – How would you take menstrual cycles into account?

Mentioned on the show: 

Mark Rippetoe’s Website

Mark Rippetoe’s Podcast

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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Mike: Hello and welcome to another episode of Muscle Life. I’m Mike Matthews, and hopefully this is one of the last Corn Stream episodes that I will be doing. It is April 23rd and states are gonna start opening back up. I guess some have already, actually, I think Georgia, South Carolina areas in Florida.

Hopefully we see more of that without big spikes in the virus. And then the rest of us who live in states that are still completely locked down like I do, Virginia, my loser Governor, has decreed that we all need to stay inside until June 10th, which is a wild thought considering that as of right now we have about 10,000 confirmed cases and a few hundred deaths.

But anyway, here’s to hoping for the best for everyone involved. Healthcare professionals and people on the front lines. People infected and fighting the disease, and people who are neither of those but are itching to not just go back to the hair salon or the gym or the tattoo parlor, but. To get back to making money and, you know, providing for their families.

Keep that in mind when you are criticizing protestors, for example, that if you currently have an income, you are in a privileged position to use a popular. Word. And so if you, who has a stable income are criticizing people who do not and who are probably more or less out of money at this point, and so are out protesting in arguably unconstitutional action in the first place.

It’s not clear at all that governors. Can tell businesses that they have to close or can tell people that they cannot even leave their homes. Remember that if you were in those people’s shoes, you might be doing the same thing. If all your bills keep coming and all your cash keeps going, and if it’s really coming to the crunch, and if you keep hearing in the media these new reports, these new studies that are coming out that are showing that far more people have been infected by.

This virus, then we have realized, which means that it’s far less deadly than we thought. You too might start to wonder what the hell is going on, and you too might get fed up enough to go protest and say, I need to go back to work. I need to be able to provide for my family. Anyway. Enough about the Rona.

Because that’s not what today’s episode is about. Today’s episode is about strength training for women, and this is a chat I had with the lovely Mark Rapto. Always fun to talk to, and this is a contentious topic. There’s been an a long ongoing argument over whether men and women should train. Differently, and if so, how differently should they be training?

So many years ago, experts would say that women should really just be training with really lightweights, you know, Barbie weights and very high reps, and that’s how you toned and sculpted your body. That’s how you got long lean muscle like a dancer. Whereas men who want. To be bulky and muscular. Oh, well, they should be training with the heavy weights and the lower reps, and that’s how you get jacked.

But in the past few years, five years or so, that pendulum has swung in the other direction and for the better, I think, and you’re going to get into that in this episode, but now many people are claiming that men and women should follow more or less the exact type of training programs. And I don’t agree with that entirely.

Simply because, I mean, we can start with the fact that women often have different goals than men. Women are often more, I wouldn’t say, concerned with their lower body development, but they want to achieve more lower body development than upper body development. It’s gonna take them longer to get the lower body that they want versus the upper body.

Whereas with men, it usually is the other way around. Most men are gonna be happy with their legs sooner than. Their pecs or their arms or really any upper body muscle group. So minimally, right, men and women should be treating differently in that regard. There should be more emphasis on the lower body for most women and on the upper body for most men.

But what about the details? What about the training principles in the programming, the specifics? How much should those things change for men and. Women. Well, if you’re familiar with me and my work, you know that my position is more or less what I just outlined. The fundamental principles of training remain more or less the same, but how they’re applied.

Two men and women should differ. Men and women shouldn’t be training exactly the same. And this is something I talk about in my books and articles and podcasts. And in this episode though, we’re gonna hear Mark rip Ito’s take on it. And so in this interview, mark is gonna edge, amicus on how and why women differ from men in terms of strength, performance, what neuromuscular efficiency is and why it matters when designing a strength program.

And, and this is particularly with women. What vertical jumping skill tells us about motor units power and raw strength in athleticism? Why women should train with heavyweights? And I’m talking about triples and more. Oh, and if you like, what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you want to help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider supporting my sports nutrition company, Legion Athletics, which is currently holding its phone.

First big site-wide sale of the year, our spring sale, and that means that for the next few days, you can save up to 30% on select items in our store [email protected], including our protein powders and protein bars are. Pre-workout and post-workout supplements, fat burners, multivitamins, joint support, and more.

We have quite a bit to offer, and if you head on over to legion, you’ll see that everything in the store is currently marked down up to 15%. And then when you enter the code spring at checkout, you save up to another. 15% and your order ships free if you’re in the United States. And if you’re not, it ships free if it’s over $99.

So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to help me do more of it, if you wanna see more stuff like this podcast, please do support me so I can keep doing what I love, like producing podcasts like this. So to shop and save now, just head over to legion and use the code spring at checkout and you will save up to 30% on your entire order.

Hey, mark. 

Mark: Hey Mike. What are you doing? 

Mike: I’m sitting here staring at my computer screen 

Mark: intently. Well, I am too, and all I’m seeing is a map on it, so I’m just gonna study a little geography while you and I talk today. This is like one 

Mike: of those YouTube videos. Can you find, sir, you don’t like what’s happening in Sierra?

Can you find it on a map? 

Mark: I can, yes. So how have you been? Oh, you know, busy. Busy. Great. Good. Yeah. Same here. Same here. Yeah. Standard. Absolutely. So what are we talking about today? This ought to be an interesting topic. I, there’s gonna be, uh, a bunch of useful information that it is going to piss a bunch of people off and I don’t understand why that’s par of the ripe course.

One tends to do that. We’re gonna talk about women. And training performance and, and there are differences, and that’s what we’re gonna have to talk about because the difference between men and women has to, in terms of their physiology, is the difference between their neuromuscular efficiency and the way they adapt to stress and what stress it takes to cause an adaptation.

And these things have ramifications for performance and for training, and they have to be understood if you’re gonna train women, if you’re gonna charge people to train them, and they need to be understood. If you are an athlete and you’re trying to plan your own training, you have to understand that.

Men and women respond differently to training by virtue of the fact that this thing’s been up recently in the, in the media, and I don’t want to get into this transgender thing, but 

Mike: I recorded an episode just the other day with a professor who wrote an expert declaration on it, and it was a good upset.

I’m not sure exactly in the. In the sequence of things that’ll probably actually be live by the time this goes live. So, well, 

Mark: I’m, I’ll listen to that. I’m interested in the topic because the vast majority of people, including the International Olympic Committee, don’t seem to understand. Oh, and he talks 

Mike: about that.

He talks about the 2005 position that the I O C took and how their words were best science. And he went and looked at at what that was. And it was four studies on bone mineral density. That’s it. And 

Mark: that’s, And that’s it. And that’s it. But it has nothing to do so much with acute testosterone level as it does the testosterone level experienced by the fetus in the womb, which starts at about eight weeks post contraception.

If a fetus is bathed in testosterone for the entire length of time, they’re in utero. That sounds so nice. You have a different organism. Than one who is not. Men and women are different primarily because of their experience in utero and all of the exogenous testosterone administered thereafter in the world does not produce the same outcome.

As what is experienced in utero by the fetus. And I guess 

Mike: you can see that in female body building, right? With the ones that are clearly on drugs are on all the drugs, and sure they get big and they get freaky for, for women, but compare them to men. And then there’s puberty as well, right? That’s the next big.

Mark: That’s the next big exposure to testosterone. And the pump is primed well before puberty for the reception of the changes that come about as a result of the hormones that. Accelerate during puberty, but what you said was terribly important. You can give a female athlete all the testosterone and androgen you want.

And what does it do to her standing vertical jump? Basically nothing. Because the stage has been set prior to puberty, neuromuscular efficiency, differences between men and women are established in utero, and it doesn’t make any difference what the I O C thinks about testosterone levels. That doesn’t matter.

Furthermore, everyone knows it doesn’t matter. And they persist with this anyway, they are going to destroy women’s sports in the name of political correctness. And if they want to do that, go ahead. But I’m not gonna be a part of it. I’m not gonna stand around and watch this happen. There are already 

Mike: records that have been set by transgender athletes that will never be touched by a biological woman, 

Mark: ever.

The interesting thing is that you and I can’t do anything about this. Women are gonna have to fix this. Women are gonna have to not be passive. And they’re going to have to stand up for their own situation here. They’re gonna have to stand up for their rights to compete against other women. I like to believe 

Mike: that it will happen, that there will be enough female athletes who have enough clout to kind of not care about the backlash.

Mark: Oh, there are several organizations that have already emerged that have taken the position. That this is a ridiculous, silly joke. I did a podcast on this. In fact, there’s my first podcast and we called it The Lie, agreed Upon Men and Women are Not the Same. Men and women are different physically, and if you don’t understand that, that is true, just take a look at the average differences in standing vertical jump standing, vertical jump average.

This is college age People is a 14 inch for women and a 22 inch for men. 14 to 22 is the difference in the average vertical jump and that that difference is preserved In the records. The record female vertical jump is about 31 and the record male vertical jump is 46. So you see the same spread in averages in the records, and there’s some overlap in the middle.

Yes. Elite female athletes have higher standing vertical jumps than average males. For 

Mike: people wondering, what’s the significance of that metric? Why are you going to that? Because. 

Mark: It is an extremely good look at neuromuscular efficiency. So let’s get into this and let me explain what I mean by neuromuscular efficiency, and you’ll be able to see real quickly exactly why this is so, so very important to understand neuromuscular efficiency.

Is basically the ability to recruit motor units into contraction. A motor unit is one motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers to which it is attached, one motor neuron innovates many muscle fibers. Okay, so you got one nerve, a whole bunch of fibers, and the number of fibers varies with the location in the body.

But the mechanism as we understand it now, is that when a nerve signal comes down to recruit a motor unit into contraction, all of the muscle fibers that are attached to that one neuron go into contraction. And it’s an on off switch. They’re either in contraction or they’re not. So for force production tasks that require, uh, low force production like sitting in a chair, Or walking, not many motor units are required to come into contraction, and as the force production requirement of the activity goes up, more motor units are recruited into contraction.

In other words, if you’re laying down in bed, one or 2% of your motor units are in recruitment at any given time. And if you are under a one rep max squat. 96, 90 7% of your motor units are in contraction during that effort. Now it’s not a hundred percent because nobody’s that efficient, but the important thing to understand is that while a male can recruit 96 or 97% of motor units into contraction for a one rep max effort, a female might be able to recruit 80.

81, 82, maybe 83 or 4% of motor units into contraction. Now, that’s a huge difference and it has a lot to do with why standing vertical jump is different in men and women because the standing vertical jump is basically a counter movement jump without any foot movement. In other words, you don’t take a step, you just reach down and jump up in the air as everybody’s seen done.

Basically what happens is the lowering the eccentric part of the standing vertical jump access a signal to the neuromuscular system that. A hard concentric contraction is about to occur, and it is a signal for the neuromuscular system to recruit more motor units into contraction for the subsequent counter movement jump that we’re going to make.

And the reason this is used as a test is because the lowering part of the standing vertical jump. The whole test takes about a second to perform the concentric part, the extension of the knees and hips that carries you up off of the ground. For the measured distance of the upraised hand that we use to indicate the height of the vertical jump.

That contraction only takes about a quarter of a second. So the interesting thing about standing vertical jump test is, is it is a very, very good indicator of how many motor units you can get into contraction in a very, very short period of time. It is a direct indicator of power production. How many motor units can you get into recruitment in a quarter of a second if you are an average male?

You can get 22 inches worth of recruitment into contraction in a quarter of a second. I’m a little better than that, but not much. But if you’re a freak in the nfl, you can get 38 inches worth of motor unit recruitment into contraction in a quarter of a second. And this is what we’re looking for. When we want to pay people $3 million a year to play football for us, we don’t want to recruit average specimen, and the standing vertical jump is almost completely controlled by genetics.

It does not respond very well to training. This is what’s so silly about rate of force production training. It doesn’t affect anything really. There’re bit estimates that at best you can produce increases in maybe 20%. In standing vertical joint tests over four years in the college strength and conditioning program.

So if this thing is genetically controlled, it is the physical potential for power production is genetics. As I just observed, but it’s also sex. It’s physical sex, and the priming of the pump, so to speak by the testosterone in utero while you’re in the womb is what produces the difference in average standing vertical juin men and women, and you can’t affect that with the subsequent administration.

Of testosterone because the primary effects of the testosterone in terms of power production and neuromuscular efficiency. Are built in when you’re born because all the mechanisms that develop in the presence of testosterone while the fetus is developing are what makes the standing vertical jump and power production different in men and women.

Makes sense? Now, if you look at this, you will see that. And is this just to pull some numbers outta my ass. All right. Let’s say that a guy with 38 inch vertical can in a quarter of a second get 65% of his motor units into recruitment. What does a person with a 22 inch vertical jump have for motor units and recruitment?

Probably less than 40%. And if you look at this, this is a terribly important thing to note 

Mike: this, this may be a silly question, but I’m just gonna ask it. So the strength of those muscles doesn’t impact the, the amount of, of course it does. Okay. I’m just, some people might be wondering, well, wait a minute.

If, if I’m training and I’m making, I’m getting, I’m gaining muscle. 

Mark: You are getting, and I’m getting stronger. You are getting stronger, but you are not. Going to be able, as a result of getting stronger to get more motor units into recruitment. Sure. 

Mike: But if you gain muscle 

Mark: though, right? Then you have, if you gain muscle, then the motor unit recruitment that you can effect is a stronger muscle contraction and you, you would see an improvement.

Right? You would see an improvement. I’ve got a, a good analogy for that, that I’ll explain in just a second. You’ve got more motor units in recruitment. If you’re more neuromuscularly efficient or if you’re just more muscular, right? No, not necessarily at all. No. There are very strong power lifters with 28 inch vertical jumps because a dead lift doesn’t have to be performed quickly.

A jump does, right? So if you’ve got a whole bunch of motor units in recruitment, let’s say 65% of your muscle cross-sectional area is in contraction, and let’s say 

Mike: that’s your genetic, that’s it. 

Mark: That’s what you’ve got, yes. Is in contract, 65% of your muscle is in contraction, as opposed to 40% or 38% of the muscle that’s in contraction.

You’ve got two completely different. Neuromuscular events taking place there. 

Mike: Oh, okay. It’s that forceful jump versus the grinding squat. 

Mark: Right. Okay. They’re not equivalent events. A dead lift might take eight seconds. A clean if you haven’t finished your clean in 1.2 or whatever it is, seconds. It’s an, it’s not a clean, it’s a miss.

Right. Some activities are inherently explosive. And the standing vertical jump is so valuable as a test for this because it is not, there’s no technique in it. You just reach down and jump up. You can’t game the test. This is why it tells us who we’re recruiting, not what they’re training needs to be.

Okay. If they’re explosive, they’re explosive.

Mike: If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you want to help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider supporting my sports nutrition company, Legion Athletics, which is currently holding, its. First big site-wide sale of the year, our spring sale, and that means that for the next few days, you can save up to 30% on select items in our store [email protected], including our protein powders and protein bars, our pre-workout and post-workout supplements, fat burners, multivitamins, joint support, and more.

We have. Quite a bit to offer, and if you head on over to legion, you’ll see that everything in the store is currently marked down up to 15%. And then when you enter the code spring at checkout, you save up to another 15% and your order ships free. If you’re in the United States, and if you’re not, it ships free if it’s over $99.

So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to help me do more of it, if you want to see more stuff like this podcast, please do support me so I can keep doing what I love, like producing podcasts like this. So to shop and save now, just head over to legion and use the code spring at checkout and you will save up to 30% on your entire order.

So quick question. So let’s say you had some untrained person. Genetically they can recruit 60, 65% in this jump. And so they do it. Okay, fine. And then they train for a bit. And yes, it’s strength training. It’s a different neuromuscular event, but they gain muscle. So now that 60 to 65% of recruitment is recruiting more muscle mass than previously, I mean, that should improve their 

Mark: jump, right?

But it doesn’t. Huh? Why is that? But it doesn’t because. Of the amount of what are you jumping off the ground against your body’s mass is all that you’re working against. All right. What is the difference between a one rep max and a 20 rep max? A one rep max is heavy and a 20 rep max is not heavy. It just sucks.

It’s a whole different thing. You cannot recruit maximum levels. Of motor units into contraction in the absence of sufficient resistance to make it necessary and your body weight. Is not enough resistance to recruit maximum levels of motor units into recruitment because you only weigh a hundred and sure, 95 pounds you only weigh 2 25.

A 600 pound squad is a wonderful thing. It’s not analogous to quickly recruiting. In a quarter of a second enough muscle mass to take enough motor units to take your body up off of the ground 38 inches. 

Mike: Mm-hmm. So if I understand correctly then yeah, sure you gain muscle and you’re gonna gain a bit in terms of how much power you can produce.

But you’re also, you also way more now and that’s gonna offset in the counter movement shop. It’s gonna offset whatever advantage that extra power production would give you, and you have more or less the same performance, even though you’re strong, bigger, and stronger 

Mark: now. That’s one way to look at it.

Okay, but here’s a better way to look at it. All right? If you’ve got a guy with a 38 inch vertical, some freak walks in the gym, he’s never trained before. The first day he squats, he may squat 2 75 for three sets of five across. Whereas a guy with a 22 inch vertical walks in the gym, he’ll squat 1 15, 1 25 for three sets of five.

And the difference is obvious. If you can recruit more motor units into contraction in a standing vertical jump, you can also recruit more motor units into contraction. In a squat, you’re going to be stronger on day one. If you’re a freak athlete, then if you’re an average physical specimen, now both of them can get much, much stronger.

Okay? Sure. This is what modern strength and conditioning doesn’t seem to appreciate. If you take a kid with a 38 inch vertical whose first day of of training squats, 2 75 for five in six months, this boy is squatting over 500 pounds. Whereas the kid that walks in with a 1 25 pound, three sets of five squat, the first day is gonna be squatting over 300 pounds.

Both are amazing changes in their force production potential. So we need to do that for both of them. But remember what power is? Power. The equation for power is force times distance over time. Now time is the thing we’re concerned with here. You cannot decrease the amount of time it takes to get all of that muscle mass into contraction.

By any appreciable, it may be 10, 15% because the standing vertical joint happens immediately. It happens explosively, and it doesn’t go up very much. In other words, you can’t really affect the amount of motor unit recruitment that happens in a quarter of a second. You just can’t do it. You can practice it and practice it and practice it, and it doesn’t go up very much.

But the force production that is the result of that motor unit recruitment does the body weight. That you are accelerating off the ground may go up, but you cannot recruit 97% of your motor units against a resistance. That’s only your body weight. All right, so here’s the bottom line. If I take the kid with a 22 inch vertical and I take him from a 1 35 squat, Up to a 4 0 5 squat, which I can do because I know how to do that.

I know how to teach the squat, and I can train him up to that. Within nine months, I can probably get that kid up to a 4 0 5 squat, maybe take me a year. His power went up. Even though his explosiveness did not, because the equation is force on top and time on the bottom. And if F goes up, if the numerator goes up, do the algebra.

P went up at the same level of explosiveness, at the same level of quickness. Strength displayed quickly is power at the same level of explosiveness. His power went up. He can’t hit you any faster, but he can hit you three times harder once he makes contact with you. So in this sense, power is trainable by the increase in force production.

Now, back to women, women don’t do the T part very well because they cannot recruit a whole bunch of motor units into contraction in a very, very short period of time. And this is one of the handicaps imposed on people by the absence of testosterone in utero. All right, women are not as explosive as men.

Ask them, they’ll tell you, does Rhonda Rousey really want to fight Connor McGregor? 

Mike: Is that I don’t, I don’t follow mma. Is that, is that a thing 

Mark: or something? Yeah, it’s a thing. Okay. It’s a thing. Women in MMA are kind of a thing, but if you put men in the women’s division, the stark contrast between a congenital male and a congenital female creates problems.

And I’m really not interested in having a discussion with somebody that’s so hell bent on politics that they’re willing to get women in the combat sports hurt to try to prove their 

Mike: point. Is this something, Rhonda, I wanna say, like she says she’s gonna beat ’em up 

Mark: or something. No, no, no. This is just an example.

Okay. Okay. This has happened a couple of times. Yeah, she would. Ron is smarter than that. Okay. Ron is smarter than that. Men and women are different. Men and women are different in terms of their neuromuscular efficiency, and that is why, because testosterone has affected men and women’s neuromuscular systems.

In utero and all the later on testosterone you could administer, might make muscle mass increase, makes hair grow, makes other interesting changes in women that are just absolutely fabulous. But it doesn’t improve neuromuscular efficiency to any significant degree and the differences between. Men and women in terms of neuromuscular efficiency are terribly, terribly important in terms not only of performance, but in terms of how we train them.

When you train women, you have to understand that a one rep max for a female is not the same neuromuscular event as a one rep max for a male. If the male is getting 96, 90 7% of motor units into recruitment and the female is only getting 82, and she can’t do any more weight than that because she can’t get 86 or 87% of her motor units into contraction, then the quality of the rep is different.

And the quality of the stress imposed by the rep is different, and the quality of the accumulated training that results from the application of that stress is different. And this has to be taken into consideration. For example, it’s been observed for decade that women can do a much higher percentage of their one rep max for a set of five than men can.

For example, what is your one rep Max bitch right now, Mike? Oh, I’d have to 

Mike: pull up my training spreadsheet. I wanna say probably in the range of 2 90, 2 95 maybe. 

Mark: Okay, so let’s say it’s 300. All right. What can you do for 

Mike: a triple 2 45 to 2 55 or something like 

Mark: that? Yeah, for example, in contrast, a female who is benching 1 35.

Can’t probably do a set of five with 1 25 now. That is just the way shit is. I’m real sorry. That’s the way shit is. And if you don’t take this into consideration, the training’s going to be different. They can do a much higher percentage of their one rep max for set of five. So what does that mean about doing singles for women?

And why is that? Briefly? Because they can’t get as high a number of motor units into recruitment to produce the amount of force. That we can’t. But 

Mike: why does that translate into what would appear to be better 

Mark: performance? Because women’s singles are not as fatiguing. Mm. Because the weight is lower. Yeah.

Because the weight is lack. Oh, yeah. As a proportion of the amount, uh, because of the proportional amount of their muscle, they’re actually not being able to contract. In other words, if a woman can only get 82% of her muscle mass into contraction, and you look at the muscle, the cross-section of the muscle belly, almost a fifth of it, is not in contraction.

That means that almost a fifth of it is not being trained. You have to take this into consideration. Women, for example, men don’t do very well with sets across deadlifts. You do a one heavy set of five deadlifts for men, and that’s a extremely fatiguing event. It beats the piss out of a male, but if you do one set of five for women, you’re leaving a whole bunch of work.

The, the, that’s not been done on the table because five reps for a woman, five reps for a female lifter is not really a heavy weight. She needs to be probably be doing triples. You know what, we switch women over to triples after about three months of training for beginners because relatively speaking, a triples heavier than a than a five, and it more closely resembles the neuromuscular effects of a set of five in males.

And then, Because that work was not efficient in terms of producing nearly as much stress as one heavy set of five would be for a male. We will use sets across deadlifts for females all the time. They need sets across two or three sets to get the same amount of work. We find that limited numbers of sets with heavy weight are good for boys and sets across are more useful for women.

But the amount of stress that a set of five produces for a female is more like what you would see for maybe a set of 10 for a men. If you’re gonna do five, we start women off with fives and we move them to triples pretty quick because they need the heavier load. And we make up for the fewer reps by doing higher numbers of sets.

So where a male would do three sets of five, we would have her do five sets of three, and the weight’s heavier, the volume is about the same, and. The neuromuscular effects of the training begin to more closely approach each other if you, if you take that, but you have to understand that these differences are present.

I started seeing this difference firsthand a long time ago. I took one of my lifters to a meat. She’s a power lifter. We took her to a, a powerlifting meat, and I was a dumb kid. And I had this girl open her deadlift with two 20, and I hadn’t been paying very good attention. This is 35 years ago, and I was just dumb as a box of rocks, and I didn’t understand what the hell I was doing at the time.

I had no business taking her to the meat, but she wanted to go to the meat and I wanted to take her. So she opens her deadlift at two 20 and the thing flew up off the ground, just flew up off the floor. Now I’ve had a male. Pull two 20 off the ground. Oh, let’s make that a little more realistic. Let’s say I had a male that pulled, uh, 4 0 7 off the ground real, real easy.

I could take him up to oh 8 4 28 for second attempt and be pretty sure I was gonna get 4 51 out of him that day. All right, for a third attempt, that would be a reasonable spread. As I think about it real quickly, right here, all right. She pulled two 20 off the ground and I thought, well, hell, 2 42 is there.

She pulled two 20 for her first attempt. I called for 2 31 for her second attempt and it was welded to the floor. That was my fault. Not hers because I did not realize, I didn’t even think about it, just saw it that day. I wonder why this is, she should have been able to do 2 42 based on two 20. No, she shouldn’t have, she’s a female.

She can’t do that much more. 

Mike: That load was a higher percentage of one rep max than you realized. 

Mark: Yes. She could have done two 20 for five. But 2 31 would’ve been her max, maybe 2 34 her max. So I should have done 2 20, 2 26, and then maybe she had a chance at 2 31, but probably not. One of the things that’s wrong with power lifting is power lifting for women has not, they haven’t figured out that they need the one kilo rule.

Women need to be able to adjust a bench press by a kilo, not two and a half kilos. I mean, the Olympic lifters figured that out a long time ago. But the power lifters just, they’re not very bright. I guess they’re stubborn people. If you’re gonna have a women’s division in a barbell sport, you’re gonna have to have the one kilo rule and they won’t do it.

And it’s just what we see, you know? It’s a direct effect of the difference in neuromuscular efficiency between men and women. You know, if you look at training from this standpoint, you’ve got to approach it differently. For women, they’re gonna need a different type of work. I’m, I’m 

Mike: thinking to, to a lot of one rep max calculators out there.


Mark: one rep max calculators are all wrong, every one of them is wrong. Anything based on a one RET max calculator is bullshit because of the differences in neuromuscular efficiency and for everyone, they’re wrong. Not estimated one rep max. You ever seen all that? Like my estimated one rep max is blah, blah, blah.

That’s not data. Data is performing the lift. 

Mike: But couldn’t you argue though that even if it’s inaccurate, one, it’s, it’s gonna be more accurate for a lot of the people just in the middle of the bell curve, but for you individually at least, it’s consistently inaccurate. So if your estimated one rep, max, let’s say, is going up on your squat over time, yeah, you’re probably getting stronger.

Even that, even though you may not be able to, to actually squat that amount, or maybe you can do even more, but. You know, unless you try it, you don’t know. But even if you don’t try it, if that inaccurate number that is consistently inaccurate is going up or down, I, I think that could be useful at least to, to, to know, Hey, am I, am I is, am I being productive here or am I just spinning my wheels?

Mark: Well, is your five going up? What are your trading rates doing? Yeah, I’m much more interested in that. I don’t care what your one RM is. If you’re set five are going up every week, guess what your one RM is going to be doing 

Mike: too? Well, yeah, but take someone like me, right? So I’ve been training for a while and there’s not much left for me to even gain in the way, at least in the way of muscle.

I could probably gain back a little bit of muscle and strength that I had at my. Peak when I was maybe 27, 28, but there’s really not that big of a difference, and so I’m not able, there’s no way I’m adding weight to the bar every week. I’m not even, no, no. You’re 

Mark: an advanced lift. 

Mike: I’m not even adding, yeah, I’m not even gaining reps.

Yeah, it works, but, but I am programming though my primary lifts based on percentages of estimated one rep max is just so I can make sure that my weights are. Are going up over time and then I’m ending a training cycle with an AM wrap. So I can see like with fairly heavy weight, you know, I’m going for no more than five or six wraps.

I’m not trying to blow myself up with like 105% and see if I can do it. I’d rather put 90 or 95% on the bar and really see what I’ve got and that that’s my true test of my strength. I’ve found that approach useful. So I’ve found the estimated one we’re at max number useful for that. I don’t really. Put too much stock in the number itself, 

Mark: like you’re saying.

No, I see what you’re saying. I just, I disagree with that approach. We can talk about this some other time, but I think that if your trading weights are going up at sub max levels, your fives, your triples are going up. Then you’re getting stronger. I don’t see the point in even knowing a one rep max, because I’m not gonna calculate anything based on a one rep max.

I don’t even calculate the next training cycle after a power meet based on the singles I did at the meet because those conditions, the conditions that existed in the meat are not duplicable. In training and therefore that data is not particularly valuable. It can go the other way around 

Mike: too. I’ve heard from people who, they’re new to competing and so for example, they hadn’t trained the bench press the pause, the slight pause at the bottom, and so they thought that they were gonna be able to lift more than they could in the meat because that was new and they just didn’t know.

You know what I mean? And 

Mark: they, that’s just a, that’s an error. They should have been prac. Seeing the word rep, this is the difference between practicing and training. There are the practice is required for power lifting. If you’re gonna execute the lifts according to the rules, you gotta practice it. And the meat conditions are different enough that it makes much better sense to calculate your next cycle based on the last of your training cycle instead of the total at the meat.

Because the total lit to meet tells me nothing about how strong you are when you finally get back to training two weeks later. When you finally say you go from to another cycle, you start back with eighths or something like that. If I’m gonna do a training cycle based on what I did at the meet, what if I had a, a problem with the surface on the bench press or something like that?

You know, you can’t tell from the meet what your next training cycle ought to be. The previous training cycle should determine the next cycle, not the performance at the meet and. And you know, to get back to women, you’ve got to understand the differences that these people are showing you in their training with respect to their response to sets and reps.

Women need more volume. They need more volume to elicit the same levels of stress that we can get outta one set. They’re gonna need sets across. They’re gonna need fewer reps. They’re gonna need triples instead of fives to elicit the same levels of stress, because the stress is what causes the adaptation.

And if we cannot drive adaptation with appropriate levels of stress that are appropriate for women as opposed to men, then we’re not. Realizing our potential. Now, here’s another thing to consider. As men get older, their neuromuscular efficiency is reduced. As men get older, triples become as valuable for them as they are for women because an older guy’s ability to recover from a whole bunch of stress and soreness goes down as his hormonal efficiency.

Decreases as he ages. In contrast to women who need triples more frequently, as men get older, they’re still males. Their ability to recover from a set of five gets worse, and the stress from that event becomes harder to recover from. There are some similarities. There remain stark differences between men and women as men get older.


Mike: about menstrual cycles and, and taking that into account because that can, 

Mark: you know that that’s another one of these things that is so highly individual. Some women are stronger on their period than others are. Some women just don’t feel like doing anything and are gonna basically have to, you know, back off to 70% for that week.

It just, it’s highly individual. 

Mike: Have you found that many women are, I’ve had many women tell me that during the fertility window, what’s the technical term for that actually, but when fertility is like, when women can get. Pregnant during that window, that’s when they generally are gonna set prs and have more energy.

And then once that passes, then there can be a, a large drop off in strength. That’s what I’ve heard from quite a few women over the years. And so in some cases they train around that or they, they just know that if they’re gonna be pushing hard, they want it to be during the period when their body agrees with it.

And then if they can maybe schedule a D load or something when their performance suffers. 

Mark: Having trained a bunch of women over time, I’ve, I’ve damned if I can see a pattern. There’s just so much individual variation. Interesting. So much individual variation, and it has to do with perception, and it has to do with willingness to be uncomfortable and push through the pain and stuff.

And again, this is something that you and I’ll never experience. I don’t know, I probably don’t have any business making a comment on that, but I, I do understand that if I am stupid, I do not account for the differences in neuromuscular efficiency between men and women. I’m going to be training them incorrectly, and we’re still learning about this.

If you talked to people 30 years ago about this, they would, you know, they wouldn’t hide a comment. Not an intelligent comment. Certainly, yeah. But it’s, uh, it’s terribly important that we compensate for this lack of neuromuscular efficiency. There’s no question it exists. If you want to ignore it, you’re ignoring it at your peril, and I think it’s a terribly important topic.

I think more people need to familiarize themselves with this because if you’re gonna effectively train female athlete, you had better have your head outta your ass. It’s a growing field and it’s, it’s nothing necessary. You’ve just gotta be aware of these things. And a lot of people would rather ignore them and 

Mike: treat women like they’re just 

Mark: little men.

Right. They’re not little men. They’re not little men. Absolutely. 

Mike: And for women listening who, uh, are not athletes per se, they’re just everyday people who want to get into great shape and stay in shape, 

Mark: which you’re the majority of the women’s exercise market. Yeah. But 

Mike: still there’s some practical takeaways here in terms of the importance of lifting heavier weights and to get the same training stimulus, it’s, it’s gonna require more weight than as far as percentage of one rep max than with men.

There’s the point of volume. If you’re a woman listening and you’re nute resistance training, you don’t have to worry too much about that cause it doesn’t require that much volume to get a good stimulus. You know, maybe. Maybe nine or 10 hard sets per major mu group per week, we’ll get it done. But if you are an intermediate weightlifter and that’s no longer moving the needle, you hear something you might even hear me talking about, uh, for inter, particularly for men intermediate to advanced weightlifters.

I mean, a lot of the research on this. Was done with men. So it’s hard to say how it applies to women. It’s hard to just, I don’t know if you can just extrapolate it to women, but we know there’s good evidence that in men you might need to go up to 20 hard sets per major, most group per week. But if you go be, start going beyond that, and if you’re resting adequately in between sets and you’re doing the other basic things right, you’re probably not gonna get much more out of it.

And so for women though, the average woman is, I guess it’s fair to say. Mark that the average, intermediate, or advanced female weightlifter will need probably more volume than the average male to continue making progress. 

Mark: Absolutely true. And here’s another thing. Let’s not forget that all of this stuff points to, uh, shorter rest times between sets for women.

If each one of the sets is less fatiguing, then she could probably. Do two to three minutes between sets where we might require eight to 10 minutes between sets, eight to 10 minutes. Come on. Come on. She’s just not as tired because she can’t, she can’t make herself a, we’re not doing cardio. We’re trying to get the last rep of the fifth set.

If we need to rest 20 minutes, that’s what we’ll do, but FEMAs don’t need to rest that long. Women could go three minutes between sets and have exactly the same amount of recovery. So all of this has to be kept in mind, you know, all of these factors, you just have to remember the primary thing. And you know, I’ve 

Mike: actually, that makes me think, I’ve heard from quite a few women over the years, this has been a, just a common comment that even resting two or three minutes, Often feels like it’s unnecessary.

Now, this is usually because women are coming from more of a cardio background or they’re not really training, it’s, it’s kind of just move around a lot, burn calories, do a bunch of exercises back to back. But there also is that point though, that certainly resting three or four minutes is gonna feel unnecessary probably to most women, and if they’re using fairly heavy weights.

Whereas for a guy, Uh, doing a heavy set of squats three or four minutes. For me, that’s three minutes is the minimum. Four minutes is probably the maximum for me, but two minutes would not be enough. That’s gonna impair my performance of the next set 

Mark: for sure. But you’re not doing the same thing we’re doing.

We’re trying to, yeah. To see how many, our primary emphasis on my side of the table over here is that we need to get the fifth rep of the third set of five. And whatever we need to do, however we long we need to rest. To do that, we will, at first you won’t need but five minutes between sets. But if you’re doing 4 0 5 for three sets of five and you need to rest 15 minutes between the second set and the third set, then rest 15 minutes.

We’re handling heavy weights and we’re concerned about the fifth rip. We have to get the fifth rip, and if you fool around and. Wait five minutes when you should have waited 10 or 15, and you only get three reps at the last set. That’s an error. That’s an error. It’s an unforced error. You rest long enough.

But women don’t need to rest that long because they’re not as fatigued as we are because they can’t make themselves as fatigued as we, so they have to substitute volume. They have to go up in numbers of sets. In order to experience even close to the same amount of fatigue that we did. And that’s, that’s really the primary things to keep in mind.

They’re not recruiting as much muscle mass into contraction as we are. They’re not going to be as strong as we are, not gonna be as explosive as we are. 

Mike: Anything in the way of recovery that’s 

Mark: not, that’s not something that they recover faster because the fatigue is lower. These, of course, are sweeping generalizations.

You’ll find women that, that respond quite a bit like. Occasionally you’ll find women that that respond more like men do. I know a couple. But as a general rule, these are the observations that you should keep in mind until proven otherwise. And it all has to do with neuromuscular efficiency. And all of that comes from the experience that we all have in the womb, whether there was testosterone present or not.

That’s the bottom line, man. I like it. Simple, straightforward. Mm-hmm. Mike, thank you. Yes, 

Mike: thank you as always. It’s been enlightening. I don’t think we triggered anybody. There was a little quip in the in the quip in the beginning, but that was mild. We’ll 

Mark: have triggered somebody. 

Mike: That’s true. We talked about trans.

We will have 

Mark: triggered somebody, you know. 

Mike: Well, let’s wrap up with any news that you wanna share. Anything new and exciting that you have coming, you want people to know about. Obviously people know they can find you. It’s starting 

Mark: Yeah, I’m at starting and we’ve got some irons in the fire.

That I can’t really talk about right now, but couple of potentially very major developments. And when I’m more certain of this, I’ll, uh, talk about it on the website. But our, uh, coaching development course continues to generate new courses. We’ve got seminars every month. All of this stuff got content every day, different content [email protected].

My podcast is Fridays. And it’s out on all the podcast distribution networks. And it’s on the video of that podcast is on starting and the podcast’s name for people starting Strength Radio. Cool. And we do that every Friday. I. We’ve got topics that involve things other than training too. You might be, might be surprised.

We just got through doing one on homeschooling. Oh, interesting. And oh, it’s terribly interesting and it’s a very important podcast. Did you 

Mike: bring somebody on or did 

Mark: you just talk about it show? Yeah. Uh, no, we got. Got Nick Delgadillo, Nick here at Starting Strength at the Asgard Company. He homeschools his kids and we talked at length about that.

Had an interesting thread happen over at the, the website. We decided to expand upon that and it, it turned out to be a very important show. Have you done 

Mike: climate 

Mark: change yet? No, no, I’m, I’m a geologist, not a climate scientist. In other words, I’m a scientist, not a climate scientist. 

Mike: So, well, cool. So starting Strength radio, starting

Yes, sir. And thank you again. I look forward to, I appreciate it. To the next one, as always. These are always some of the more popular episodes. 

Mark: So, good. Well, let us, we’ll just wait and see how this one is received. A lot of people would just rather pretend we’ll, uh, Forge ahead and tell the truth anyway.


Mike: truth to power, you know? That’s what it’s about these days. Mm-hmm. All right. Well, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever you are listening from?

Because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibility. And help more people find their way to me and to the podcast, and learn how to build their best body ever as well. And of course, if you wanna be notified when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using.

To listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming. And last, if you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for and share your thoughts. Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback.

All right, thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

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