His and Hers Fitness

When it comes to working out, men and women are from different planets

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

His idea of getting in shape is pumping iron -- the more, the better. She'd rather pull out the yoga mat.

Whose idea of fitness is better?

The experts say there's no one-size-fits-all answer, but each sex could learn something from the other.

Vive La Difference

Motivation, the experts say, is one major fitness difference between the sexes.

Often, "men work out because they like to be bigger," says Vincent Perez, PT, director of sports therapy at Columbia University Medical Center Eastside in New York. "Pecs, biceps, quads ? men are after bulk."

"Guys have an agenda," adds Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body-for-LIFE for Women: A Woman's Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation. "They have a specific goal, and there's always a number involved." She calls this the "Home Depot" approach to working out: "They have a blueprint and they just want to get it done."

For many men, "working out is a sport, and they do it because it's fun, it's competitive, and it's something that they've always done," says Lori Incledon, author of Strength Training for Women. "For women, fitness is a superficial issue. They do it because it will help them look better."

Men like to look like they've been working out, says Peeke, "the sweatier the better. When was the last time you heard a woman say she wanted to sweat?"

Often, she says, "women think everyone else is looking at them so they're afraid to put on workout clothes or get out there in public with their cellulite jiggling. Do men care what they look like when they're working out? Of course not!"

One thing men and women have in common, according to Incledon: They tend to overlook the health benefits of exercise.

"Very rarely does anyone think about fitness like they should, which is just to stay healthy," says Incledon.

Mars vs. Venus Workouts

Once they get past their initial reluctance, women tend to have a balanced approach to fitness, says Perez. Their workouts are more likely to include a mix of cardio, strength training, and mind-body practices such as yoga or tai chi.

They're also more likely to seek advice, he says, whether from a personal trainer or by enrolling in group classes.

"As a man, I hate to say this, but women take instruction better," says Perez. "Men are afraid of making a fool of themselves."

"Most men prefer athletic-based activities that don't require dance or overt coordination," agrees Grace De Simone, a spokesperson for Gold's Gym International. "They prefer activities that they can call on from their past, like sports. Women enjoy dance-based activities with toning and flexibility."

Women may be more apt to take part in group activities because they're interested in the social aspects of working out and because they feel more comfortable in a gym when they're with other people, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

True, men frequently show up in classes such as spinning or "boot camp" workouts. But women dominate other classes, especially those that touch on mind-body techniques.

"Men are more interested in just a workout," says Bryant. "Women have a more holistic approach to fitness."

No matter what kind of workout they prefer, women generally work out less than men, with most citing lack of time as a reason, according to Amy Eyler, PhD, assistant professor of community health at Saint Louis University School of Public Health. Eyler is the editor of a book on physical activity among women, Environmental, Policy and Cultural Factors Related to Physical Activity in a Diverse Sample of Women.


"We'll take care of anything that comes within 100 feet of us, whether it needs it or not."

"Women are too busy taking care of others to take care of themselves," Eyler says in a news release. "Their dedication to family presents substantial time and logistical barriers to being physically active."

According to Peeke, women are "hardwired" to be caregivers: "We'll take care of anything that comes within 100 feet of us, whether it needs it or not."

Yet "it's important to fight for the right to take care of yourself," Peeke says. She tells her patients that "the best caregiver is a healthy caregiver."

The Physical Differences

Of course, the physical differences between men and women also affect how they approach fitness.

"There is a difference between what men and women can do and should do," says Margie Weiss, a personal trainer and group exercise director for three Gold's Gyms in the Washington, D.C., area.



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