Women do not respond to weight training the same way men do. University of New South Wales researchers in Sydney conducted a comprehensive search of the literature on resistance training and found only 24 randomized controlled studies that focused exclusively on women. Lead study author Amanda “Mandy” D. Hagstrom, PhD, lecturer in exercise science at UNSW Medicine, said, “I was surprised. I knew there wouldn’t be many [studies], but I thought there’d be more than that.” The selected studies included almost 1,000 women.

Data analysis showed that the most important variable to emphasize with women who want to build muscle is frequency of training (days per week), followed by number of repetitions and sets.

“Our meta-analysis didn’t yield any specific guidelines for the number of exercises or repetitions . . . ,” said Hagstrom, “so the key message for women is to try to accrue adequate overall exercise volume and train as frequently as possible.” Among the studies, the typical program consisted of 3 sets of 10 reps three times per week for 15 weeks. Participants were 18–50 years old, and their fitness levels varied.

Only around 39% of participants in exercise science literature are female. Hagstrom is hoping to improve the representation of women. The next stage of her research will explore specific differences between male and female adaptations to resistance training.

Find the study in Sports Medicine (2019; doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01247-x).