While many aspects of a golf fitness program are universal, there are some very specific differences with strength training for women in comparison to men. Both men and women respond to resistance training in similar ways, and significant gains in both muscle size and strength can be observed. In fact, there is no difference in strength potential between men and women per cross sectional area of muscle fibers. In simpler terms, if we take a sample of 100 muscle fibers from the same muscle group from both a man and a woman, the potential for strength and size gains will be the same. However, even though strength per cross sectional area may be the same, men possess a significantly larger amount of muscle fibers than women and therefore have the potential to become bigger and stronger.
This page will explore some of the other main differences between training men and women so that your golf fitness programs can be adjusted properly.
As mentioned above, women have the potential to see a significant change in muscle strength and size with a properly designed program. In fact, women can progress just as well as men.
The potential for hypertrophy (size gains) may not be as high as men due to the lower number of muscle fibers, but improvements in neuromuscluar efficiency are equal. Neuromuscular factors contribute significantly within the first few weeks of training where the nerves are able to connect to more muscle fibers in each specific muscle group being used therefore increasing strength output and effectiveness of each contraction.
Other factors that contribute in strength training for women are genetic makeup and testosterone levels. Genetically, some women will simply have the advantage in regards to a golf weight training program and will see improvements more readily. The hormone testosterone, while present in much higher levels in men, contributes significantly to muscle function and protein synthesis within the muscle. Testosterone is present in women, although in significantly smaller amounts. Women that naturally have higher levels on testosterone in their body will likely have an easier time seeing improvements.
The good news is that very little needs to be changed with a golf weight training program between women and men in regards to specific exercises. There is no reason why women should be unable to perform high intensity, multiple muscle group exercises in the same manner as men. The only significant difference lies with the resistance. In general, the specific resistance used with each exercise may be less, however, the actual intensity should be the same.
I prefer to assess intensity based on repetitions maximum, commonly referred to as RM. For example, lets use a goal for your training cycle to be performance of exercises at 80-90% of your 1 RM. This exact same intensity can be used by both men and women, but of course, the weight that is equal to 80% of the 1 RM in a man may be higher than that of a woman. If you are interested in learning more about which intensities to use and when, please consider my eBook, Better Fitness, Better Golf.
Another consideration with a women's strength training program is the development of upper body strength. Women generally are weaker throughout the upper body compared to men, and in a sport where upper body strength and power is important such as golf, focusing on these muscle groups is crucial. It is not uncommon for a few additional upper body exercises be added to a woman's golf weight training program to further progress this area.
It should be well known amongst strength training and fitness professionals that women are more susceptible to knee injuries that men. Luckily for us, knee injuries are not one of the most common golf related injuries! While not that common on the actual course, knee injuries can certainly happen in the weight room.
There are numerous reasons why these knee injuries occur in higher rates. First, the ratio of quadricep strength to the hamstrings in different. In general the hamstrings are weaker in women which puts more force on the knee joint, especially the ACL. Second, women have wider hips than men which causes the femur to articulate with the tibia at a different angle in men, This again places more stress through the knee joint. Related to this angle, women may need to spend a larger amount of time strengthening the glute muscles in order to help stabilize the femur.
The key exercises where technique is of the utmost importance are any weight bearing knee flexion movements. This includes squat and lunge type exercises as well as any sort of lower extremity plyometric or jumping exercises. Trained supervision is essential, at least early on in the golf fitness program.
While women generally have less muscle mass then men, they are still able to see significant improvements in strength, power, and endurance with a properly designed golf weight training program. Strength training for women does not need to vary greatly, but, as discussed above, there are a few considerations in regards to injuries, program design, and technique that need to be considered.
*This page was adapted from the NSCA's Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning text.