The natural muscular potential of women

What can you achieve as a female lifter? There seem to be only 2 camps. The general public thinks a woman that touches a loaded barbell will wake up the next day as the SheHulk.




People with a bit more understanding of exercise physiology realize that this is obviously nonsense. One look around you in the average gym makes it clear that getting seriously big is difficult even for men. The statistic that women have ~15 times less testosterone than men is often quoted to explain that as a woman, you can’t grow much muscle anyway. So the common recommendation in today’s fitness circles is that women should train like men and should expect not to see much muscle growth.


The natural muscular potential of women

There is truth to this, but the causality runs in the opposite direction. Before I explain this, let’s first look at how the natural muscular potential of women compares to that of men. Percentage wise, how much muscle can a woman build compared to a man? Does it scale with testosterone so that women can build only ~7% as much muscle as men? Is it about half?


It’s 100%. Women gain the same percentage of muscle mass as men during strength training. In fact, women gain as much size and sometimes more strength than men [2]. The only difference is the starting point. Men start off with more muscle mass and more strength, but the relative increase in muscle size is the same between men and women.


Research on protein metabolism comes to the same conclusion. Women build just as much muscle protein after training and after meals as men. In fact, one study found that given the same level of muscle mass, women have a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis than men.


Sandra Prikker


Women vs. men in elite sports

If you think this is all just silly theory from labcoats studying beginners, consider this. Elite, natural female athletes have 85% as much muscle as elite male athletes. The studied sports included Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. The 15% difference can easily be explained by 3 factors.


  1. Women have a genetically higher body fat percentage. Women have ~12% essential body fat to regulate their hormones compared to just ~3% fat in men. And you know, boobs.


  1. People have lower expectations of women, even most women themselves underestimate what they can achieve physically compared to men. In a famous study, simply telling people they were on steroids increased their strength gains by 321%. These were advanced trainees already benching and squatting over 300 pounds (137 kg) before taking the fake steroids. Moreover, the androgenic-anabolic steroid protocol in question was just 70 mg of Dianabol per week. Giving that same dosage of actual Dianabol to advanced trainees improves strength by only a few percent. So what do you think it does to women when you tell them they have 15 times less testosterone?


  1. There are more men in sports, so at the elite level, the selection to get to the top level is stronger. Elite male athletes are likely the best the male race has to offer. For women there may be more potential world record holders that will never know it because they don’t try.


Bella Falconi


What about testosterone?

Within an individual, more testosterone means more muscle mass. There is little doubt about that. Between genders, however, the relation becomes much weaker. In their study of elite athletes, Healy et al. concluded that “The difference in lean body mass is sufficient to account for the observed differences in strength and aerobic performance seen between the sexes without the need to hypothesize that performance is in any way determined by the differences in testosterone levels.”


How can this be? Testosterone functions differently in men and women, as I explained in my BioSignature review. In animals we have a good understanding of why testosterone is not needed for muscle development in women. It seems growth factors like IGF-1 and growth hormone take over the anabolic role that testosterone has in men. Growth factors are more important for strength and muscle mass in women than in men. Since women have just as much IGF-1 as men and women produce ~3 times as much growth hormone as men, this explains in part why having less testosterone does not limit how much muscle they can build. To make matters more complex, the sex hormones and growth factors interact and all these hormones also interact with your genes.


In short, saying women have less potential to build muscle mass because they don’t have as much testosterone as men is shortsighted.


Muscular woman


The other sex hormone

Not only is testosterone not the great savior, estrogen is not the bad guy. Most people, even women, shun estrogen as the evil hormone that makes you bloated and does all sorts of negative things. Although it’s rarely described what exactly the negative effects of estrogen are, most people agree nonetheless that’s it’s bad for your body composition. This is complete nonsense. In my article on hormones and fat loss I explained the positive effects estrogen has on abdominal fat storage, but estrogen does many more awesome things.



These aren’t a few obscure and irrelevant findings I’m dragging up to support my point. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the anabolic effects of estrogen. Estrogen is also crucial for your health, but that’s another topic. In short, estrogen’s bad reputation is based on nothing more than the poor intuition that if testosterone is anabolic, estrogen must be catabolic.


Strong woman


Why women shouldn’t train like men

Since women produce much more estrogen than men, this gives them several advantages over men in the gym. Women don’t fatigue as much as men and women recover faster after training. There are many more important gender differences in metabolism, anatomy, neurology and physiology: see this article a full review of why and how women should not train like men. (If I just offended any feminists, get real.)


Strong woman

Why women aren’t living up to their potential

Women have the same relative natural muscular potential as men. They even have several advantages over men. So why don’t we see more muscular women?

  • Women are underrepresented in sports and in the gym. Even at the Olympic level there are fewer female participants. It is even true in science. There are over 50% fewer female participants in scientific studies than men.
  • Even if women go to the gym, most of them spend their time on the treadmill or playing with pink dumbbells.
  • We don’t have the same expectations of women. If a man benches a lot, that’s taken as a sign of social dominance. If a woman benches a lot, she’s seen as a freak, people get worried and men feel their pride sting and shrivel. I’ve heard from many of the women I train they’re approached in the gym ‘not too lift that heavy’ when they bench more than a plate.
  • The women that do actually train seriously in spite of the stigma often train like men, which doesn’t align with their physiological strengths.
  • Many women use contraceptives that harm their strength training progression. Many birth control pills impair muscle growth by decreasing androgen activity, lowering growth factor levels and increasing cortisol levels. It is primarily the progestin content of the contraceptive that’s harmful, because this competes with testosterone for the androgen receptor.



It’s time we stop treating women like second rate men. Women have just as much relative potential for muscle growth as men. It’s up to them if they want to fulfill that potential. If they do, they should realize they’re not men and train to their strengths.



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  1. This was very eye opening for me, thank you so much.

  2. Helen says:

    This part:

    People have lower expectations of women, even most women themselves underestimate what they can achieve physically compared to men. In a famous study, simply telling people they were on steroids increased their strength gains by 321%. These were advanced trainees already benching and squatting over 300 pounds (137 kg) before taking the fake steroids. Moreover, the androgenic-anabolic steroid protocol in question was just 70 mg of Dianabol per week. Giving that same dosage of actual Dianabol to advanced trainees improves strength by only a few percent. So what do you think it does to women when you tell them they have 15 times less testosterone?

    Does not make sense to me. Advanced trainees gaining a few percentages of strength when taking dianabol, but if you only tell them that they take dianabol they gain 371%? I get that the placebo effect is strong but something is missing in this paragraph =)

    • It’s the difference between being told you’re getting an adrogenic anabolic steroid and receiving a pill without knowing what it is or even being told it’s something else (= double blinded placebo).

    • Brendan says:

      There’s a wording difference between improving strength and improving strength gains…

      Say I bench 400, and the training for 4 weeks improves me to 405. Or, if I’m told I’m taking steroids, it improves to 420 – that’s 400% of the gain that I made before. Or, if I actually take steroids, it improves to 425 – that’s an improvement of only 6.25%. The author is mixing different statistics here, which greatly overstates the apparent effect of the placebo. But the steroids still work better than the placebo effect.


    • Jim says:

      So they are just giving out steroids without telling people?…

    • paul baker says:

      YES Helen some women are stronger than a lot of men some years ago a woman overpowered me tied gagged and raped me she was a lot stronger than me that was a fact

  3. Asher says:

    This is a great article! Women are stigmatised by men and also by women when they start to build muscle, just look at Dana Linn Bailey, she is continuously bullied with degrading comments about looking “masculine” etc. I think this is why many women don’t train to the same extent.
    I hope that people’s attitudes will change and that more women will get into the sport as natural athletes. I have so much respect for DLB work ethic- absolutely amazing!

    • Most men have a frail ego. :)

    • danny4572 says:

      Asher, Articles like this are why women stay away. Dana Linn Bailey is on Mexican supplements, which is why some people may react negatively. That doesn’t deny her hard work, but to use her to promote what lifting does for the average female who lifts would be ridiculous. Women don’t get huge traps, 18 inch arms, 3d delts and a photo-shop look naturally. Usually, men who know anything about lifting actually prefer women who lift. Look at who the top profiles on Instagram are, and you will see a bunch of girls who lift and have built some muscle in their lower body (typically the part of the body women build the most muscle). Women discourage each other women from lifting, and it’s usually because of people like you and articles like this. They don’t want to look like men, and they are misguided by being told they can look like women who are on male hormones. Please stop.

      • Kathryn Cassin says:

        No that is not true, to me. I always wanted to prove that I could be as strong if not stronger than my male counterpart. There are things a man can do and its respectable. I want females to gain better respect in male dominated areas and likewise respect to males in other areas. Iw wish the definition of male and female were just that is what you were born as. It doesn’t determine how smart you are or the destiny you are going to become. It is only your choice.

    • Adrian Weaver says:

      Why does everything like this always have to turn into slating men, im all for equality but woman love to make it into something its not.

      The reason woman don’t build muscle is simple they don’t train. its got nothing to do with male egos or any other ridiculous comment on how men make them feel unwelcome.

  4. “Even if women go to the gym, most of them spend their time on the treadmill or playing with pink dumbbells.”

    Can we drop the women-shaming thing? You don’t get to slam the culture for treating heavy-lifting women like freaks (as in the very next point) and ALSO blame the women who decide not to risk the freak label. How about laying the blame where it belongs: on a culture that prescribes “smallifying” exercise for women (and “biggifying” exercise for men), and punishes women extra when they color outside the lines? (Although, of course, the lifting community is more than happy to slam men in a similarly sexist way for preferring distance running.)

    Lifters love to talk about how they are open and welcoming their culture is, and then they parrot this “pink dumbbell” sneer. It’s exhausting.

    • b.calv says:

      Wtf are you on about? In no way is this article shaming women. Feminist get all up in arms over every little thing. Perhaps read the article and realise the author is stating the typical social views of women lifting, no where does he say this is his view. Nor does the author say women shouldn’t lift heavy or train as hard as their male counter parts.

    • I think you completely missed the point. The ‘freaks’ was how they’re called, not my opinion. As for shaming playing with pink dumbbells, I’m vocal about all ineffective training modalities.

      • naomi says:

        I have never lifted little pink weights at the gym.

        My entire adult life I’ve lifted heavy. Maybe some women are stupid in the gym…and maybe “some” men have frail egos, but stereotyping the other gender undermines this entire article.

        • Salv says:

          Get over yourself, this article does not stereotype I’m sorry but you aren’t that special, we all have seen those women that exercise like that, otherwise you wouldn’t even get the reference.

        • ash says:

          I’m a female weight lifter and I see absolutely nothing wrong with the statement about pink dumbbells. It’s true. Most women refuse to pick up a weight heavier than 10lbs. It’s not meant to be degrading. It just illustrates the problem. Women are so wrapped up in what they’ve been told is acceptable and unacceptable that they don’t push themselves for fear of social alienation. And it happens. I used to get told all the time that it was unattractive for a woman to have muscle… Particularly by men who lifted themselves. I just don’t care. It makes me happy.

    • Salvatierra says:

      This article was to help women learn that they actually can achieve much greater potential in exercise and possess much greater characteristics than what is commonly believed and be more effective, as well as bashing or “shaming” the myth that they are weaklings that cannot make good gains (gym progress) like men. It is very tragic to see an insecure unsatisfied, and negative mentality so ingrained and ready to fight/defend themselves that you even attack information that is, if anything, only benefiting your advancement. The information is for learning, completely unbiased. If what is provided truly offends you no need to worry, the pink dumbbells and treadmills aren’t going anywhere if you think that their use is your optimal solution and they may agree with your views.

      • danny4572 says:

        Where is this promoted? Women can’t get as big or strong as men naturally, but this is basic biology. This is not “shaming”, and weightlifting is only promoted as a “bad thing” by women who don’t lift because articles like this have them thinking that weightlifting can make them manly and looking like the girls on gear.

    • Lisa says:

      I fail to see how this is “women-shaming”? It’s stating a fact – this is what we see a large majority of women do in the gym and this is how the culture views women who lift heavy. Chill.

    • danny4572 says:

      Stop looking at everything as “sexist” when it clearly is not. Women are not “shamed” for lifting weights, and when they are it’s by other women (gossip magazines for example) who think lifting weights gets you the results that women who take Mexican supplements get. Believe it or not, people have opinions, it is not “sexist” to state opinions and preferences. You can’t just label everything “shaming” just because you decide to feel offended. On top of that, most of the what you consider “shaming” you consider comes from the internet, which is not a good thing to use when wanting honest opinions. People troll. In reality, not many people are “shaming” a guy for wanting to be a runner.

      Most people who lift know exactly what happens when women lift (a positive thing), so your last sentence makes no sense. You are just spewing your subjective feelings that don’t reflect reality every well. If you don’t want to be deluded, then don’t follow misinformed websites like this one. Women don’t look like men for lifting heavy, at all. If the woman decides to take gear, then she will have the chances of reaching close to the size and strength a natural guy with decent genetics has (only the woman will look more photoshopped, have 3d delts, masculine features and so on).

  5. Bree says:

    Other things that exhaust me in this meme…

    Being a woman who lifts who has to be subjected to scantily clad women who lift in an article targeted at my demographic. Nobody really works out in clothes like that. How about showing women lifters like they are IRL, not posed for a photo shoot.

    (come to think of it… I would second that for the men too!)

    • Your last line is what I’d think most about. Are you saying it’s ok for me to portray male fitness models on my site, myself included, but not female fitness models?

      • Siobhan says:

        I think the issue is more with the sexualization in other posts. Most often you’ll see articles about female lifters with sexualized images of women with their ass in the air in a provocative pose, rather than just training, posing on stage, or what-have-you.

        I don’t see that issue with this article. This is a world focused on physiques, and both men and women are shown semi-naked for that reason in respective articles.

        But I agree. As a female lifter, I’d like to see more images of women training hard (nice deadlift picture above), rather than posing in a gym while clearly trying to induce boners in their audience. I feel like the equivalent would be loads of images of men thrusting their “bulge” at the camera with a raised eyebrow or a wink. If this is about physiques; why add the sex?

        Again though, the images in this article are totally fine to me.

        • I agree. In fact one of the criteria for the image selection was that they were not primarily sexual. I checked them all with my girlfriend.

          • Patricia says:

            Great article, based on serious research and nicely written.
            But I have to agree that the images of women shown in here(and other articles of yours) are in fact sexualized. I don’t see any pictures of male bodybuilders where their butts are focused, as women’s are. Besides, if you google ‘women bodybuilders’, you’ll see lots of pictures of big women(or not) in hard-core, confident poses; rather than showing their ass in tight shorts pretending to lift some weight.
            I don’t know why you chose those pictures, and maybe you’re just not aware or interested in the ways women are represented in the media( mostly in negative ways) and how this influences in their body image/identity/self-confidence. I just thought, as a woman and reader of yours- and thus bothered by those representations- to point out this fact. I( and I guess other women) feel much more motivated to train having tough women as role models.
            Other than that, you bring very interesting and original information.

          • Danny says:

            @Patricia Your cherry-picked perspective is extremely biased. You also seem to be very naive in this area, with little knowledge on the fitness industry in general. You are complaining that an industry, mostly consisting of people who originally got involved to make themselves more attractive, is “sexualized”…. and you’re also acting as though this is a bad thing, and as if you expect all of society to cater to your subjective morals. values and chosen offense. You’re being illogical. And please don’t talk about “their body image”, as if women have the highest expectations in this industry. The image used to push male bodybuilding and fitness is rarely attainable for any man naturally, and almost always consists of men at extremely lean bodyfat levels with full muscles. You are simply biased, delusional and incapable of separating your feminism-fed emotions from looking at topics reasonably. Also, as a straight guy, I would only consider two of the images used to be “sexualized”. I can look at the current trend of male fitness, and I will see almost all images as “sexualized”… with the trend of “aesthetics”, and men intentionally pulling their pants down.

    • Shaun says:

      Actually, I have seen women working out in clothes like that. It is more common than you think.

    • danny4572 says:

      Why would people use “real life” to sell things? Media sells fantasy, because the images in fantasy are more powerful. This shouldn’t be anything to complain about.

  6. Larry Goldstein says:

    i have always maintained that a lot of Women are underestimated, and there are many who can outperform, and beat men, and they do in all types of activities, including fighting, body building, and sports and it is proven many times in videos and articles

    • Jason says:

      From the report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces dated November 15, 1992, it states in part:

      The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength.

      An Army study done in 1988 found that women are more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer fractures as men.

      Further, the Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony including:
      – women’s aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.
      – in terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.

      After a study was conducted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, one expert testified that:
      – using the standard Army Physical Fitness Test, the upper quintile (top 20%) of women at West point achieved scores on the test equivalent to the bottom quintile (bottom 20%) of men.
      – only 21 women out of the initial 623 (3.4%) achieved a score equal to the male mean score of 260.
      – on the push-up test, only 7% of women can meet a score of 60, while 78% of men exceed it.
      – adopting a male standard of fitness at West Point would mean 70% of the women he studied would be separated as failures at the end of their junior year, only 3% would be eligible for the Recondo badge, and not one would receive the Army Physical Fitness badge.

      • Laura says:

        I call BS. I am far from as large or as strong as the women in this article (or even a low-level CrossFit competition) nor am I even close to an elite athlete. I am just an extremely fit 46 year old woman…nothing special on the OCR circuit. I am telling you all this because I call BS on your female Army fitness test results. I just did one last month and did 68 push ups, 60 sit-ups and ran a 16:40. I am capable of far more and working on that as I don’t practice full sit-ups and am not a fast sprinter, more of an endurance runner. My scores let me pass at any age group female and male down to the late 20’s group. I often lift as heavy or heavier than younger guys my size or larger men my age at the gym. And I repeat…I am not a big deal or special, nor would I consider myself an elite in my sport (OCR) at this point.

        Maybe back in 1988, the year I graduated high school, your “data” may have been sort of true, but I can tell you that women then were not encouraged to do anything close to what I am doing in my mid-40’s. We were told to do Jane Fonda aerobics and lift pink dumbells to get “fit” and “toned.” So to use 30 year old data from a mind set that may have been 100 years ago to prove a point about what women can and have the potential to do as proof is inaccurate and does nothing to further your argument.

    • danny4572 says:

      When it comes to physical activity, this is rarely the case. Our biology is typical the reason here. I recommend you look up a lot of studies and research done on the actual human body, and huge differences between men and women. It even showed that women taking extra testosterone had less grip strength on average than the average male who was natural.

  7. Isak says:

    So how would your practical training programming recommendations differ between men and women? Higher volume and frequency for females because of the faster recovery and decreased level of fatigue I’d presume?
    My girlfriend currently follows the same program as myself which is a 4x/week upper-lower with fairly high volume (50-60 reps per muscle group each session). Would highly appreciate your input.

    • Quoting myself: “There are a few things in the article, but overall it’s way beyond the scope of this article or a comment. There are quite a few differences and to understand the differences, you first have to understand the fundament.”

    • danny4572 says:

      For you and your girlfriend, I would stop doing “50-60 reps per muscle group”. If you can do “50-60” straight reps, then the weight is not heavy enough. And don’t take this article seriously, because it’s claiming things that are factually false (and using mostly women on gear to promote the false information).

      • John smith says:

        I. 100% agree with you Danny.

        ALSO: “These were advanced trainees already BENCHING AND SQUATTING OVER 300 LBS.

        So the author is claiming that the Advanced Training but natural females were bench pressing over 300 pounds without any steroids??!!

        300 pounds is difficult for a natural man to achieve let alone a woman. I find this claim totally unbelievable.

  8. Jesse Ha says:

    I’ve known this for awhile, but it still doesn’t explain how come women cannot bench 2 plates for easy reps or deadlier 600 lb?

    • Strength isn’t perfectly correlated with size and bodyweight is the most obvious confounder here.

      • Deep Think says:

        In co-ed wrestling they wrestle according to size. I think it would be better if they wrestled according to bone size. why? Because bone size determines muscle size and muscle size determines strength. therefor if they wrestle according to bone size boys can not be stronger based upon his gender. this would take away the strength advantage of males so that the match would be determined by skill alone.

        this would make girls wrestling boys more fair. and would probably result in more female victories than at the present time and then there would be no need to have seperate teams.

    • johnnyv says:

      A number of women powerlifters can do >600 lb deadlifts and easily rep two plates. A lower % than men who can do the same but powerlifting is more popular with men.

    • danny4572 says:

      You have “known” what for “a whole now”? Everything in this article is wrong, and nothing but delusion. Women can’t get as big or strong as men, naturally. It’s telling when the writer uses examples like “The studied sports included Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. The 15% difference can easily be explained by 3 factors.”, as if Olympic power-lifting and weight-lifting is a “natural” sport. And you will still see a big difference in these sports, much greater than “15% difference”. And 15% is still a huge difference when it comes to mass.

  9. Allison says:

    I’d like to know the answer to Isak’s question as well. I was wondering what you meant in the last bit:

    The women that do actually train seriously in spite of the stigma often train like men, which doesn’t align with their physiological strengths.

    What do you mean by this? What would you suggest?

  10. Andrea says:

    Great article..from Italy!

  11. mustafa says:

    Very interesting! I had some light bulb moments go off whilst reading, hope to see more light shed on this matter moving forward as highlighted it’s a very shady area and most have simply just settled on a belief that women should train like men without really thinking about it (me included) so this is has been very thought provoking!

  12. cristina says:

    You say repeatedly that women shouldn’t train like men. But, then you don’t say how we should train… I wish you would have answered that thought!!

  13. Lisa says:

    Great info about estrogen, I’ll have to love mine a little more :)

    It would be great to have an article on HOW women should train differently than men, I’m lost on that part. it seems like most lifting programs I find that are “tailored” to women are essentially the same as the men’s programs, only tweaked slightly to emphasize legs and glutes more than chest and arms.

  14. Brie says:

    you should write a part 2 to this article on how women’s training should differ from men’s.

  15. TheInquirer says:

    Just to clarify, you’re saying women can gain muscle at the same rate as men, but we are bigger because of the starting point difference? I guess what im confused about is that will I see a female gain muscle as fast as lets say Jim cordova (random supposed natty), but I will never see a female jim cordova physique because they start with less mass?

    • Correct, you have to take starting bodyweight into account. (The same applies when comparing men.)

      • danny4572 says:

        Well you have to see how misleading this claim is, and how discouraging it is to female readers, because it comes across as though you are saying women can be as physically big as men naturally (and also using a few pictures of juiced up women in the same article).

        • It’s discouraging to debunk the myth that women have a lower relative muscular potential than men? That’s not in line with the majority of the reactions I’ve received from women.

          • Danny says:

            It’s “discouraging” to push unnatural results as something the average person can attain, without the sacrifice that the unnatural examples have gone through to look like that. They have a lower level of physical muscle potential, yes, as well as a lower potential of strength gains…. which also contributes to muscle mass.

  16. Tony says:

    The bit about telling feminists to “get real” is unnecessary. Feminists aren’t stupid, and feminism isn’t about some quixotic quest to prove that men and women are exactly the same. It’s about saying that men and women should have the same social (/political/economic) standing.

    Anyway, interesting article. Thanks for all the links.

    • That’s your opinion about feminism and I share it. Sadly, my inbox is a testament to the fact that not everyone shares our view on this.

      • Tony says:

        Fair enough. It would be hard for my opinion of people on the Internet to become any worse, so I appreciate what you have to deal with. But since you agree that those people don’t represent what feminism is actually about, this is a case where you should consider editing your published work to more accurately reflect your true position.

        This isn’t about not offending people, but avoiding accidently signaling you’re part of a group of crazies who use the word “feminist” as a pejorative.

        That’s just my opinion; take it as you like–and keep up the good work.

  17. TravisRetriever says:

    Female bodybuilders like the ones you’ve shown pictures of here: proof that curves -/-> fat. As you and Bret Contreras would respectively say: muscle mass is the engine of strength and strength creates curves.

    • danny4572 says:

      And them “female bodybuilders” are not natural. Women can build great shape and “curves” naturally, but not the the extend of looking like a big, swole, muscle-bound man. It really annoys me when delusional articles like this are written, because the lies actually put women off working out. Women don’t want to be the size of men, and they never will be (naturally). It’s also disrespectful to the professionals who take “gear”, because it’s claiming that women can naturally attain what someone has taken “gear” has attained, but without the gear somehow.

  18. Audrey says:

    Enjoyed the article. It’d be great if you can do a follow-up article on how to train like women, since you suggest there are major physiological differences.

    • danny4572 says:

      I wouldn’t take this person’s advice at all. The difference in biology just means you decrease the volume and work-load. Choose a basic bodybuilding or strength routine, half the volume, and stick to it for around a year. After a year or so, then decide where changes are needed. The process for building strength and muscle does not change just because you are a woman. Don’t waste your time with this person’s broscience.

      • Grandma Buff =) says:

        I’m agree, there is no difference between male and female about heavy lifting or exercises. Male and female can lift as heavy as they want or can. I’m a woman of almost 50 years, I have been training almost 6. Everybody has an starting point, I started with 5 pound dumbbells. But I took very seriously the challenge of changing my body.I started training at home. Just a few months ago I started going to a gym. Literally, all my muscles where made at home. I did trained as hard and heavy as I was able. It wasn’t be easy, I had to be patient til finally my body started to built muscle and change, now I’m so happy watching the results. Today I do not care if someone think I look masculine because of the amount of muscle that I have. I feel happy to be achieving in my life something I never had. Now, I was the one that has set a limit on the size that I want to get , yes, I put a limit on the weight that I lift ; for example for the arms, they are now big; every time that weight increases, they grow. The truth is that I have not seen a limit in growth. The author is right in terms of growth and recovery, and also that we need to train more. But the key is to train heavy and 2 x per week every part you want to get faster results. If you train once per week every part of your body, do not expect much.

  19. Lynda says:

    Hi Menno

    What about post menopausal women? What potential do you think they have for being lean, strong, fit and healthy? Everything is aimed at younger people in the looking good body builder/fitness model world!

    Is there somewhere you can point me to understand how to work with post menopausal hormones and get these great results? I’m 14 kg above my race weight of 20 years ago. Been eating a high fat ketogenic diet for 6 weeks, from a low carb diet for several years. (Not lost any weight as yet).

    I have a muscular athletic body and would love to be a 60 year old example of what women’s potential CAN be!


    • Postmenopausal women are in between women and men with regard to the aspects in the article. At 60 years old you can still look great, definitely better than what most people think, but most people will have experienced some decline in maximum muscular potential at that point, especially without hormone replacement therapy.

      • I am 55 and “appear” to be and AM in far better physical condition than individuals 1/2 my “age” due to a lifestyle dedicated to optimal health and overall emotional wellbeing. I have female personal training clients in their 60’s who also defy what “age” means. “Age” is truly a state of mind. The mind is the invisible body whereas the body is the visible mind.

        • Nice going, Christine. I think many people indeed greatly underestimate how much they can delay the aging process.

        • danny4572 says:

          You can be in great shape at 55, but that doesn’t mean age is a “state of the mind”. A 55 year old will not be able to recover as easy as a 20 year old. This is just reality. But you can be fit and in shape at an older age, but most people who are tend to have been fit and active in their younger years.

          • Anon says:

            Danny4572 dude, shut the heck up. I’m tired of seeing you comment ALL over this page. Not every man is going to be huge, some women can get big if its their GENES. Humans are increadibly diverse and you need to zip your fat lip about women not having the ability to gain strength.
            Yes women are naturally weaker, BUT muscles in the female body can grow and strength can be boosted to anyone who puts serious dedication to it.

            Your constant ranting and raving about this article says to me you cant stand the idea of females being able to gain a good bit of muscle mass.
            Also male body builders are no more natural then female body builders. They take drugs, no human being should be able to build muscle to where it looks like you can barely move.

            The answer is, we are all to different to label everyone. Men are -usually- stronger. But its not uncommon for females to gain great muscle mass, only if their genetics and dedications allow them to.

            So shut the heck up and stop ranting like a 10 year old.

    • danny4572 says:

      To lose weight, find you maintenance level in calories and drop them by 250-500. Aim for around 1lbs a week in weight loss. When it slows down, decrease the calories by another 200 or so. Caloric deficit is what causes weight loss, and it’s best to mess around with the other micros when you hit a plateau. Saying you are on a “ketogenic diet” doesn’t really mean much.

  20. Marilyn says:

    I think most of your articles are very intelligent, well written and well researched. In fact I kind of trust you, which is hard to say for most people’s writing. I found the IGF info. extremely helpful. Thanks.

  21. Wow. Concise read and super interesting. I’m adding this to my required reading for all of the women in my life and those who would potentially train them. (Basically everyone)

    “Most people, even women, shun estrogen as the evil hormone that makes you bloated and does all sorts of negative things.” I had to read this line several times. It’s powerful. We should all be parroting this all day to everyone.

    One thing is for certain: I will not be allowing the women I train and workout with to rest as long going forward. What will be interesting to see is how quickly recovery will happen when I shorten the timeline.

    • That’s great to hear, Adam.

    • danny4572 says:

      How long someone takes to recover is an individual thing, and shouldn’t be judged purely on reading an article article on the internet that also claims that women can be as big and strong as men naturally (which is delusional, and factually wrong). But the person needs to rest for a time that still keeps the intensity high, but also gives enough time to hit the set again with the same intensity, weight and reps.

  22. muse says:

    The problem is that women are compared to men constantly and every comparison women are deemed ‘less than’. It sucks. It’s nice to see an article that actually looks into what women are (and that I believe should not upset feminists at all – equality means equal, not identical). It’s time we study women and stop applying what works for men to equally work for women when we are different. Thanks for this fantastic article, it makes me realize that belief is very powerful and I should not be limited in the mind when I train. Thank you!

    • Glad you liked it and I fully agree.

    • danny4572 says:

      But this article does not “look into what women are”. It makes factually false claims, and promotes delusion with geared-up women to back it up. Women can build strength and muscle, but not to the same noticeable amount as men. If you are going to compare, then we need to be honest. You can’t claim the average woman who lifts will get the same results that a woman who takes PEDs is going to get. This would be a slap in the face to both women, as it’s sending delusion to one and disrespect to the other. You can have as much “belief” as you want, but that will never surpass your genetics and biology. Women get in great shape by building muscle and strength, and get the most out of it in their lower body. You will have more shape to your body, and just generally feel better about yourself. But it’s people like the writers of this article who discourage women, because most women don’t want to look like men. This article is claiming that women can naturally look as big as men, despite the evidence to the contrary. This article is claiming you can get PED results, only without the PEDS. The only credible source brought up was the study on “natural athletes”, and this included unnatural Olympic power-lifters, who have top-teir genetics and take Mexican “supplements”.

  23. I am champion bodybuilder and featured athlete in 2 books about FFB’s: “The Woman: The Top female Bodybuilders” and “Modern Amazons”. I know from personal experience the BEST way to build muscle is the slow way and by training as a POWER lifter. I built my body using less than 10 exercises as follows: BB Dead Lift, BB Squats, Military Press, BB Bent over Rows, Bench Press, Incline Chest Press Biceps Curls, Triceps Press, Lunges and Decline rested crunches. The exact training program as my male training partner. It took me 11 years to develop the muscle mass I now maintain and enjoy in a body which according to a piece of paper is 55 years “old”. On the subject of steroids, they ENHANCE, not substitute intelligent training and a balanced nutritional program. Steroids to the athlete is like make-up to an attractive woman. If the woman has good bone structure and a nice complexion then make-up ENHANCES her good looks. On the other hand, when an “un-attractive” woman wears make-up she is still unattractive beneath the make-up. There simply is no short cut to building muscle. It requires time and effort.

    • danny4572 says:

      The steroids “enhance”, but they are not a good representation for what women can achieve naturally. This article claims that women can get as big and strong as men naturally, which is flat out delusional. This article is claiming that the average woman can get the same results as a woman who “supplements” with gear. It’s ridiculous. And the “train differently” thing is moronic, because muscle and strength is built the same way. The volume may need to be different, but not much else. Power0lifting is a good way to build muscle and strength, but so is the typical 3×10 routine.

    • Zam says:

      To say steroids simply “enhance” is asinine, steroids completely transform your body and what you can achieve, they can make up for the most moronic training and diet, they take you to a level that’s not possible for a natural human to ever achieve, so no, they’re not just another “supplement” like steroid users would like the rest of the world to believe.

      • Danny says:

        Zam I would say “enhance” is extremely accurate. To optimize results, when on gear, it’s still best to train as you would naturally. On top of this, steroids are not going to make the average joe look like Mr. Olympia…. they are not completely magic, and don’t change the users genetics. You are also able to recover at a faster rate, which allows the athlete to work harder and not suffer from overtraining as easily.

  24. Velex says:

    Ok how did you in the name of the Lord manage to conclude that the difference inbetween the relative protein sythesis in elderly people equate to lower expectation in female athletes? Also you claimed that the reason women have the same rate of relative increases in muscle mass, however this is not nearly the equaliser you make it out to be.Even If both men nad women could the same maximum yet relative increase in muscle mass during their lifetime ( even thou not proven, lets say 30% of the OG weight amd lets use averages) that would equate to a man starting at 70 kgs ending up with 91 kgs whereas a woman would start at 54 and end up on 68 kgs. Can you even comprehend what a 23 kg difference makes? Try competing 2-3 weight classes higher. And lets not even start about your skewed perception, whereas you completely disregard that the OG weight that is also a matter of physiological factors with which men gain the original weight advantage that then very much carries over to athletic preformance. On the grounds of your claims that womens hgh ( only three times higher) is a replacement of male testosterone ( 9-40 times higher) I can say that nothing conclusive can emerge since the dichotomy isnt studied enough. And to your perspective on the societal factors that influence womenm I can for a fact say that you dont understand the autopoieticity of the society. Rules and norms are created in relation to the suroundings, in this case it means that people noticed women were weaker and more important for reproduction and therefore our foremothers were alocated to less physicaly demanding or threatening activities which then became the norm in further reproduction of the society. All in all this is a very poorly argumented article with a noticable ammount of fallacies and purpousefuly disregarded elements in service to the authors idea of liberalism and sex-equality ( I presume ) which are a dogmatic myths in themselves.

    • Ayy Lmao says:

      Well said, Velex. This article is stupid as hell and harping on to “muh relativity” when it comes to FFM and strength ignores the whole point that absolute muscle mass and strength rules in this world. Not only is a 23 kg FFM difference huge, the 85% difference in FFM between the “natural” elite male and female athletes is a huge fucking difference when it comes to performance and even simply muscle mass.

  25. Philip says:

    If Katka Kytova were about 6 inches taller (she’s 5’5/6) she’s be vying for physique development easily with the male bbs of the 40s and 50s (maybe even later). Yet she is so feminine. Ex her voice. But then some women do have deeper voices naturally. Its a myth that all women have higher pitched voices. Just like its a myth that women can’t develop muscle… I think we (males) need to get real about women and how hey can develop. We say ‘can’ we think ‘should’. Not good enough any longer…

    • Danny says:

      What is your argument here? Who’s saying that women “can’t develop muscle”? It’s actually a more common misconception that women can build as much muscle as the women on gear, which is why women tend to be put off by lifting weights…. and this is usually spread by people who don’t know much about fitness, which tends to be those less involved (women). The deep voice of female bodybuilders comes from gear use.

  26. Ashleigh says:

    This article has actually made me feel so much better about trying to gain muscle mass! I’ve heard compound movements are more effective than training biceps, or abs etc. Is this true? Thanks again!

    • Not necessarily, but see my article about exercise selection.

    • Justin says:

      the compound movements are superior to isolation for muscle growth is one of the worst things I see thrown around everywhere for helping people put on muscle.. i literally wasted years trying to build a better physique doing just compound movements.. then I stumbled on Scott Abel and his great book The Hardgainer Solution.. he preaches learn to work the muscle not the movement.. making great progress under this philosophy so far, a lot more than i did concentrating on compound movements and the worrying about just increasing the weight on the barbell

  27. 2754ynnad says:

    Can you do more rigorous research or train athletes yourself? If you could prove this and train top-tier athletes, it would create quite a stir in the world. I hope you do.

  28. Gilles says:

    Fantastic article Menno.

    Re: the 15% difference, your first point alone (women have naturally more BFP) maybe enough to explain the difference. Indeed when adjusted for fat free mass there is no difference in strenght between men and women as per :

    BTW I’m preparing an article in Spanish about the same topic, but since I’m relying so heavily on yours I might as well translate it, so can I get your permission to translate it and publish it, obviously with proper credit.


  29. mike says:

    This pile of hogwash has placed the credibility of every other piece of information on this website in question.

  30. Thaddeus Buttmunch says:

    I hope women Can get stronger so they are taken seriously as cops and firefighters. Unlikely one could ever play in the NBA, but maybe in baseball, or Some positions on the NCAAF or NFL, such as Quarterback, or even the Offensive line IF they’re Tall enough.

  31. Daud says:

    I read the text, all that there is written nonsense, those photos that are on the site woman of muscle can not have no special medication, in the text written many stupid reasons that cause laughter)) There are facts and the fact is that in the first place in men 15 testosterone times more and that’s why men have more muscle mass increases,although at birth, boys and girls of the same weight and design, and the second it has been said that women Harmon growth is 3 times more than men, and it will help women gain muscle is also nonsense !! the average height of women is almost 10 cm lower than the average growth of man.although I’m sure there exists another offended their feminine essence and write that men and women are actually the same size just men stand on tiptoe)) women who are trying to justify their flawed nature seem even more flawed.

  32. NashvilleHawkeye says:

    Pound for pound and also based on height I pretty much agree that women can be as muscular and strong as men, especially if they supplement to have high androgenic hormonal levels, on par with men to ‘level the playing field’. If a woman has excellent genetics for building muscle and muscle recovery, trains like a mad woman, eats correctly, and supplements at a high level with testosterone, combined with her already high HGH it chemically produces an amazing result, just look at the largest and most developed female bodybuilders. If you see side by side muscle comparisons of men and women bodybuilders of the same height and weight the difference isn’t much at all, if any, especially at the lower weight classes. This is all while they are not training and supplementing to the max like the guys are due to the lack of financial reward and discouragement from society and physique judging standards that penalize too much muscularity. If it was encouraged, female muscularity similar to men would be seen more frequently.

  33. Sway says:

    So HOW should women train then? Where’s that link? But here’s the thing, women can get muscles, but then never get AS big as men. Unless they are on steroids… so to say they have just as much potential is misleading. They aren’t bigger then men, or even nearly as big. So if they want to be ‘man-size’ big, seems they would have to lift like a man (and take testosterone or other steroid), right?

  34. Sway says:

    A woman and men both same height and weight (let’s say 5’7 and 155 pounds and work out for 3 years on a hard core bodybuilding routine, will NEVER have the same muscle size or gain equivalently as you suggest. A woman will never have muscles that look like men’s unless they take steroids. They cannot get as big.

    • Have to agree with you. This article contradicts this article by a very respected figure in the fitness industry:

    • Ayy Lmao says:

      Indeed. If you train a male and female of the same height and LBM for 3 years on a hardcore BB routine, the male will ALWAYS end up with more muscle mass than the female. Sure, they might make similar INITIAL gains but after that things go different. Which is why the studies presented here that only examined gains in beginners are flawed in this context. The ones measuring muscle protein synthesis after exercise/eating a meal are even dumber. Not only are they acute studies, a recent paper co-authored by Stu Phillips, who’s really into this post-pandrial MPS shit, showed that these acute studies don’t correlate to long-term gains in muscle mass.

      Saying that there’s no difference between women and men because of stupid shit like: at the same LBM there’s barely a difference, or men have more initial LBM than women is basically saying “once you get rid of the main gender differences between men and women, it turns out they aren’t much different after all”. Fucking aye. In other words, there’s not much difference in height between adults and children. I mean, just compared a tall kid with an adult midget.

  35. Roger Ben says:

    But women cannot get big muscle as men. But you can’t challenge nowadays with women. You can checkout the Muscular women in world — Get Motivated —

  36. Richard says:

    What a pile of trash that I have ever encountered. Speaking as a personal trainer this is nothing more than another women v men hyperbole trash. When will so called fitness experts cease in this. Studies were taken from pro athletes so what about normal every day people. Men take estrogen see what the hell happens to you, when who generate even more estrogen gave muscle negating factors. Don’t waste my time please

    • Estrogen works differently in men and women, as per the article and my article on hormones and fat loss. If you’re not achieving the full potential of women, maybe it’s time to revisit your coaching strategy instead of outright dismissing the scientific evidence?

  37. Ayy Lmao says:

    The reason we don’t see more muscular women is because they don’t exist. The muscular women like the ones you posted on this article as examples are not only clearly on drugs and genetically elite, they’re also physiologically different than women. Lots of successful female athletes tend to have higher testosterone levels and a more “masculine” physiology and psychology, which draws them into sports where they’re more likely to succeed. Hell, the paper on “natural” elite athletes even states this and an 85% difference is fucking huge specially at the elite level.

    Female athletes tend to be at their peak before puberty and after that everything goes to shit, whereas men usually get a boost during puberty which only goes to shit after the age of 25.

    But nah, it’s not due to physiological/hormonal differences, it’s due to bullshit explanations where bench bros are seen as socially dominant, strong women are seen in a bad light (seriously? that doesn’t fare with reality at all with all this grrl power BS) and steroid placebos turn out to be fucking better than steroids themselves. Seriously Menno, why don’t you revolutionize the sports world with that point of yours? Instead of having people take all the drugs in the world, lie to them that they will receive drugs, give them something else and watch them blast their PRs drug-free.

    Look, men will always out-muscle and out-strength women, even at the same bodyweight men have higher world records, not because the women are being shamed out of being better or because they’re still not the best the female “race” has to offer (even if this was true, when the current elite constantly gets their asses handed to them by non-elite males, their records will always fall short of men’s ones). Trying to look at relative differences and equating LBM is basically saying “when you remove the main gender differences, turns out there isn’t much difference left” which is idiotic. In other words, there isn’t much difference in height between men and adults because a tall kid can be just as big as an adult midget.

    A 3x difference in IGF-1 or whatever isn’t as big as the +15x difference in test levels that are more correlated with muscle mass than the former.

    This article is even worse than the one debunking the 1 g/lb myth using nitrogen balance data like it was the holy writ of muscle mass and performance gains.

    Finally, to the feminists in the early comments that got pissed off at random stuff like how sexually female fitness models tend to pose: fuck you.

  38. Dan says:

    All those girls in the pictures did a cycle. Not more than one low dosage cycle.

  39. Chris says:

    If it was true that women can gain as much muscle as men , then we will see many women as like men with massive muscles. A woman trained naturally for 10 years and gained decent muscles a man for instance can achieve that level in say 2 years or three. No, women are not THE SAME like MEN in ANY WAY!!!.

  40. Rudolf says:

    Wow this article is pure shit, it stinks of feminist logic.

  41. Princess says:

    Muscle mass doesn’t means a person is stronger and testosterone is useless for strength.

  42. Sebastian says:

    A question… Are steroids are good?

  43. MG says:

    Re: “The important message here – to keep this article under a billion words – is that women and men are not the same and therefore they should not train or diet the same way. (If I just offended any feminists, get real.)”

    Feminists do not want to be the same as men. They want to have the same rights, opportunities, and treatment. Women understand that they’re different from men physically. Unfortunately, feminism is grossly misunderstood and demonized. And, from what I can tell here (mostly from the comments) this misunderstanding is even greater in the bodybuilding community.

    Great article. I am always on the search for newer and better ways to train. Sources at the end would be nice though. This book has a lot of info on this as well for anyone else interested:

  44. Sunny says:

    Fantastic article. Gave me a lottt of hope. Thank you! (:

  45. Stephanie says:

    Great content, thank you Menno :)

  46. Joe says:

    One think i want to ask , if a men does body building nd on the other hand if a women does , then who will have more muscular body or can say who will develop more muscles. According to our hormones , in women extra fat is deposited on their hips and quads , then after picking up bodybuilding nd putting so much effort in it , at last that women will have more muscular legs as compared to a men body builder ? M not comparing in arms m comparing legs ?

  47. Becky says:

    Thank you for this! Am weight training as part of cancer recovery. Keep up the awesome, sensible articles:-D

  48. Adria says:

    Thanks for sharing actual science about women’s potential and explaining some of the mechanisms.

    And for those dudes who got all offended when the author pointed out that men discourage women from strength training: just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’ve never had a woman say a negative thing to me about training, but I’ve had men cross the street to complain to me that I’m too muscular, I’ve had men interrupt me in the gym to tell me that I’m lifting too heavy (on a warmup set, no less), and I’ve had men leave 45s on the bar at my head-height when they saw that I was next on the rack.

    You don’t see all the acts of hostility and aggression towards women because you’re a man. Men don’t do it to a woman who is with a man, so your girlfriend or female friends are safe from it when you’re with them. And you don’t notice it happening around you because women habitually placate offensive strangers; it’s a rational self-defense strategy to try to avoid setting off an aggressor. We try to avoid “causing” scenes when we’re alone or outnumbered. But those efforts to keep strange men from turning nasty on us make it look like women are okay with their behavior. We’re not. We’re just trying to avoid being chased down the street by a man who is suddenly shouting and threatening us because we wouldn’t smile on command.

  49. kate says:

    > It’s time we stop treating women like second rate men.

    Wow. For real. And not just in the gym. Well said.

  50. Mail says:

    Man this is great advice if you like videotaping your wife getting banged by BBC and then losing your house and kids in the divorce. What’s with always attacking the leader of the household like he hasn’t earned the right to his respect? This shit has to stop. There is NO shortage of empowered go girls and “body positive” women out there who think fat is the new thin. If women could separate from the heard, listen to their own inner voice, and follow their own convictions rather than need an army of profiteering bloggers and white knights to encourage them, maybe they’d earn the right to be athletes. Only people I know strong enough to follow their convictions and do the most uncomfortable thing over choosing comfort is men. Contrary to the falsehoods in this article, there’s a helluva lot more encouragement for women to get active than there is for men, so that’s just a load of BS. Let me say this one time: WOMEN HAVE NO INJUSTICE IN THE WEST. YOU WORK FOR EVERYTHING YOU EARN, NO EXCUSES. THERE IS NO BIAS AGAINST THE VALUE OF WOMEN EXCEPT THAT WHICH WEAK PEOPLE FABRICATE AS THEIR PERSONAL DAILY VICTIM NARRATIVE. Men are not taught this (in fact they’re not taught it at all), they know it is true instinctively. That is why they rise to the top, on their own drive.

  51. Deacon Stylz says:

    The real reason why men muscles larger than womans, is because men tend to over eat, for example: when eating a pizza at pizza hut,a female eat only one slice or half of it, then a man eat half of the whole pizza with french fries, then wait a hour later then men pumping heavy weights ect. Where as a female lifting those 4 pounds, tiny dumbells the pretty colors pink, blue , like in the walmart stores . See the difference so the extremely high calories,with the heavy weights cause the muscles to get thicker.

  52. shreddedkunt says:

    lets be real, most women don’t know what they are doing in the gym

    • Grandma Buff =) says:

      What? LOL I guess you are right. I’m the only one lifting heavy weights in my gym every time I go there; while the other women are in the bikes, treadmill or looking at me as I was a freak. I do not care. I love my muscles.

  53. Carolina says:

    That would vary from different factors as well. There are types of women who are more than the feminine hormone and they resort to having big nuscles in their bodies. That will be awesome. By the way I would like to share this new fake sonogram videos from fakeababy. This is so funny and amazing. It is use to be given as a gift and teh best buddy for gags. Check this out now.

  54. andrew speer says:

    This makes sense. Elite female athletes consistently achieve 90-95% or more of what the same level male athletes achieve, and completely trash what even competitive lower level male athletes can do. The average LPGA drive is within 10% of what PGA players can accomplish, for example, and Florence Griffith joiner’s 100M record that still stands would probably beat what most NFL wide receivers could do even today. Women have as big a role as anyone in fighting historic misconceptions about what the female body can accomplish by supporting, rather than questioning the efforts of women that are actually inspired to test their own limits.

  55. Carlo says:

    The fastest male high school runner in the US is faster than florence griffith joyner,s world record,and her 100 meters world record was not wind recorded. It was wind aided yet was let to stand. the wind aid was not added to the time and was recorded as 0m/s. Her time would have been like 10.64 or so if the wind aided time was recorded correctly. When an lpga player wins a pga tournament then we can talk.

  56. Cor says:

    Where do you get that man have 15 times more testosterone? Your info is way out of date. The latest study by the IOC has shown that women can have some very high natural test levels, high enough to be considered to be in the men range.
    Plenty of women have test levels in the 600 and normal for o young man is in the 1000-1600 range, far from your claimed 15 time number, more like half, right?

    I think you would do well by studying up and rewriting your article to reflect the truth.

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