There are many factors that go into health and fitness. If you are a man, you are quite fortunate in that most of the data over the years has given you means to successfully accomplish your goals. If you are a woman, on the other hand, there has been little to no research done (although FINALLY this is getting better) on our needs. We are all different and will respond differently, based on a variety of reasons, even with the protocols that have been highlighted for our training needs, but there are some things that hold pretty factual in terms of women-specific training.
This post is meant for women whose aim is fitness. What is my definition of fitness? To be honest, I am not that black and white in anything but in terms of this post, I will say that it involves some level of cardio or centralized conditioning. The information that I will give you is something that you can utilize whether you are into any form of sports or movement arts like Crossfit, running, cycling, boxing, MMA, dancing, or even just generalized health and whatever you are into.
As women, we have an ability to push ourselves quite hard and quite frequently in terms of cardio and/or conditioning, especially if we are determined and competitive. While these are admirable traits, this can also get us into trouble if we are using information that is not at least designed for our gender specific needs. We are not men and this is not a bad thing, in fact, quite the opposite 😉 . Our frames, our hormones, our biology, chemistry, physiology etc. has similarities but no, most certainly not the same and training as if these were, is only going to get you so far or even worse, maybe nowhere far at all (longterm).
For years the calculations used to determine heart rate training levels was very generalized at 220-age x % of training zone ranges goal ie. 220-30= 190, 190 x 0.8= 152bpm – 190 x 0.9= 171bpm . This has since been updated to something a little more specific in terms of the Karvonen formula 220-age-resting heart rate than take that number and multiply it by your training ranges goal but add your resting heart rate and ie. 220-30-50=140, 140 x 0.8 + 50 =162bpm. These are arbitrary numbers and range goals but I want to give you an idea. Be sure to learn what you need for YOUR goals.
The Karvonen method is definitely an improvement especially for those who have already been consistently active and/or are training for real performance improvements. Over the past few years, the rise in interest and cool info on heart rate variability has come to light and this factor actually appears to show that women can actually handle higher intensities than men (1). While this may appear true, I have learned that women may be able to handle more, but it may cost them in health if done too much for too long (2). The reason behind this is due to one of my favourite topics, the HPA axis (3). Without going too far into that last statement, it basically deals with how too much stress can really put a damper on all aspects of your life!
With all of this said, how does it relate back to women-specific training? There is a doctor by the name of Martha Gulati who has formulated a new means of calculating women’s heart rate training workload (4). Basically, you would multiply your age by 88%. With that number, you would then subtract it from 206 instead of 220 to find your max heart rate. You would then take your max heart rate, as you do with the other formulas, and multiply it by the % of heart rate zone you are aiming to train in based on your goals ie. 206-26.4 x 0.8= 144bpm. The idea of Dr. Gulati’s heart rate method may help to minimize the risks related to too much stress on women’s physiological, neurochemical, endocrine etc. I have not found a lot of research on Gulati’s method specific to the HPA axis and women’s training yet, but maybe it is something worth exploring in that it may help to reduce one aspect of disruption that can occur from women’s natural desire to work too damn hard too much 😉
I am not fully convinced that this is the way to go because, to be honest, but it may be something worth exploring on its own or with tracking your HRV and general mood states. In general, I feel it is important that more research keeps being done with women and the acknowledgment that we are really all so different 🙂
- Kappus RM, Ranadive SM, Yan H, et al. Sex differences in autonomic function following maximal exercise. Biology of Sex Differences. 2015;6:28. doi:10.1186/s13293-015-0046-6.
TSpace. Modulation of T Cell Distribution and Function by High-intensity Interval Training. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/71708. Accessed April 29, 2016.
- Smith SM, Vale WW. The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neuroendocrine responses to stress. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2006;8(4):383-395.
Gulati, M, Shaw, LJ, Thisted, RA, Black, HR, Merz, CNB, Arnsdorf, MF. Heart Rate Response to Exercise Stress Testing in Asymptomatic Women: The St. James Women Take Heart Project. Circulation. 2010;122(2):130–137. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.110.939249.
Dr. Emily Kane > New Target Heart Rate, Specifically for Women. Dr Emily Kane RSS. Available at: http://dremilykane.com/2011/09/25/new-target-heart-rate-specifically-for-women/. Accessed April 29, 2016.