Prescribing Workouts for Men and Women

 CrossFit is known to be one of the most inclusive ways to train. Compared to other sports, it is unique in that the exercises and workouts are often modified to fit the needs of different individuals according to their age, fitness level, or gender. Men and women typically perform the same exercises and workouts, but there can be differences in the weight used, scaling options, and the standards for certain events. In this article, we will explore why workouts are sometimes adjusted for women in CrossFit and why these modifications are necessary.

What exercises are prescribed differently between genders?

If you look at a typical CrossFit workout, you may see that beside certain exercises there are suggested or “prescribed” weights, height, or calories to perform the exercise. Prescriptions are often modified or “scaled” according to the needs of the athlete, but you’ll notice that there are always two sets of numbers. For example:

5 Rounds for Time
10 Handstand push ups
10 Dumbbell snatch, alternating (22.5 / 15 kg)
10 Burpee box jump over (60 / 50 cm)
14 / 12-cal. Row

The first number represents the prescription for men whereas the second number represents the prescription for women. Men and women usually have different prescriptions in the following exercises:

  • Barbell exercises
  • Kettlebell exercises
  • Dumbbell exercises
  • Plyo box exercises
  • Machines and ergometers

You'll notice that the majority of these exercises involve moving weights (like with kettlebells or med balls) or generating power (like on an echo bike or jumping on a box). In general, the weight prescribed for female athletes is 60 to 75% of what's prescribed to male athletes.

So why is it that bodyweight exercises and gymnastics don’t vary between genders? Simply put, it all comes down to science. This is because women have different physical and hormonal characteristics compared to men, and these differences can impact their ability to perform certain exercises.

Men vs. Women?

First, it is important to understand that women generally have different strength levels compared to men. On average, men have a higher level of testosterone, which helps build muscle mass and strength. Men also tend to have more mitochondria in their muscle cells meaning that their ability to produce and store energy is higher than their female counterparts.

Women, on the other hand, have a higher level of estrogen, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle and increases the likelihood of carrying excess body fat. As a result, women tend to have less muscle mass and strength compared to men. This means that certain exercises that are challenging for men may be even more difficult for women, and they may need to start with lighter weights or modify their form to avoid injury until they gain more muscle mass.

In addition to strength and hormonal differences, body composition also plays an important role. Women typically have wider hips and carry a great proportion of their muscle in the lower body. They also tend to have more slow twitch muscle fibers which favor endurance exercises- Finally, women tend to be more flexible than men.

Males tend to have wider shoulders and more skeletal muscle mass concentrated in the upper body which makes pulling and pushing easier for them. Men tend to have more fast-twitch fibers which are essential for performing short, explosive efforts.

Why should we use different prescriptions?

Since the difference between strength, it's so significant, is usually the strength-based exercises that offer different prescriptions.

Even though there are women that are perfectly capable of completing (and crushing) workouts using the men’s’ prescriptions, the effort would be significantly greater than if a man with the same fitness level were to complete the same work.

So, does this mean that men are stronger than women?

Yes and no. In terms of absolute strength, it's true that men usually are capable of lifting more, and running faster than women however comparatively, we're splitting hairs. On average men are heavier and taller which give them an advantage in terms of strength. When we account for these physical differences and compare the results, we find women are equally as strong.

We can then assume that there are different prescriptions for strength-based exercises to account for the physiological differences between male and female bodies. In short, there are different prescriptions so that we can equalize and standardize the effort and level of fitness needed to complete the work.

The Final Takeaway

There are several reasons why workout prescriptions vary between men and women in CrossFit. These modifications help to accommodate the different physical and hormonal characteristics between these athletes which also contribute to preventing injury, building confidence, and achieving better results.

Despite the different prescriptions of strength and power exercises, it's important to note that CrossFit is inclusive and encourages individuals of all genders and abilities to push their limits and strive for personal improvement. The core principles of CrossFit are the same for everyone, and the focus will always be on building strength, improving fitness, and developing a supportive community.