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Optimal recovery from exercise is as important as training hard if you want peak results. Interestingly, research shows that trained women experience less muscle damage and recover faster than trained men. But untrained women who are new to exercise need more recovery than men.

A study the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the recovery time needed after a single hypertrophy-type training session for the biceps in untrained men and women. The training session included 8 sets of 10 reps at a 10RM load. Participants had not been involved in formal training over the 6 months prior to the study.

Results showed that muscle force decreased immediately after the training session by about 25 percent in both genders as did ratings of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Although there appears to be no gender difference in the amount of strength lost right after training, women do appear to need more recovery time.

The women had significantly slower recovery of muscle force after training, and they did not regain strength to the same degree as the men by the fourth day following the training session. The women had more muscle swelling and inflammation than the men, and it persisted longer.

Researchers are unclear exactly why there is a gender difference to training and recovery. One possible explanation is the history of muscle usage: Men tend to have more experience with resistance training and with applying muscle force during physical activity than females. Trained muscle, even if not recently trained in the last 6 months, is known to recover faster than untrained muscle.

Additionally, men have a higher inflammatory response than women. The greater inflammatory response is known to trigger faster muscle regeneration. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, less immediate inflammation in women actually may delay recovery in untrained women. It’s also likely that testosterone and estrogen play a role, but the evidence on exactly how they influence recovery in the genders is unclear, in part because the hormone response is widely different between men and women, and even between individuals of the same sex.

Take away the awareness that novice women may need more recovery time from training than men. This is important because it will help keep them motivated and promote adherence. After all, consistency and sticking with a program is the key to getting results.

References

Flores, D., Gentil, P., et al. Dissociated Time Course of Recovery Between Genders after Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(11), 3039-3044.