It happens to my girlfriend nearly every workout. After watching her stalk the squat rack, someone approaches her cautiously and asks her what sport or competition she's training for. "For life," she says. The reactions are mostly positive, but some people are floored and can't comprehend why she does deadlifts, front squats, and chin-ups for fun.
I mean, women don't train like men, right? They shouldn't lift heavy weights, right? Why would women squat, bench, or chin if they're not some kind of figure competitor or athlete or real-life, ass-kicking crime fighter?
My girlfriend baffles many gym-goers because they're programmed to think women are delicate flowers who shouldn't lift heavy. These and other messages trumpeted to women 24/7 are utter garbage. The notion that women can't be strong, athletic, or lift heavy is unfortunate, silly, and simply needs to stop.
Train the Same
In most cases, men and women should train the same. Aesthetically speaking, I understand that men and women have varying goals, but they're actually achieved with the same programs. Men often want to be jacked or yoked, and many women want to be toned and shapely. The thing is, you can't have sexy or shapely anything without building muscle!
To make muscle, you must lift weights and provide the body with ample calories to recover. Muscle won't miraculously appear from performing countless sets of 20 reps with 5-10 pound dumbbells. I don't care if you're a man, a woman, or a Martian.
The amount of muscle and effort required to lift a weight 20 times without failing is insignificant compared to lifting a weight 6-10 times to failure. High-repetition training has its time and place, but I feel it's woefully overemphasized and leads to sub-optimal results.
With rare exceptions, it's actually harder for women to build muscle because they have 10 times less testosterone than men. To overcome this, women often have to train twice as hard as men, not softer.
Legs Are the Exception
I take a slightly different approach with my female clients when it comes to leg training. After all, most women aren't after the "tear drop" look in their quads. If so, more power to them!
In my experience, however, the second a female client can't fit into her "sexy jeans" because her quads grew two inches, I have hell to pay. To avoid this, I typically place more premiums on training the posterior chain with sumo or Romanian deadlift variations that target the hamstrings and barbell bridges which hammer the glutes.
I still add squats to the mix, but I have female trainees take a wider stance and make sure they groove a proper hip-hinge pattern. This is accomplished by learning to sit back during the descent with your hips, rather than breaking at the knees, to place more emphasis on the quads.
To target the quads, I emphasize hip-dominant exercise variations, like reverse or lateral lunges, instead of forward lunges and step-ups. A seemingly innocuous tip like instructing a slightly more forward lean on lunges makes a big difference. Forward leaning targets the glutes and hamstrings while upright posture with vertical shins places more stress on the quads.
There aren't many situations when women should train differently than men. Obvious circumstances such as pregnancy would involve another discussion entirely. Aside from that, women should train exactly like men with a program like this to build a powerful and beautiful body!