3 Mistakes Coaches Make When Training Women

Tony GentilcoreToday’s guest post comes from strength and conditioning guru Tony Gentilcore.  As one of the premier strength coaches and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance, Tony knows how to train people and get results.  There are many misconceptions in strength training women.  Tony provides a great article on some of the mistakes he commonly sees when coaching female clients.

 

3 Mistakes Coaches Make When Training Women

Before I begin lets address the obvious.  I’m not a woman.  I’m a dude. And as such, like most dudes, I have a strong affinity for old school Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Star Wars, Rocky I, II, III, and IV (but not V), Rocky Balboa was eh, beef jerky, tanks, and leaving the toilet seat up. 

To save face, however, I’m not what you would call a “guys guy.” I like to buy flowers for my girlfriend just because, I’ve watched every episode of Sex and the City (true story), and, while I’m sure I’m going to catch some flak for admitting this and run the risk of losing my Man Card, I’m rather fond of the occasional pedicure (also, true story!).

Pop culture references and societal norm commentary aside, I’ve been in the fitness industry for a little over twelve years now, and in that time I’ve trained my fair share women.  Some have been elite athletes – ranging anywhere from world-class triathletes to Olympic hopefuls – in addition to both collegiate and high school athletes. Moreover I’ve also worked with a gulf of women in the general fitness population from varying demographics with any number of varying goals and needs (not to mention training experience).

On top of that, throughout my career, outside of my current role as strength coach (and co-founder) at Cressey Sports Performance, I’ve had the opportunity to work with female athletes and clients in both the corporate and commercial gym setting.

In short:  I’ve seen it all and feel I have a well-rounded perspective on the topic of “female specific” training. 

It’s on that note I’d like to discuss some of the universal mistakes I’ve observed numerous coaches and trainers make when it comes to working with and training female clients.  Here are my top 3 mistakes coaches make when training women.

 

Buying Into the Term “Female Specific” Training

do-women-need-to-train-different-than-menI don’t deny the fact there’s an array of differences between the female and male body – both anatomically and physiologically.

Boys have boy down there parts and girls have girl down there parts. We all learned that fairly young in life. Also, hormonally speaking, there’s quite a bit of diversity between men and women – the most obvious of which is the different levels of testosterone and estrogen.

Although estrogens are thought of as female sex hormones and androgens are considered male hormones, both men and women make hormones in both groups, with different ratios depending on gender.

Men have much higher levels of testosterone (which explains why it’s much easier for men to add muscle and stay a lower body fat level), and women have higher levels of estrogen.  We don’t need to go into the deep science on hormones for the sake of this article, but we’d be remiss not to at least note that hormones do enter the equation.

When working with females one (or more) of the following scenarios will affect how we go about training them:

  • Athletic Amenorrhea (losing your period).
  • Pregnancy Training
  • Training for Menopause
  • Menstrual cycle (this will HIGHLY dictate training and nutrition).

We DO need to consider “stuff,” and we absolutely should not make light of any of the above talking points.

However, I don’t really buy into the whole “female specific” training mindset – especially if we’re referring to a healthy, non-injured client/athlete.

The human body is the human body and whenever I work with a female client I treat her just as I treat my male clients. I assess them, look at their movement quality, figure out if there are any red flags from a postural and alignment standpoint, and if we’re in the clear, they’re going to squat, deadlift, push, pull, carry, and lunge just like everyone else.

I don’t do “girl” pushups with my female clients.  I do pushups (and progress and regress accordingly).  I don’t do “light weight/high reps” because they’re girls, either.  They TRAIN just like everyone else.

Which serves as nice segue to my next point.

 

Stop Using Terms Like “Sexy” and “Toned”

Walk into any grocery or convenience store and peruse the magazine shelves and you’re bound to notice an endless barrage of words like “sexy” and “toned” directed towards women.

Conversely, guys are inundated with terms like “jacked” and “chiseled” and “gainzzzz” and other bro-tastic adjective you can think of.

For women, I don’t like the connotation the mainstream media beats over their heads.  And I certainly don’t like the message it conveys. Is it any wonder why so many women (young and old) are programmed into thinking they have to look a certain way to fit our lame societal norms? It sucks.

When I start working with a female client I try to gravitate towards terms like “strength” or “athletic” or “performance”…..because I feel they’re more empowering and have a less nefarious tone to them.

And speaking of performance……

 

Stress It!!!!

If there’s one thing I can universally point to that separates female clients from male clients it’s that male clients compare themselves to themselves, while female clients compare themselves to other females.

Put another way, most of the time (not always) male clients will be more concerned with what he weighed last month or what he lifted last week. He’ll almost always lean towards being more temporal minded and compare himself to himself.

This isn’t to say that guys aren’t competitive with other guys – I’ve seen way too many improvisational “deadlift offs” to state otherwise. But rather, generally speaking, most male athletes and clients are more concerned with competing against himself and setting performance based goals.

Conversely, most women (not all) are more societal comparative.  Meaning they’ll lean more towards comparing themselves to other women.

And don’t play it off as it that’s not true ladies!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with my girlfriend walking around the city and out of nowhere she’ll blurt out something like “That girl should not be wearing that!”  When was the last time you heard a guy do that?  Never.  NEVER!!!!!!  Crocs don’t count.

But back to my main point.

As an example I once had a 50+ year-old female client get flummoxed whenever she trained at the same time as a 22 year-old ex-Division I decathlete.  She’d routinely compare herself to the younger woman and wonder why she didn’t look like her despite being twice her age!  Mind you, she looked amazing!  She’d always get compliments on her work ethic and physique – but sadly they fell on deaf ears.

To help combat this mentality, as a coach I continually make an effort to not place precedence on physique or weight goals, but rather performance goals – especially with women.  Of course if someone’s goal is to lose weight for health reasons or they’re a physique competitor, I’m all for it. Their training will reflect that goal. 

However, I often find that by stressing performance based goals like being able to perform their first unassisted, bodyweight chinup or squatting 1x their bodyweight for reps or being able to conquer their first Tough Mudder, it sets a much better tone moving forward.

In general I find that strength is an often UNDER-stressed quality pursued by women (and men), and I LOVE when a woman finally has that “light bulb” moment and recognizes that strength is a beautiful thing and something to be revered and embraced.

When that happens, cool things follow.