Q & A: Which Is More Dangerous: Training Your Spouse or Wrestling a Shark?

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Q: Tony, I have a question about the workout I’ve got my wife doing. I have her going to the gym 4x per week.

Day 1: consists of DB squats, DB RDL’s, calf raises, and Pallof Presses. All for three sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Day 2: consists of a DB complex with 12 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).

Day 3: is an upper body day, consisting of DB rows, DB bench press, hyper-extensions, and hammer curls, which are also done for three sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Day 4: is her last day, and I have her performing a BB complex, followed by 12 minutes HIIT again.

All in all, she’s been at it for three weeks and hasn’t noticed anything. I don’t want her to get discouraged, but it seems like she wants to quit. She’s even drinking PWO shakes. I don’t know what else to do. Any advice you can give would be a great help.

A: First off, mad props goes out to you, because as someone who’s “been there, done that” with regards to training their significant other, I know how much of a conflict of interests it can be. What starts as a way for you two to enjoy spending more time together (not to mention getting healthier to boot), can quickly turn into something like this:

You: Hey hon, lets go the the gym!

Wife: I love you so much. So much in fact, I’m totally making you a meatloaf when we get back.

You: Mmmmm, delish. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You know what babe, I think it’s high time I finally fix that garbage disposal you’ve been nagging me about for six weeks. While I’m at, I’m going to clean the gutters too. Foot massage later?

Wife: Oh honey, lets make a baby.

You: Hey, I was thinking that after we foam roll and warm-up, we can spend some time working on that squat technique of yours. I noticed last time you were cutting them short a bit, and not getting to depth.

Wife: Are you calling me fat?

You: No, no, no. I just, I just, you know, thought we could clean it up a bit. I just want to make sure you’re doing it correctly is all.

Wife: I want a divorce.

Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration (only slightly, though). Needless to say, I can understand your concern, and I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, I’d recommend putting her on a three day per week, FULL-body split, placing an emphasis on compound movements. I like a lot of the stuff you have in there already, however I’d nix stuff like calf raises and hammer curls. I mean, I’m assuming (based off the info you gave me) she can’t do a push-up. So why waste time doing hammer curls? Likewise, why have her perform calf raises when something like a deadlift will burn infinitely more calories?

That said, I’d make it a point to start each session with ONE main movement of the day.

Day 1: Squat variation- box squat, front squat, or even a Goblet Squat (particularly for beginners).

Day 2: Heavy upper body push or pull (bench press variation or pull-up variation)- bench press, incline bench press, or some form of pull-up/chin-up variation. For women, I love slow eccentric pull-ups, chin-up ISO holds held for time, or better yet, band assisted pull-ups.

I’d just make it a point to hit a heavy pressing variation one week, and a heavy pull-up variation the next. Then, you can just switch back and forth as each week passes.

Day 3: Deadlift variation- trap bar deadlift, rack pulls from knee height, or SUMO deadlifts. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Romanian deadlift variations; namely because when I watch most people do them, it makes my spine want to cry. For a quick primer, though, check out THIS article by Mike Robertson.

From there, you’d obviously set up her accessory work to meet her goals, weaknesses, or any postural issues she has going on. A general rule of thumb, however:

– Lots of horizontal rowing. We’re a very flexion dominant society, and while pressing IS important and it is a great way to build upper body strength, it’s drastically overemphasized.

More push-up variations.

– Hammer the posterior chain. Really, this is great advice for anyone. That said, a healthy dose of pull-throughs, single leg variations, hip thrusters, and the like are definitely in order.

– Core stability is key. Pallof presses, cable chops/lifts, plank variations, etc.

Understandably, I could go on and on here. Program design is a fairly overwhelming topic, and one blog post certainly doesn’t do it justice. For the sake of brevity, check out THIS article, which while it’s a bit outdated, definitely summarizes my thoughts more concisely.

Secondly, don’t be too enamored with three sets of 10-12 for EVERYTHING. Sure, it’s part of the equation, but taking more of an undulated approach where you rotate set/rep schemes on a weekly (or even daily basis, has been shown to be a far more effective- particularly with regards to fat loss, strength gains, and overall degree of badassery.

As an example, her program may look something like this:

Week 1

Day 1: Front Squats 3×10-12

Day 2: Band Assisted Pull-Ups 5×3-5

Day 3: SUMO Deadlift: 4×6-8

Note: As noted above, accessory work would be implemented accordingly based on her needs and goals.

Week 2

Day 1: Front Squats: 4×6-8

Day 2: Bench Press: 3×10-12

Day 3: SUMO Deadlift: 5×3-5

Thirdly, I’d still keep the complexes and HIIT training in there, although I’d use them as finishers on her training days. So, at the end of one training session, have her do a quick DB complex. On the other, have her perform some bike intervals. 1-2 times per week is plenty, and don’t be scared to OMIT them entirely every 4-5 weeks. Even elite athletes take time off from conditioning, we’re no different.

On her off days, have her do some bodyweight circuits as I discussed in THIS interview with Nia Shanks.

Fourthly, and arguably most important of all, you’re never going to out-train a poor diet. Great, she’s taking a PWO shake, and for most that’s a step in the right direction. Then again, if her diet still consists of woefully inadequate calories, lots of highly processed foods, little-to-no protein, and is completely barren of any dietary fat (I’ve dealt with enough women to know that this is usually the case 90% of the time), no post-workout drink is going to work miracles and she’ll never see the fruits of her labor.

To that end, I’d recommend something like Precision Nutrition to get her started. many people make the mistake of just blindly “winging it,” and hoping for the best. And, it’s no wonder most people fail miserably.

WHEW, that was kind of long winded. And I’m sure I missed a couple of points I wanted to hit on, but I hope that helps! All in all, I think it’s great you’re taking a vested interest in her health. I think with some of the minor tweaks mentioned above, she should see some vast improvements and be a little less frustrated overall. Let me know how it goes.

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