My Wish For Female Fitness: Less Talk About Less

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“Why should I be fit?”

Ask a male that question and you’ll hear a bevy of terms and phrases ranging from “to get swole and jacked” to “to get swole and ripped.”1

Ask a female that question? Well, the bulk of them will have an entirely different orientation or framing of answers.

 

Most of the time we’ll see an avalanche of words like:

  • Lean
  • Slim
  • Toned
  • Thin

In other words: For many women the idea of being fit revolves around being LESS. Rather than embracing and accepting their body as something unique and worthy of its own admiration (regardless of size), many women are fixated on the notion that less is sexier. Healthier. Better.

This is in stark contrast to the psyche of their male counterparts. Peruse any magazine rack and you’ll immediately notice a different tone:

  • Big
  • Strong
  • Mass
  • Gain

Photo Credit: www.HenryCavill.org. Also, www.MostHandsomestManOnEarth.gov

Here, the goal is MORE.

My wife, Dr. Lisa Lewis, who speaks on this topic and phenomenon frequently, refers to this as a Growth Orientation.

Woman are (generally) programmed to strive for less. By contrast, men are (generally) programmed to strive for more.2

“Striving to Be More, Instead of Wanting to Be Less”

The above is a quote I stole from a woman named Fabienne Marier and it perfectly articulates my wish for female fitness.

Rather than being seduced into the rabbit hole of incessant “weight loss,” which, lets be honest, is the quicksand of the industry – slowly swallowing any semblance of enjoyment and fun out of fitness – I’d like to see more women gravitate towards something I refer to as 3×52.

Instead of a goal of weight loss and steady diet of disappointing results (and Paleo recipes that taste like old lady fart sprinkled with sawdust), the ultimate goal, as far as my own female clients, is to get them in the gym 3 days a week, 52 weeks a year…aiming for CONSISTENCY and  PERFORMANCE.

 

I find if I can get them “married” (for lack of a better term) to finally conquering a chin-up, or deadlifting their bodyweight for reps, or, I don’t know, beating Xena Warrior Princess in a street fight, the aesthetic goals they’re chasing (often saturated with a tone of weight loss) just kinda-sorta…happen.

Better yet…they forget about them altogether, and just want to crush weights.

It’s All About Motivation

This is where my wife Lisa would chime in with her expertise, but I’m going to take as stab at it.

In the seminal book, “Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Exercise and Sport,” a light read (said no one, ever), motivation is described as:

“….[is] an internal state that energizes and drives action and behavior and determines its direction and persistence.”

The fitness industry, as it relates to women, exponentially so, is very much fixated on extrinsic factors: external appearance, sex appeal, being less.

This isn’t entirely wrong or altogether a bad thing. I understand that for many women looking at magazine covers like the one above or perusing any number of Instagram accounts of fitness celebrities can be motivating.

However, it’s also very superficial.

Happiness, it would seem, is tethered to one’s waistline or ability to look a certain way society (or magazine editors) deems attractive.

This is not healthy. And, funnily enough: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories and have seen personally people (both men and women) who have sacrificed a lot to look a certain way.

They give up social events and carbs (CARBS!) in pursuit of six-pack abs or tank-top triceps, only to attain the goal and be like, “huh, that’s it? Well, that’s a bunch of bullshit.”

The moral of the story, however, is to help your clients find and recognize INTRINSIC factors that will fuel their motivation to get fit and healthy.  And do so long-term.

The difference and power of intrinsic factors is that they have less to do with external appearance and sex appeal and more to do with finding value in other ways, like:

  • How exercising makes someone feel.
  • Exercise matches their values and beliefs.
  • Someone feels exercise is an important part of their personality, and makes them the best version of themselves possible.

You do that – help someone seek intrinsic motivation – and Tracy Anderson will have less of an influence.

Yay.

via GIPHY

So, Uh, Tony, How Do We Enhance Motivation?

Good question.

1. Facilitate Intrinsic Motivation

This is where being a good, intuitive coach brings value. I’m a strength guy and love the barbell lifts, so it stands to reason I have a little bias towards them.

While I’m at a stage in my career where the majority of women who reach out to me know what they’re getting themselves into – a healthy dose of deadlifts and Tiesto – I also recognize that for some, I can’t force feed anything.

If someone would rather jump into a live volcano than perform a back squat…what good is it to force them to do back squats. That’s a sure-fire way to crush motivation.

It’s my job, then, to do the best I can to match their goals with shit they’ll actually want to do. Maybe instead of back squats we perform Goblet squats, or a crap-ton of sled work?

More to the point, if I can identify their strengths and talents – and utilize things that make them feel like a rock star – we’re in a good place.

This is what happens when @alexandraleigh22 crushes her deadlifts. We pay homage to Kid-n-Play.

A post shared by Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore) on

2. Highlight Ways to Grow

Building autonomy should always be the goal with any client. You should want them to eventually leave.

Listen to a client’s goals and ALWAYS create plans based on those goals…..always. Allow room for goals to change, be modified, or even abandoned. Everything is negotiable.

A large reason why so many people fail to get results – even when working with a trainer – is that the trainer sucks balls. He or she never takes the initiative to provide education and feedback to increase competency in their clients.

I don’t feel there is nefarious intent or that such a thing is done purposely much of the time, but it does speak to the pure laziness of some trainers and coaches.

I know when I start to work with a new female client I go out of my way to explain everything, why we’re doing a certain exercise, it’s benefits, and why it will help get them closer to their goals.

Moreover, I make sure to meet her where she’s at.

This kinda mirrors what I said above – I.e., not force feeding YOUR preferences onto your clients – but a crucial component of sustained motivation is competency. This is why I rarely have someone – male or female – straight-bar deadlift on Day #1.

Clients want to feel as if they know what the hell they’re doing, that they can do “stuff,” and that they don’t look foolish.

Foolish

Less Foolish

Look, a Demon Kitten (Which Has Nothing to do With Anything)

3. Build Relatedness

Your relationship & rapport with clients is an essential element of success. Be mindful of your clients’ social needs in regard to their fitness.

For example, if you partake in semi-private training as I do, and you’ve just started with a new female client and you know she’s a bit timid and self-conscious…it’s probably not a bright idea to pair her alongside your male client training for his next powerlifting meet.

Another example, especially when training female clients, Beyonce Radio on Pandora is like female relatedness catnip. It never fails.

Never.

Less Talk About Less

Taking all of the above in consideration will, I feel, help with all the “less” talk that permeates female fitness.

No! We want more.

More confidence, more autonomy, more competence, more muscle (because, why not?), more cowbell, more Beyonce.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Or any number of iterations that include the word swole. Swole and sassy?

  2. And to always laugh at fart jokes. It’s in or DNA.

  • Obitim

    Googled ‘Swole and Sassy’

    Did not live up to my expectations

    • TonyGentilcore

      HAHA – never crossed my mind to look myself.

  • The Fissure King

    Again, a fantastic article. Your posts addressing the issue of women’s fitness as it is generally portrayed by popular media are among my favorites. One of my biggest motivations in being a promoter of fitness is to bust the myths that are so prevalent and entrenched, and it is especially bad for women, although some of what you point out isn’t necessarily gender specific. I’ve seen plenty of men come to the gym–typically, men who are overweight–and say they don’t want to work on muscle or strength training, they just want to lose x number of pounds, so they express interest solely on the cardio machines. With men, though, it’s usually easier to change their minds about how valuable strength training is to reach their stated goals.

    While I’m totally on the same page as you regarding educating your clients, I recently read a suggestion by another prominent coach that you should be careful about how or even if you dole out information. The idea being that a lot of people, maybe even the majority, “don’t really want to know *how* to get fit, they just want to get fit.” That is, they’re not interested in the details of the process; that’s what they are hiring you for. I suppose the issue is that TMI makes it feel more like homework for them and somehow sours their motivation and/or their relationship with the trainer and the sessions? Now, this kind of thinking is very alien to me. I really like knowing the nuts and bolts of why things are done the way they are. But I have to recognize that not everybody is wired that way, though it’s difficult for me to see things from that perspective, and if/when I encounter someone like that I wonder how motivated I can be to work with someone who is so dismissive of the process and reasoning behind the programming. If you had any thoughts on the matter I’d love to hear them.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh, I agree on the education front. I go by “feel.” I can tell if someone is genuinely curious about what we’re doing, and I am more than happy to break things down for her (or him). Likewise, you’re right: most people could care less and just want to be told what to do. Still, education doesn’t necessarily HAVE to mean breaking down the nuances of exercise science. It may play into “mindset” strategies too. Or, Star Wars trivia. It’s all important.

  • Erica Kristin

    Excellent article. Women’s fitness should be about gaining, rather than losing. And all the things you mentioned – gaining confidence, muscle, better health, stronger joints, etc. That’s the good stuff right there!

    • TonyGentilcore

      When we eventually meet in person, we HAVE to fist-bump.

  • Sarah Carr

    completely agree, but i have one question: i’m a personal trainer who is also very fond of barbells. i try to gently steer my clients towards strength, and make getting stronger (rather than toning etc) the focus of their workouts. a problem i’ve encountered is with overweight clients (male and female) who are exercising specifically and solely to lose weight. they see very little value in strength, and it’s difficult to get them onboard with barbell training even high intensity barbell compound type training. it’s not that they want to plod away for hours on a treadmill, but they tend to only see value in aerobic type exercise – it’s difficult to get them out of the cardio tunnel. is this a problem you’ve encountered? any advice?

    • TMMerrick

      Hi Sarah. It can help to explore what the client really wants to see in terms of results: losing weight is often a proxy for fitting in clothes better, increasing energy to play with kids/grandkids. We know that strength training will give a lot of these results, even if the number on the scale doesn’t change as much. Sometimes I ask “if you looked like you lost ## pounds (whatever number the person has given), but you only lost ## (lower number), would that be okay?” Most of the time, the client’s answer is “yes”; if “no”, explore why–what does the scale number mean to that person and why.

  • Shane Mclean

    That devil kitty is going to give me nightmares. Thanks Tony. I agree, intrinsic motivation and performance should take precedence in training anyone not just women. Great work coach.

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