Q and A: Getting My Wife to Train

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Q: Hey Tony,

Love the blog and your T-Nation stuff — keep up the good work. Hopefully this question won’t get me punched, but I think I might only get one shot at this, so I want to make it a good one.

My wife is in good shape, but until recently didn’t have to do much to stay that way. After she turned 30, she started doing yoga and running, in an effort to stay looking good (which I sincerely appreciate). I’ve slipped in the occasional nudge to include some resistance training, but like many women she’s a bit gym-phobic, and my horror stories from the shit place I train at probably don’t help. Plus, she really likes running, and I want to be supportive.

Cut to the chase (which you no doubt saw coming): her knee has been bothering her, and after consulting some internet wizard, she declared last night that she needs to stop running “for a long time” to let the knee rest. To her credit, she did admit that the problem was most likely caused by jumping in too quickly, without building up the muscles in her legs first (“you get fit to run, not run to get fit” has been heard around the house for a while), and that resting is only going to delay the problem from happening again.

Here’s my problem: I really don’t think I’m going to get her to go to the gym with me. I thought of taking her through a body-weight circuit to keep it light and easy at first, but will this be enough? She hopes getting back into yoga will help, but she was doing that before and it obviously didn’t make that much of a difference. I just don’t see her doing deadlifts and sled pushes right now, so I’m wondering if something like lunges and body-weight squats, with some basic GPP stuff, would be beneficial in her case, and still fun/interesting enough to keep her doing it.

I’m not looking for a program, obviously, just a point in the right direction. I’m hoping that, if she doesn’t hate what I propose now, she’ll see some results and be up for some real work in the gym down the road.

Thanks for any advice you can give. Figured I’d start with the king.

The KING’S Answer (I’m totally going to run with this): First off, thanks for the kind words and for such an awesome question. Secondly, I think the approach you’re taking is exactly the right thing to do given the situation. You’re not being too pushy, and you definitely have her bests interests in mind. Hopefully with time (and little support) she’ll come around and see the light.

To that end, with regards to her knees hurting: Yes, she jumped into things too quickly. She knows it, you know it, her knee knows it. It happens, and it’s refreshing to see that she actually recognizes that fact. While the short-term “fix” (not running) will help, it’s certainly not going to fix the underlying issue(s)- whatever they may be.

Without getting too geeky, the knee is held together by active and passive structures. The passive structures include the ligaments, capsule, and menisici, while the active structures are the muscles that surround the knee (quadriceps, hamstrings, gastornemius, and popliteus).

Knee Muscles

In short, by making the active structures strong(er), it will take much of the burden off the passive structures. Read: yoga won’t do jack squat for this. Despite being marketed as the panacea of fitness (I’m surprised yoga doesn’t cure Swine Flu), yoga (alone) won’t make your wife’s knee feel better.

UPDATE: Furthermore (I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, thank you Jan), anytime you are dealing with a knee issue, you can almost guarantee that there is some sort of dysfunction going on in the hips and/or ankles (most likely the hips). So, that’s definitely something to be aware of, and might be a good idea to check out.

With regards to her reluctance to go to the gym. Indeed, it’s quite the conundrum. I can understand why the vast majority of women are intimidated to train at a gym- especially considering everything they read and/or watch (Oprah, People Magazine) tells them that the secret to a lean, svelt body is to do yoga/pilates, and to steer clear of any appreciable weights. It’s a never ending battle, and despite our best efforts, it seems it’s a never going to go away.

What’s more, the only other option is to train in the free-weight area where guys smell like cheap cologne (on a good day) and make noises that sound more like a whale passing a kidney stone than anything else. No thank you.

Training Intensity

Nevertheless, with respect to women and strength training, here’s what I like to point out:

1. Muscle is what gives the body shape and contour. If you want to look like an emaciated Olsen twin, then don’t lift weights.

Olsen Twins

2. What makes you “big and bulky” is the fat that surrounds your muscle.

3. Lets be honest, the likelihood that you’ll even work hard enough to be considered “big and bulky” is slim to none—-this goes for most guys too.

4. Muscle, while weighing more than fat, takes up 25% less space.***

5. The more LBM you have, the more your body will burn calories at rest.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it usually does a great job in getting my points across.

Additionally, you can have her read an article I wrote a few years ago, 4 Things Your Girlfriend Should Know. In it, I discuss why strength training pretty much makes yoga/pilates it’s bitch- among other things. All that said, I think by taking “baby steps,” and introducing her to weight training through bodyweight circuits, dynamic flexibility circuits, or maybe even trying a TRX, would be a step in the right direction. Once she gets a little more proficient and grows less intimidated stepping out of her comfort zone, you can have her start some of the programs in The New Rules of Lifting for Women, which I HIGHLY recommend all women read. If all else fails, you can do what I do whenever I want to bribe my girlfriend into doing something- offer to wash the dishes and/or watch Grey’s Anatomy. Works like a charm. Good luck!

*** NOTE: GODDAMMIT!!! Who’s the a-hole who gave Tracy Anderson permission to log onto my computer? Obviously, that statement makes no sense. What that should have said is, “muscle, while weighing the same as fat, takes up 25% less space.” I mean, how can one lb of muscle weigh more than one lb of fat? That’s just crazy talk.

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