The Myth of Female Specific Training
A few weeks ago at the Cressey Performance Fall Seminar I presented on the topic of female specific training with a presentation titled Training Jane From Joe: Do Women Need to Train Differently Than Men?
Stealing an awesome quote from my friend John Romaniello (and something I whole heartedly agree with):
“We all have the same parts (muscles, not genitals), and while women certainly don’t need to train differently than men, there are numerous reasons that women can – and, often, should – train differently than men.”
True: most women aren’t concerned with bro-science goals like blasting their biceps, pulverizing their pecs, or building a derriere that has it’s own zip code (although, thanks to guys like Bret Contreras, more and more women are jumping on the glute train like never before), and in that regard it’s easy to see the slight differences in training approaches that may arise.
But having said that, I still feel that 90% of the time – general goals aside – there’s no reason to differentiate between how a woman trains and how a man trains.
And while I did dissect a handful of scenarios in which I approach female specific training with a bit more vigor and attention to detail – namely ACL prevention considerations** training someone through a pregnancy – the overriding theme of my talk was how many (not all) women are programmed at an early age to think they’re these delicate flowers who can’t (and sadly, shouldn’t) lift weights.
Sadder still is how many young women are inundated with images from the mainstream media which tells them how they should look to fall into quote-on-quote “societal norms.”
Here’s a glowing example:
One week they’re told that this picture of Kim Kardashian (pregnant) is what fat is:
As a result many will resort to extreme amounts of cardiovascular exercise (you know, because that’s what women are supposed to do) and then follow a diet where a snack mounts to nothing more than a celery stick, water with a splash of lemon, and something that’s gluten-free and tastes like sawdust.
Then, maybe the following week or a few weeks later the same magazine will run a cover which looks like this:
Well, WTF!?!?!? Which is it?
Is it any wonder why so many women – of all ages – are so confused and have body image issues?
And then there’s this doozy of a story which made me want to offer my face up as a punching bag.
A current client of mine, a woman who happens to be a personal trainer herself, was interested in possibly working with young, female athletes this past summer and reached out to the local high school in her area to see if she’d be able to hang out at the school’s gym during the times when the athletes were there.
She contacted all the coaches of the female sports teams to let them know they she was going to be around and that she was hoping to round up the troops and have the opportunity to work with their athletes.
One of the coaches, who’s the PHYSICAL EDUCATION TEACHER to boot, wrote back with the following note”
“Not many of the girls are interested in lifting weights because there’s no “women friendly equipment” available.”
The “women friendly equipment” she was referring to was, you guessed it: treadmills and elliptical trainers.
She might as well have added dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and an apron for good measure. Hell, why not take away their right to vote while you’re at it!
My client was aghast with equal parts disappointment and rage. The weight-room was well-equipped with ten power racks and plenty of barbells and dumbbells. Plenty of space for an entire team to come in and learn how to lift weights, and as far as high-schools are concerned, a strength coaches wet dream.
Yet, this coach, assuredly someone whom the female athletes look up to was sending them the message that “you’re girls, you belong on the treadmill.”
This is what’s so frustrating (and infuriating) at times. Girls are being programmed to think that they’re not like the boys and that they shouldn’t lift weights. Which I find absurd.
And that, in many ways, was the main theme I was trying to convey in my talk a few weeks ago. That the OPPOSITE is what should be highlighted and encouraged and instilled into the psyche of our young females.
While I’m only one coach, and feel I do a good job at stressing things like performance based goals over scale weight and I go out of my way not to fall prey to archaic societal norms, I think the tide is starting to turn.
Groups like the Girls Gone Strong crew are leading the charge and helping to spread the word that it’s okay for girls to get a little dirty and to train along side the boys. People like Bret Contreras and Kellie Davis are writing mainstream books telling women to go LIFT SOME WEIGHTS. Organizations like CrossFit – despite some of my reservations – are getting women excited to train, and train hard.
It’s still a long battle to forge, and we have a lot of work to do still, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. And that’s cool in my book.
** = In a lot of ways, much like Mike Boyle, I think the whole ACL prevention talk is BS. Yeah, yeah, we can talk about how research demonstrates that female athletes are 6-8x more likely to tear their ACL compared to their male counterparts, Q-angles, and even estrogen receptors during the menstrual cycle……but at the end of the day I don’t feel there’s such a thing as an “ACL prevention program.” I think any well-designed program that focuses on getting athletes stronger (particularly the posterior chain), teaching them how to decelerate and land properly, as well as works on change of direction and movement quality is an ACL prevention program in its own right.
And lets just call a spade a spade: I don’t think it’s so much an ACL issue with women as it is “they’re just weak” issue.
Now, this doesn’t apply to all women of course. But generally speaking many women are “hand held” when it comes to programming (see above) and it just comes down to getting them stronger. Plain and simple.