Hey Ladies, Lift Something Heavy!

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The term passion is defined as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something,” or as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.”

Everyone reading (I hope) has a passion for something.  For some it’s their children and loved ones. For others it may be the charity work they’re involved in.  And even for others it may be something more tangible or finite such as their car or their collection of un-opened Star Wars action figurines.

Hey, I’m not here to judge

Passion is a great thing, and we should all be so lucky as to have a little passion in our lives.

I’m passionate about a lot of things:  my family, my girlfriend, movies, deadlifts, caffeine, my ever growing collection of vintage t-shirts.

A bit closer to home, however, and as a coach in particular, I’m passionate about fitness and helping others attain their goals.

I spend a great portion of my day training athletes, but what’s often glossed over is that I also train a fair number of regular “Joes and Janes,” or people who, like many of you reading, aren’t paid to jump higher, throw harder, or run faster. But rather just want to feel better, possibly shave a few lbs off their frame, lift some heavy things, and maybe not think twice about getting nekid with the lights on.


To that end, I often go on tirades when the topic of women and training pops up.  Speaking a bit more colloquially – and excuse my language – there’s a lot of shit information out there in the mainstream media, and it’s exponentially shitty with regards to women and strength training.

So I guess you could say I’m also passionate about doing my part in dispelling common myths and fallacies that’s regurgitated by the media.

Below is an interview I did for Marco Berardi and the people over at CrossFit LaSalle located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Marco Berardi: Tony, I know it is probably weird to ask one of the top strength and conditioning bloggers on the web to chat about women and lifting heavy things but your opinion on the subject has been one of my favorite parts of your blog. 600 pound deadlifts and big bench presses are great but for a large majority of coaches, we have many more women clients who want to get “toned” rather than athletes, so the topic of women and weight training is a great interest to me. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions.

I know you just went on vacation and spent some time at a Globo Gym. What was the experience like? Especially when it comes to how women train? I bet you saw lots of isolated bicep and tricep work with those cute pastel colored weights.

TG:  I live in a fairly secluded “bubble,” because in my world – especially in the realm of strength and conditioning – I control every component of training with my clients. I tell them what to do, how to do it, and most important of all….I coach them and make sure that everything (everything) is done correctly.

So, it’s always interesting when I stumble outside of my little bubble and make my way to a commercial gym to train, as I really have to prepare myself for the massive number of epic fails I’m going to see.

Note:  this isn’t a slight against all commercial gyms – just most of them.

If my thought process offends you – particularly if you’re a trainer and you fall into the camp that’s described below – it’s probably because the truth hurts.  Sorry I’m not sorry. 

Now, to be fair:  I’m not some cynical bastard who just likes to poo-poo on people. Who am I to judge what people do in the gym and how they do it?  At the end of the day, at least they’re doing something, and that should be commended.  Wholeheartedly.  All the time.

Whether it’s Zumba, Yoga, CrossFit, Jazzercise, Prancercise (look it up on Youtube), traditional weight training, or mimicking the dance from Napoleon Dynamite, anything is better than sitting on your ass.

But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t walk away a little let down about the industry whenever I happen to train at a commercial gym.

I’m a coach, and as such, it’s really hard for me not to observe what others are doing. Now, with regular patrons I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.  Sure, I can face palm myself and wonder why that woman who is 30 lbs overweight – and woefully de-conditioned – is wasting her time performing bicep curls on a BOSO ball.  She doesn’t know any better.

What really grinds my gears – and, if I may, makes me absolutely bat shit crazy – is when I see a fitness professional (who should know better) has their client perform the same thing.

Really?  She’s paying you $50, $60, $70 $80+ per hour so that she can stand on a BOSU ball and then follow that with tricep kickbacks and arm circles?  I kid you not:  that’s EXACTLY what I saw while I was away on vacation.

Moreover, it was readily apparent that none of the trainers felt the need to “push” their female clients – treating them as if they were these delicate snowflakes that couldn’t (or shouldn’t) lift anything heavier than their Prada handbag.

Not once, in the four days (FOUR days) I was at this gym training with my girlfriend, did I watch a trainer coach his or her client (whether male or female) through a compound, free-weight movement.  Not once.  I did, however, see a lot of poorly done push-ups, lunges, planks, and a bevy of other exercises that made me want to swallow a live grenade.  It was really sad.

MB: On a side note, how the media portrays training to women it is almost not their fault they are so confused. I mean they can look around their Zumba class and see that no one has improved in the last 3 years but I digress.  Is there anyway to change what is being marketed to women as “exercise”?

TG:  Completely true, and it’s something that I do see changing – albeit at a snail’s pace. Walk down any aisle at your local grocery store, and you’re bound to see numerous “women’s” magazines with a teeny-tiny (airbrushed) actress or model on the cover holding a pink dumbbell underneath some innocuous title like “10 Tips for a Bikini Body” or something equally as nauseating.

In reality, it’s not even the title that’s most annoying – it’s the trivial, almost offensive workouts that are attached. Much like to what I described above at the commercial gym, many (not all) of these so-called “workouts” aren’t even remotely challenging.

I mean, come on:  recommending a workout based solely around a can of soup (which I saw one magazine publish) – how to curl with it, squat with it, lunge with it, throw it at the editor’s face who decided this was viable fitness information – is a bit of waste of everyone’s time don’t cha think?

But this is the type of stuff that’s marketed towards women.  As you noted, can you blame women that they curl up in the fetal position whenever you ask them to perform a deadlift?

As far as the mainstream media is concerned, I don’t think their formula is going to change anytime soon.  While it’s changing somewhat – they do still have to sell magazines, and what sells magazines are articles with Kim Kardashian on the cover telling the world that performing strength training with high heels on is the key to badonkadonkness.

Thankfully, we have women out there like Nia Shanks, Molly Galbraith, Jen Comas Keck, Neghar Fonooni, Jen Sinkler, the rest of the Girls Gone Strong crew, as well as many, many others fighting the good fight and trying to empower women on the benefits of (real) strength training and to step away from the elliptical and treadmill.

Likewise, I too try my best to provide information to women that goes against the norm of what they’ve been spoon-fed for decades.

Like THIS one on The Myth of Female Specific Training, or THIS one on Should You Use Scale Weight as a Measure of Success, or THIS one on The Fitness Double Standard.

I try to debunk as many myths as I can – lifting heavy things WILL NOT turn you into The Rock, endless hours of cardio IS NOT the key to fat loss, Yoga WILL NOT make your muscles long and lean, Tracy Anderson IS NOT a credible source of fitness and health information and is about as intelligent as a ham sandwich.

There’s still a very long battle a head, but I do see the tides turning, and it’s a beautiful thing.

MB: Obviously, the women who come to your facility (I’m guessing) are already sold on the Cressey Performance values. They probably want to lift heavy things and achieve a chin up without assistance. How would you convince a woman that is scared to “bulk up” and feel they need endless amounts of cardio to drop their body fat?

TG:  Yes and no. While it’s true that most people who walk through our doors kinda already have an idea of what they’re getting themselves into, there’s still a fair share that need to be “de-programmed.”

The best thing I can do as a coach is listen.  I try to ask as many questions as possible and do a little digging.

– How often do they train?

  – What has their training looked like?

    – Are they happy with their results?     – If not, how come?

    – What is their ideal body type?

    – Why?

    – What do they feel is holding them back?

So on and so forth.  Once I’m done listening, I then go into a little (not a lot) of what I feel would be the best approach to take.  It’s not about me being confrontational, forcing information in their direction, and trying to convince them that what they’ve been doing for the past five years has been a complete time killer (although, for many, that’s exactly what’s happened).

At this stage it’s about comfort zones and showing them success right out of the gate.

Almost inevitably, once I start throwing out words like squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, Prowlers, hell even if I toss out the word strength…….I’ll starting getting a little push-back, and many of the same myths and fallacies I described above – things many of these women have been regurgitating for YEARS, with limited (if any) results mind you – rear their ugly heads.

Once that happens, I have one more question for them:

“How’s that working for you?”

Clearly, if your way is the superior way, and it’s the approach you’ve been using for the past 5-10 years…….why have you seen NO results?  Zilch.  Nada.

To that end, all I ask is that they give me two months.  Give it their all for 60 days and see what happens.  Almost always, after three weeks they’re hooked.

Once they start to see (and feel) the confidence they gain, it’s always a done deal.

Once they realize that putting an extra ten pounds on the bar won’t turn them into a roided out she-man, and they start noticing small, incremental changes to their body, the sky’s the limit. It’s a beautiful thing.

MB: When you begin to train women do you have specific goals you would like to help them achieve? If I can get a woman to do 5-10 proper push ups on their own, a chin-up, and deadlift better than 99% of the men in the gym, it is safe to assume they will achieve their body image goal. Is that an ok thought process?

TG:  Sure.  With any client – whether I’m working with a male or female – it’s usually my job to tell them what they need to do, and not what they want to do.  Big difference.

With any client, it’s about getting them outside their comfort zone.  With women in particular, their Kryptonite is the free-weight area.  Can you blame them?  Who wants to train around a bunch of dudes who reek of Axe body spray and scream as if they’re passing a kidney stone?  Hell, I don’t want to be around that.

That notwithstanding, I think you’re on the right track.  Having clear and defined (not to mention realistic and attainable) goals is an important component many trainees fail to grasp.

As a trainer or coach, I think it’s crucial to sit down with your client and come up with goals to strive for – whether it’s to perform an unassisted, body weight chin-up, “x” number of lbs on the deadlift, or to lose ten lbs of fat by summer.  Having something to work for gives people a sense of purpose and holds them more accountable in the end.

With the women that I train, they’re going to get coached on all the basic movements – squats, deadlifts, push-ups, etc. Much like you, it’s not uncommon for many of the women I train to train on their own “x” number of days per week at the other gym and to boast that someone complimented them on their deadlift form, and I totally dig that!

Even cooler is when they come back with stories about how they were waiting to “jump in” on a certain exercise at their commercial gym, and they warmed-up with the weight that the guy leaving ended with on his last set.

In the end, though, it’s about coaching the basics.  There’s no need to make things more complicated than they have to be. This isn’t NASA.  If your female client can perform ten picture perfect push-ups – despite push-ups being as exciting as watching grass grow – then they’re leaps and bounds a head of 99% of other females out there.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen too often.  Trainers (and trainees) are more concerned with looking cool and doing something unique than mastering the basics.

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.

Comments for This Entry

  • Tim Mercer

    Keep preaching the truth Tony!!

    February 3, 2014 at 11:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • CodieD

    Yes! Keep preaching! Now if you can figure out how to get some of the mainstream women's fitness mags to use fitness models with some healthy athletic muscle tone, that'd be great. I was appalled when Jen Sinkler posted pics from a magazine of her doing prowler work and they "quad-chopped" her pictures to give her that long and lean look they lie about. So sad! On another note, my trainer posted a pic of my 225lb deadlift PR on Facebook and my husband called me "she-hulk". I think he's just jealous.

    February 3, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Adrienne

    Shared this with one of my female lifting friends, thought I should share her comments: "Demerits for using the term disenfranchised incorrectly. Bonus points for using the word badonkadonkness!"

    February 3, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahaha. Everyone's a grammar Nazi.....;o) But shit, I did totally use that word wrong. Fixed it (and thanks for the heads up).

      February 4, 2014 at 7:26 am | Reply to this comment

      • Adrienne

        grammar naziness aside, we like this article very much :) I'm a very petite spin instructor and I'm not afraid to deadlift!

        February 4, 2014 at 7:56 am | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          It's all good Adrienne. I appreciated the heads up. And I can't tell you how much it makes me smile to hear you say that you're not afraid to deadlift. My girlfriend is also a spin instructor and she's constantly asked by people how she looks the way she looks - especially her arms. Many women tend to think that ALL she does is spin. Um, no. She'll always tell them that the secret to her arms are the copious amounts of chin-ups and push-ups I put into her programs....;o)

          February 4, 2014 at 8:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle Schuant

    "Not once, in the four days (FOUR days) I was at this gym training with my girlfriend, did I watch a trainer coach his or her client (whether male or female) through a compound, free-weight movement. Not once." Neither men nor women were trained effectively. Why then is this article got "ladies" in the title? There are too many of these articles, it's patronising. Women don't need to be told to train effectively, people do. Lift heavy shit, get stronger. All these articles and discussions make gender an issue. Don't make gender an issue and it won't be an issue. No tricks, no patronising bullshit. Lift heavy shit, get stronger.

    February 4, 2014 at 12:31 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Good point Kyle. But the main "theme" of the article was geared towards women. Men are equally at fault, but most aren't SCARED of the weightroom. Women tend to be. Didn't mean for my comments to come across as patronizing - my apologies if it came across as such.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:29 am | Reply to this comment

  • Yvonne

    I've been trying to tell my team of teenage girls (volleyball) how important it is to lift heavy weights in order to be better athletes. And one of them replies: "I don't lift weights. I just do body weight stuff." Sigh.

    February 4, 2014 at 10:07 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I know, it really, REALLY bugs me that this is the mentality that's engrained in young female athletes. But, when you consider that some coaches actually placate the same attitude, can you blame them for thinking that bodyweight exercises is all they need to do to get better? As an example, read this: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/myth-female-specific-training/

      February 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • C

    Great post! My girlfriend hit a 200 DL PR last week at a buck 35. She had a girl at school ask her a couple months ago how much she runs (I can't remember the last time she ran for more than 2 or 3 minutes)?

    February 4, 2014 at 11:45 am | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    How do I share a picture of something moronic? You speak of mindless magazines....I saw something the other day on "Woman's World" that made me want to scream. It was so awesome. In big letters it screamed "Paleo-diet Slim on a shoestring! You'll lose: 10 pounds a week." Now what do they know that I don't know!!!!????

    February 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Half the reason why I love going through the checkout lines is to read the comical titles of the articles on some of those magazines. "Gluten Free" cookies!?!??!?! 1. Okay, what ingredient are they using to make it "gluten free?" 2. You're still eating cookies.

      February 6, 2014 at 8:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stephanie

    Although it is frustrating to see all of the bullshit in the media, I must say that I've been pleasantly surprised to see a handful of articles in "popular" women's mags lately that have been pushing "heavier" weight training. They still have quite a long way to go, but I think there has been a tiny (baby) step in the right direction lately? All we need is people like you and all of the GGS to keep spreading the gospel!

    February 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Very true. Some magazines are upping the ante and starting to realize that "real" training information is what the public wants. Not for nothing, here's something I wrote for Women's Health last summer: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/chin-up-challenge-workout

      February 6, 2014 at 8:58 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steven Head

    Yes, a long, tough battle ahead. The myths surrounding strength training by/for women just wont die! I work in a big box/commercial gym, I'd like to think I'm making a difference, doing my little part. All my female clients at the moment are over 50, about half of them are deadlifting their bodyweight, the rest are on their way!

    February 5, 2014 at 12:15 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      That.....is.......awesome! Nice work Steven. All you have to do to "sell" that type of training to them is to tell them you're preparing them for life. Everyone deadlifts everyday when they pick something up. I trained an 82 year old women back in the day and had her doing rack pulls. It was awesome.

      February 6, 2014 at 9:00 am | Reply to this comment

  • Nicola Burgess

    I loved this article! As a committed and very passionate strength training enthusiast and former Fitness Instructor, I also find it frustrating that so many women are unaware and uneducated about the benefits of lifting weights. I wish I could be a local ambassador in my community to get more women on board to my way of thinking! Nicola

    February 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Reply to this comment

  • jensinkler

    I <3 you, both for the solid content AND the shoutout.

    February 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Worth reading or watching, mid-February | Anthony Dexmier

    […] Gentilcore is passionate about women-specific training. In this article, he dispels a few myths and sets the record […]

    February 14, 2014 at 9:46 am | Reply to this comment

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