The “X-Factor” When It Comes to Convincing Women to Lift Weights?

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What an awesome weekend.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this post, I first wanted to offer my gratitude to Randy Martin and his staff over at POWER Fargo for not only inviting me to speak but for being amazing hosts during the 3rd Annual Sanford POWER Strength and Conditioning Clinic.

Not only was it an eventful two days filled with top notch training and nutrition information catered towards fitness professionals (there were roughly 200 attendees, mostly strength coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, with a spattering of Bert Blyleven fans* ), but – and I know this is a random point to bring up  – the food spreads were on point!

You know you’re at a strength and conditioning event when all-you-can-eat deviled eggs and chicken/pineapple skewers are part of the experience.  It was meathead heaven!

The only thing that would have made it more meat-headed was if they included creatine as a condiment or John Cena showed up and started a pig roast.

Note to any future seminar/conference planners:  this needs to happen.

Game time for me was all-day Saturday.  I spoke a total of six times – two presentation (one on squat assessment, and the other on shoulder “stuff”) and four, 30-minute long hands on sessions, where I discussed some of the shoulder care exercises we use at Cressey Performance with the bulk of our overhead athletes.

The latter of which you can learn in more detail HERE.

And by watching this video (my apologies for the lighting, it does get better as the video progresses):

Needless to say by the end of the day Saturday my brain was mush.  Annnnd I lost my voice.

Now I’m sitting here in the lounge area at my hotel Sunday morning writing this blog before I head to POWER to get a quick lift in with a few of the coaches there, and then it’s off to the airport.

So if you’re reading this post on Monday…….I MADE IT HOME!  YAY!!!

Also, as a quick aside:  Can I just take a second to say how lovely, in general, people here in the Mid-West are???

It’s been so refreshing to make eye contact with people, have them smile, and say “good morning.”

Sometimes I feel as if you can do the same thing in Boston (say hello to someone) and you’re more apt to be challenged to a knife fight than someone reciprocating.

Thanks Mid-West, for restoring my faith in humanity!!

The “X-Factor” When It Comes to Convincing Women to Lift Weights?

It’s no secret that I’ve encouraged and longed championed that women can and should lift (appreciable) weights.  I say “appreciable weights,” because pink dumbbells don’t count.  Those are paperweights. Doorstoppers. Bookshelf holders. The things that are relegated to the Tracy Anderson’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s of the world (when she’s not dissing working moms of course) who are ignorant, prefer to placate into women’s fears about fitness,and/or want to sell DVDs.

NOTE: For those interested, HERE’s a link to a bunch of female-specific blog posts on my website. Stuff that’s actually useful, educational, empowering, and is gluten and botox free.

There’s no shortage of reasons why women should lift weights.  For all intents and purposes they’re the very same reasons why men lift weights:  to improve performance (whether in their respective sport(s), in daily life, or in the bed room.  BOM CHICKA BOM BOM), to improve health markers (increased lean body mass, improved bone density, offset metabolic disease, to name a few). to (hopefully) prevent injury, to look and feel like a million bucks, and/or, simply, because they like it or want to.

I recall several encounters my girlfriend, Lisa, has had at the commercial gym where she trains.  She’s a pretty serious lifter. She deadlifts, squats, performs hip thrusts, push-ups, can crush strict bodyweight chin-ups for reps, and on more than one occasion she’s been approached by both men and women who ask the inevitable question:

Are you, like, training for something?

Her answer:  “Yes, life.”

It’s in that light that I wholeheartedly LOVE it when women just train to train.

The question, though, is why do so many women refrain from hitting the weights in the first place despite knowing the gulf of benefits it provides?

Some of the the battle, I believe, is just getting through the intimidation factor.  I can understand why the bulk of women are reluctant to mosey on over to the free-weight area, what with all those guys grunting and groaning (it’s 40 lbs dude, relax), not to mention the redolent, gaseous, plume of Axe Body Spray one has to contend with.

It’s nasty.  I can’t say I blame them there.

A larger portion of the battle, and something many coaches don’t recognize, is the gender differences between men and women (Quick Refresher: boys have boy down there parts. Girls have girl down there parts.) and how they use the power of comparison, for better or for worse.

This is something that Registered Dietician and strength coach, Dave Ellis, touched on over the weekend during one of his talks at the POWER Fargo Strength Clinic.

He noted that one of the marked differences between men and women is that women are more societal comparitive, and men tend to be more temporal comparitive.

Put another way: women judge their current state against others (women), while men judge their current state to their own past current state.

If that still doesn’t make sense: women (not all) compare themselves to other women, while men (not all) compare themselves to themselves.

It’s uncanny how much this makes sense.

In the weight-room guys are always trying to lift more weight, competing against themselves, judging their progress by what they did in the days, weeks, months, or even years prior.

Conversely, women (again, not always) judge progress by comparing themselves to other women and it’s toxic at times.

I once had an older female client – in her 50s – who would regularly kick-ass in the gym – only to disregard her progress because she didn’t look like the 22 year-old former Division I athlete who trained at the same time as her.

And this was a woman who had a few years of good training under her belt and knew better.

What does this say for those women who have little to no training experience?

Maybe the initial intimidation factor, and what prevents some women from seeing progress, isn’t so much the dudes walking around with their tubs of protein and cut-off shirts, not to mention the learning curve and trying to figure out what the pulldown thingamajiggy does, but rather the notion that many are comparing themselves to other women; some of which are younger or just have more training experience?

It’s human nature to compare – that’s not the issue.  But when it serves as the main litmus test to gauge progress, and it’s done all….the…..time, it can become problematic.

I don’t know the exact answer to this conundrum – I’m a strength coach not a psychologist!! – but maybe if we (as fitness professionals) made a more concerted effort to tweak or “nudge” women’s mentality and to try to get them to compete against themselves, we’d see a bit more of paradigm shift?

It’s something I try to instill in my female clients from day one.  Rather than gauge progress by comparing themselves to what other women are doing or how they look, I try to get them to focus on THEMSELVES. Once they recognize, understand, and accept that any progress is progress, that’s a massive mountain that’s been conquered.

– Maybe they’re doing push-ups from the floor now, whereas four weeks ago they could barely eek out one from an elevated pin position. Win!

– Maybe they’re able to perform a clean looking squat pattern now, whereas before they could barely do it without falling over. You go girl!

– Maybe they added 20 lbs to their deadlift! Baller!

– Maybe they can fit into their favorite pair of jeans now. Holla!

– Maybe they can get through an entire training session without having to take a break, whereas before they had to stop every five minutes. Fantastic!

– Maybe they don’t call you an asshole as much during their training session.  Until you make them push the sled….;o)

All of those accomplishments should celebrated – regardless of how trivial they may seem – and should serve as a way to empower women to see that it isn’t about what other’s are doing and comparing everything to them, but how they’re making themselves better.

It’s about you.  Simple as that.

* For those who have no clue who Bert Blyleven is.  He’s only the Minnesota Twins’ all-time leader in pretty much every pitching category there is, including rocking the high stirrups.  

He was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.

Since I was speaking in Minnesota I made sure to win the graces of the crowd by giving tribute to my Twins knowledge and not make too many references to the Red Sox.  I busted out a few Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, and Danny Gladden references.

And Tom Brunansky

And Jack Morris

I’ll keep going dammit……………

Chuck Knoblauch, Joe Mauer, Frank Viola, what!

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.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Eric Guthrie

    Interesting thoughts. I coach mostly women and its funny as my freshmen women's soccer players all have roughly the same maxes. So part of it is social, but also some is they are all new to training so progress is similar. My gymnasts usually all use the same weights unless i prod them to do more. This is definitely social.

    April 14, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kara Mazerolle

    Tony....baller...holla....hilarious but solid info....for female volleyball athletes ....forward facing wall slides and land mine presses = make ya holla....luv ur posts. Keep them coming..... From a chick who lifts!

    April 14, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle Schuant

    "The question, though, is why do so many women refrain from hitting the weights in the first place despite knowing the gulf of benefits it provides?" In part, because of articles like this. Treat a group like they're different, and they'll believe they're different. The greatest obstacle women trainees and athletes face is their male trainers. Stop assuming people won't do something, and maybe they'll actually do it. If people come to me for advice, well I'm the trainer, they do what I tell them to. I don't say, "I'll teach you to squat - even though you're a girl." I just say, "I'll teach you to squat." Gender is an issue because we make it an issue. Stop making gender an issue.

    April 14, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hmmm, I don't feel that that was my intention. I, too, am a coach Kyle. I don't treat a girl "like a girl" when they start training. I coach them. The main theme of this post, I felt, was to get women to understand that they should compete against THEMSELVES and not others. I appreciate your feedback though. Definitely places a different perspective on things.

      April 15, 2014 at 8:07 am | Reply to this comment

      • Kyle Schuant

        Proof's in the results. 65yo woman totalling 185kg at 61kg, couple years after herniated lumbar discs, osteoarthritis in spine, etc. Keeping her company and lifting on the day were 4 other women from my barbell team. There were 30 women altogether lifting on the day of this state meet. Nobody whatever their gender walks into the gym asking to do a barbell snatch or set national lifting records. Barbells are just a tool to take the person to their goals. They say their back hurts, they want to play with the grandkids, they want a perkier butt, they want everyday life to be easier or not be on the bench just watching the game again because of injuries. Strength training can help with all of that, so that's what I give them. They trust us, we're wearing the polo shirt so we must know what we're doing. They don't argue. Don't make gender an issue and it won't be an issue. The same goes for age and injuries, of course. I train a guy recovering from lymphatic cancer, he wears a pressure stocking on one leg to control the swelling. He had to mess about on the leg press for some time to get the leg working properly, but now he squats and deadlifts same as everyone else. He's one workout shy of a 100kg squat work weight, not record-breaking by any means, but not bad for a recovering cancer patient in his 30s who sits at a desk all day. It's our job to assess their capabilities, their job to tell us their goals, and our job to take them the quickest path from one to the other. This may or may not involve lifting fucking heavy weights, but it usually does. Don't assume you have to persuade people of us, they tend to trust us. This is why when my clients had a trainer who put them on a bosu ball they did it, and when I put them under a bar they do that, too. They trust us, no persuasion needed.

        April 15, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          Kyle - I wasn't chastising women. I AGREE with you. I don't understand why you're suggesting this was a negative article. You do read all the stuff I put up here showcasing the women that I train - hitting deadlift PRs, squatting, benching, etc, right? You saw the sled video I put in the article too, of a GROUP of women training together? You're entitled to your opinion, and if the article I wrote offended you, my apologies. But I feel like you'r being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative.

          April 16, 2014 at 8:17 am | Reply to this comment

    • Kathy Ekdahl

      Kyle- I cant disagree with your comments more- not only as a female trainer with over 25 years in fitness, but as a client of Tony's. It seems like you didn't even read his post? Tony never makes gender an issue as a trainer, nor as a writer, and it certainly isn't any part of this post. Tony does not need me to speak for him- but I will. His post was meant to add another piece of understanding of this issue, and it is very true. The facts are the facts- women are different than men. Genetics, right? And, environment. Most women are afraid to lift heavy weights-whether it is out of intimidation from past gym meathead experiences, lack of understanding of the process and results, or conflicting media messages. It is so pervasive, it affects women of all ages- high school athletes to 60 year old grandmothers. Changing this starts with better education- and that's what Tony is doing. And, lastly, your attitude that "I'm the trainer- they do what I tell them to do" is also part of the problem. Women need education- not a man to tell them what to do.

      April 20, 2014 at 8:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Debbie

    Hey, great article!! I am a 52 yr old woman who trains. I've been at it since I was 23! I've been asked many times if I'm training for something and my response is always "for life"!! So that made me smile!! One question...why don't I look like the woman in the blue tank top?? Ha, there is part of your point right there. I should know better than to do that. But-Id really like to know. :)

    April 15, 2014 at 5:52 am | Reply to this comment

    • Anita Byrd-Petts

      Hey.....your article really hit me where it hurts! I am a 60 year old woman who has trained since her early 20's. People are always commenting on how fit I am and other women tell me they want to look like me. What they don't know is that I secretly want to look like OTHER women who I see working out. I'll never tell them this. I always tell them they should do the very best they can do.....that they should always measure success by how far they have come However, the truth is.......I do compare myself to those other matter how hard I strive to remember how truly awesome I really am and how far I have come. It must be genetic......... :)

      April 15, 2014 at 6:19 am | Reply to this comment

  • Guest

    Ah man, Tony dissed the 40's I was curling.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Love that quote from Dave Elllis and how true it is. Great message Tony. Going to send this article to all my female clients

    April 20, 2014 at 9:23 am | Reply to this comment

  • Guzzy

    Tony this article clearly made me feel pretty equal to men when it comes to how you see women training vs men and that's what has made and kept me a fan. I train for life. But one question for you. Should age be a factor when you train women even when, as an example, a 40 year old super fit and healthy woman is lifting heavier weights than a fit 20 year old - do you train them differently?

    March 8, 2016 at 11:03 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      The classic answer....."it depends." I have to take into consideration injury history (past/present), and maybe more age. Assuming all else is equal, both move well, are competent, and no major injuries, I see no reason to approach them differently outside of their own personal goals.

      March 10, 2016 at 8:46 am | Reply to this comment

      • Guzzy

        Thanks Tony I was searching past articles as I am sensitive about my age I will admit, being in 40's but yet pushing heavier weights than most 30 year olds on gym.vabdcfeeling and looking way younger!! So I love the term training age!! Maybe you can do a new article on training age vs real age matters. 50/40's really are the new 30's in the gym. I find that many of the moms are in better shape than the 20 something party girls anyways!!

        March 10, 2016 at 10:18 am | Reply to this comment

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