Some Thoughts On Training Women (Post # I Don’t Know, I Lost Count)

Share This:

“Can we please just shut-up about Tracy Anderson!?!”

Those were some powerful words uttered by David Dellanave of Movement Minneapolis last weekend during the Expert Panel at The Fitness Summit.

Up until that point a fair amount of Tracy Anderson bashing had accumulated, partly in jest (as the brunt of some jokes), but too, partly because her name came up in several presentations (mine included) as a talking point about the the state of the industry, and I think Dave just kinda got sick of it.

The tipping point, I believe, was when powerlifter, T-Nation writer, and overall nice guy, Greg Nuckols, asked the panel a simple, albeit powerful question: “How do we promote good training information without turning people off from training?”

On an aside, I watched Greg PAUSE squat – ass-to-grass no less – 585 lbs for an easy, clean single last weekend.  I secretly hate him….;o)

As my friend, Harold Gibbons, noted in his summation of the entire event, “This question was posed in contrast to a conversation at the time that discussed how we as an industry can do battle with some of the horrible training suggestions out there.  I say “battle” and “horrible” because we can all be vocal about the disregard for science and safety from certain training methodologies.  While I don’t agree with some of them, I don’t know if these people deserve to be cast as pariahs, as much as we can accept them as well intentioned and flawed with opportunity for growth.”

I’ll be the first to call myself out here.  I’ve done my fair share of championing the charge against the likes of Tracy Anderson, Jillian Michaels, or any other example you can come up with.

On one hand it seems a bit misguided or hypocritical (and I’ve even been called jealous) given the thousands of testimonials they have from women all over the world who have followed their advice with great success and lost “x” amount of weight performing their programs.

That should be commended.  Kind of.

You see, extenuating circumstances aside (medical issues), it isn’t hard to get people to lose weight. Take them from doing nothing to doing something, and “stuff” will happen. How’s that for science!?!

What I hate, what really ruffles my feathers, gets my goat, and makes me go bat-shit crazy….is the incessant fear mongering that the likes of Tracy Anderson gravitates towards and advocates.

Here’s a sampling of some of her better known gems:

“No woman should ever lift a weight above 3 lbs.”

“While running, strength training, and cycling may burn calories, they do not design feminine muscle or get rid of an imbalance that may masquerade as a “problem area.”

“I would never recommend (kettlebells) to women, even women who are fans of bulkier muscle lines.  While bulkier muscles looks OK on women in the 20s and 30s, it doesn’t age well.”

And while I don’t like to use ad hominem attacks as part of an argument, I do find it somewhat “odd” that for as much as Ms. Anderson is an advocate of her own method (as she should be), and for as much as she advocates for a certain look and bastardizes strength training for women…..she’s had fair amount of plastic surgery done.

Doesn’t THAT seem a bit hypocritical?  In an offhanded way, we could make the argument that not even Tracy Anderson got to look like Tracy Anderson by doing the Tracy Anderson Method. #Wordplay

But anyways, getting back on track, she’s a master at toying with women’s emotions and irrational fears towards lifting weights.

Does her method get results?  I guess.  I mean, I can Google “Tracy Anderson before and after pictures” and get a few hundred pages of evidence.  And that should be commended.  To a point.

Stealing some commentary from “Brent” who left this comment on an old(er) blog post the other day:

Any dipshit can teach to the test, or run a client into the ground, get them to lose x amount of pounds and show off their ‘success’ (usually its even easier in the fitness industry because clients come to you, usually somewhat motivated and willing to do what the ‘expert’ tells them to).

Setting up someone for long term success isn’t immediately quantifiable and is quite a bit harder. Kinda requires skill. It’s why any trainer can have a buttload of ‘success’ stories. The goal though is empowerment (at least in my mind) and setting one up for long-term success. This is more difficult to market though and frankly not as sexy.

Anytime I critique a trainer and someone says ‘yeah but they get good results..”) I just tell them Jillian Michaels and Tracy Anderson have thousands of positive testimonials, weight loss success stories, tweeter followers etc. Smart peeps in the fitness industry bash them though because they do nothing to empower their clients and set them up for long term success. I wonder how many of their clients or Biggest Loser winners come back years later and are like ‘wow, you really changed my life! 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In a roundabout way, this goes back to my presentation last weekend where I talked about some of my strategies when it comes to training women.

I brought up Tracy Anderson to showcase a point:  that fear mongering, feeding into, and placating into the irrational fears of (some) women is not doing anyone any favors.

At Cressey Performance we don’t feel women need to train any differently than men. 90% of what we do is the same across the board whether you have a the Y chromosome or not.

I was going to toss in a Sex and the City joke here, and showcase women’s unparalleled infatuation with it, but then I realized I’ve actually watched every episode.  And [cue high-pitched voice here] looooooooooooved it.

Our gals are deadlifting, squatting, bench pressing, performing chin-ups and push-ups, and otherwise TRAINING like the guys.

What stands out, oftentimes, is the psychology that comes with training women.

Men tend to be more Temporal Comparative, where they compete or compare against themselves.

What did I deadlift last week?

What did I squat last week?

How much do I weigh now compared to last month?

Guys tend be more interested in what they, themselves, are doing.

Conversely, women tend to be more Societal Comparative, and compare themselves to other women.

She’s doing “x” amount of weight on the bench press, how come I’m not doing that much?

She has an amazing back.  Why doesn’t mine look that way?

I can’t believe she’s wearing that to the gym. What a ho!

I once had a 50+ year old female client who would beat herself up and downgrade HER results, because she didn’t look like the 22 year-old former Division I female athlete who trained at the the same time as her.

Part of my job as their coach is to help them turn off the negative and unrealistic messages they’re inundated with as they watch television or walk through the magazine aisle, and teach them to compete against themselves.

While it may take some women longer than others to buy into, one of the best things I can do is to get them to focus more on performance based goals rather than less quantifiable goals such as scale weight.

Of course, some women may need to lose some weight….and that’s fine.  But the sooner I get them to focus more on performance based goals like working towards performing a strict push-up on the ground or squatting their bodyweight for reps – the less they are s slave to the scale.  And that’s HUGE!!!

Scale weight doesn’t tell you anything!

The work and effort it will take to eventually be able to do a push-up from the ground, or squat one’s bodyweight for reps, or to be able to perform a strict body-weight chin-up trumps ANYTHING you can do with a pink dumbbell or an elliptical machine or a Tracy Anderson DVD.

Sorry if that rubs some people the wrong way…..but that’s just the way things are.

Of course, if strength training isn’t your bag, and you prefer to use pink dumbbells, perform yoga, and run a treadmill, go for it!!!  As noted earlier: anything is better than nothing. If you like the way you feel doing those things, and your proud of your body….awesome.  You get a gold star.

But please don’t be the person who, despite going to the gym 5x per week, bitches and whines that you never seem to get the results you’re after – or if you do, that they never stick for longer than a few weeks or months – and then continue to repeat the same process over and over and over again.

What was it Einstein said about insanity again?  If you continue doing the same thing(s) expecting a different result…….

Likewise, if you’re a fitness professional reading this post, I implore and encourage you to learn to EMPOWER your clients (both female and male).  Teach them the skills they’ll need to make LONG-TERM progress, be their coach! COACH THEM!!!!!  

So while I understand I set myself up for snarky comments by starting a post off with “can we please just shut up about Tracy Anderson,” and then proceeded to write another blog post on Tracy Anderson…….I hope people can appreciate the overall message/tone.

Which, in a roundabout way can be summarized like this:

One of the best compliments you can receive from a client is when they no longer need your services.

When they finally reach their goal(s), are able to make them stick, and can then look you pointblank in the eyes and say “I got this,” your job is done.

There’s no need to exploit people and cater to their fears.

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

Share This Post:


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

  • John J Brooks

    When you guys are working with folks who don't have some extrinsic goal: winning cy young awards, jacking homeruns, winning fights, getting smoking hot for the 10 year reunion to show up that b!tch Chrissy.. etc. Do you incorporate any kind of game/play/competition for those clients other than what organically arises when athletic competitive people do anything around each other? I have seen benefits to it (grown up play-time, fun!) but also can see the danger (crossfit). What is your take?

    May 8, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sam Parker

    I secretly love Tony Gentilcore.... ;o)

    May 8, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Cara

    How's this for knowing you did your job? Female client gets complimented on form and strength while deadlifting and told, "that's nice to see." I blame you and the rest of CP!

    May 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    Nice post and all that, but the fact that you've watched the entire Sex and the City show still has me reeling quite a bit.

    May 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Joonas

    Good read Tony! I work in a commercial gym and feel like I am a crusader trying to convince women on the benefits of weights training instead of doing dance class. Recently a lady asked my help to get the "Tracy Anderson"- look. I am not going to lie, I went apeshit.

    May 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michelle

    I appreciate your concern for women , Tony, but it sounds like you are doing just fine with the women you train.. There is ( unfortunately) a market out there for people who gravitate towards Tracy Anderson ( whom I had never even heard of before reading your articles), . Let them go there!!! Some people like Oprah, some people like to drive a Prius, some people drink Diet Mountain Dew ...there will always be the uninformed, easily swayed, gullible masses. Let them be, it is still a somewhat free country. thank you

    May 9, 2014 at 3:46 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      That's a good point Michelle, and thanks for sharing your opinion. On one hand I'm just trying to "even the score" and counteracting the myths and fallacies that the likes of Tracy Anderson spews. On the other, I do see where you're going. I mean, you even said you never heard of Tracy Anderson until I wrote about her, which then ties into the whole idea of "any press is good press," But, I think you're right: I need to shut up about TA now.....;o)

      May 9, 2014 at 4:15 am | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    Get it Tony. Right on. ;-) As a woman, I approve this message.

    May 9, 2014 at 5:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tania

    Isn't "eventually [being] able to do a push-up from the ground, or squat one’s bodyweight for reps, or to be able to perform a strict body-weight chin-up" setting the bar a little low? So many women think they can't do a pull-up - they absolutely CAN and oftentimes the barrier is more mental than physical. Why not strict pull-ups for reps? 1.5xbw squat? 2xbw deadlift? Or even just "squat and pull freakishly heavy?" The goals (as stated) sound limiting: as if one strict chin up (come on, not even a pull up!?) is the end game rather than a milestone. We can do more.

    May 9, 2014 at 8:13 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I don't know if it's setting the bar low, as it is addressing reality. Not many women who start training or what into the facility on day on can perform a chin-up or squat their own bodyweight. Not even close The goals I mentioned weren't meant to be limiting, but rather starting point. Of course I want them to get stronger!!!!!

      May 10, 2014 at 6:38 am | Reply to this comment

  • KellieDavis

    Why does everyone hate on Anderson when THIS guy is the highest grossing fitness personality in history???

    May 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Gregory Lee Nuckols

    Thanks for the shoutout Tony! It was great meeting you last weekend. Solid post.

    May 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kelly Coffey

    Brilliant. Setting clients up for sustained success takes SKILL and *is* decidedly unsexy. This was well-written, insightful and awesome. I wish I'd written it myself. THANK YOU.

    May 9, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brent

    Welp, I can die now. Was just quoted in a Tony Gentilcore blog post! Joking aside, I feel the need to chime in here and defend the Tony’s of the world who bash my gal pal Tracy ‘Atrophy Queen’ Anderson. Here is the ultra abbreviated version of what I'm about to blog about (Thanks Tony for giving me my topic for the week...twice!) We need TEACHERS in this industry and the prerequisite for being a great teacher isn’t simply having the requisite knowledge, but just as importantly, knowing how to make connections with people who have little interest in the technical details of fitness and health, and those connections should be meaningful and put into its proper context. Seems like everyone has had that ‘smart’ teacher who knew every intricate detail of their subject but couldn’t get ‘through’ to their students because they couldn’t create any meaningful connections to their real lives (Cool, you know every detail of every battle in the Civil War? Awesome, I’m going back to sleep. Wake me on test day ‘teacher’). You can’t understand why the ‘women will get bulky if they lift 3lbs’ myth exists if you don’t understand who helped create and perpetuate it (to be fair it’s not just Tracy. That myth has been around a long time). There is a huge difference between unconstructive, ad hominem attacks (you suck, you air-headed, barbie!...sorry best I could do right now) vs. genuine, well thought out constructive criticism from smart dudes like Tony or Dean Somerset (among others). Anywho, lots more to say on this, but typing is hard. Gonna go finish off my tofurkey smoothie now.

    May 9, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Judy

    I have to say, on one hand I love posts like these, because reinforces what I believe- I can train like a man. On the other hand I come away scratching my head in confusion because Girls Gone Strong just released a new workout program supposedly tailored to a woman's needs. I was all set to buy Bret Contreras' 2x4 program when I saw a glowing review for the GGS program from you and Eric Cressey. I started to doubt whether I wouldn't be better off with a program for a woman? So finally I decided to just concentrate on my bench and go with the Smolov Jr. for now. It's all confusing and kind of annoying.

    May 10, 2014 at 3:19 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Both are great products Judy. The Modern Women's Guide to Strength Training is catered towards more beginners and intermediate lifters. There are many women out there who have NO idea what to do when it comes to strength training, and the GGS product helps to shed some light on that and do a little "hand holding." Just a little, though. Women can absolutely do 2x4 program, but there's not much TEACHING in it. It's basically Bret saying "do this and get freaky strong." So for someone who's looking to get more of the "whys?" answered, the GGS product would be a better fit. it's not that one is a better "fit" for a woman than the just depends where you are as far as experience level.

      May 10, 2014 at 6:43 am | Reply to this comment

  • Phil Swain

    Great article Tony! I agree 100%. Women should be weight training in the gym. A combination of cardio and weight training will bring you the best benefits in my opinion. Women (and men) who only do cardio are doing a disservice to themselves.

    May 13, 2014 at 8:14 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lindsey

    Thank you so much for posting this! I just found your site, and I am enjoying reading all the old posts from you. I just started lifting about 6 months ago, and I made it a point to get a trainer to show me the ropes. I wanted to make sure I was informed and trained properly as I was beginning. I think I'm fortunate that I've starting my lifting from the beginning with the mindset that I should be lifting heavy (thanks to my trainer)! While I know I can only lift so much without a spotter, I also am not afraid to go to the rack where all the men hang out and pick some weights up and lift with them. Thanks for confirming that I am on the right track!

    May 14, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment