Where Fitness Professionals Go Wrong When Training Women
Anyone’s who read TonyGentilcore.com for any length of time knows I’m passionate about a number of things:
2. Beef Jerky (or any dead animal flesh really. Except eel. Or octopus. Or snail. Basically it needs to have legs if I’m going to eat it).
3. Star Wars1
4. My Cat
5. Helping to reverse the toxic trend predicated by the mainstream media that women shouldn’t (or worse, can’t) strength train and/or lift appreciable weight.
I’ve tried my best to do my due diligence to fight the good fight and to take on the role as an ambassador who advocates for women to lift heavy things, and to shed light on the absurdity that they should refrain from it.
Posts like THIS (where I pwn Vogue Magazine), THIS (where I speak to the main stream media’s message towards women), THIS (where I highlight a few of my favorite “go to” women’s sources), and THIS (which is hands down the most popular post ever in this history of this site) help to elucidate my thoughts on the topic.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the overall “tone” conveyed by the media in recent years has relented and has gotten a bit less vomit in my mouthish – in no small part to the popularity of CrossFit and sites like Girls Gone Strong.
To speak to that point, recently I let it be known that I left Cressey Sports Performance to pursue other opportunities and that I’m now training people at a small studio space in Boston.
NOTE: I will be updating my services page soon, but if you’re interested in getting more information – where the studio is located, the basic format, what the cost is, as well as the secret handshake involved to get in – shoot me an email (via the contact page).
As such, I’ve had numerous people reach out to discuss working with me, some of which have been those from out of town with future travel plans to Boston.
Today I wanted to share an interaction I’ve had with a woman who lives near the NYC area.
From her first email:
“I’m in desperate need of a trainer. Since July I have tried two different local trainers (Nyack, NY) and I am really not happy – lots of light weights, no emphasis on compound movements (and when I insist we squat, deadlift or bench they never even discuss form/technique with me and just let me do whatever I want).
They tell me things like a body part – even glutes – can only be trained once a week, I should be eating only tilapia, broccoli, and six almonds, and I want to just run screaming out of the gym.”
I wrote back saying how sorry I was she had been having such bad experiences working other trainers and that I hoped I could try to break the trend.
After a few more emails back and forth she sent this gem:
“I still have several sessions with my current trainer which is driving me nuts because he says things like “people – and especially women – can’t build muscle after the age of 40” and I’m 50, building muscle, and really don’t like to hear I can’t do something especially when he has no evidence to back this up.”
I wrote back:
“What’s up with this guy? He’s pretty outdated in his train of thought. Is he living in 1919? Does he expect you to make him a sandwich? No, wait, he still thinks women can’t vote, right?”
Alas, sadly, this is the type of information (and message) that’s being relayed to women from fitness professionals – not all of them – who should know better.
The exchange got me thinking on where many (again, not all) fitness and health professionals go wrong when it comes to women and fitness.
1. Catering the Toxicity In the First Place
You see the messages all the time on magazine covers when you walk through a checkout line at a grocery store, and can’t help but feel saturated by WTF’ness of it all:
“Lose 1o lbs Fast. Without Dieting!”
“Get a Lean and Sexy Figure With These 4 Moves.”
“How To Get Toned for Summer.”
“The New Low-Carb, Guilt Free Diet Food: Sawdust!”
I understand marketing and know full-well that words like “strength, squats, muscle,” and “it’s going to take more than a month of dedicated, consistent, hard work to get the results you want” won’t sell women’s fitness magazines.
But come on: as a fitness professional you should know better than to pander to the BS.
And it’s not only fitness professionals – personal trainers and strength coaches – who are to blame. I’ve heard stories of FEMALE high-school athletic directors and coaches dismissing strength training for their FEMALE athletes because, to quote one of them:
“There isn’t any female-friendly equipment for them to use anyways.”
What the what??????
Mind you this was in reference to a very well equipped high-school weight room that had 6-8 full power racks and platforms.
The “female friendly” equipment she was referring to were treadmills, ellipticals, and pink colored frisbees for all I know.
That’s a hell of a crappy message to be conveying to an entire demographic of impressionable teenagers. The guys can use the squat racks; you ladies should be over there on the cardio equipment.
Chop, chop…off you go!
I for one like to educate my young female athletes and adult woman clients on why strength training is a good thing, and how it can empower them to accomplish many things outside of sports.
Although, admittedly, I prefer to get every woman I train to “buy” into more performance based goals rather than focusing on losing 10 lbs or trying to emulate an unrealistic, photoshopped societal expectation on the cover of a magazine.
It’s amazing how much of a confidence boost and overall sense of accomplishment that arises when a woman I work with finally hits a bodyweight deadlift (for reps), destroys her previous best on push-ups, or can do something as baller as this:
Rather than continuing to pick the scab and telling a female athlete or client what they can’t or shouldn’t be doing based off archaic, out-dated, and overall damaging information regurgitated by a complacent media, why not instead help them to explore the amazing opportunities, autonomy, and empowerment strength training provides?
I dare you.
2. Thinking Women Need To Train Differently In the First Place
Men have boy down there parts.
Women have girl down there parts.
It’s a big difference, but it doesn’t mean that because you have one instead of the other you need to train differently.
Actually, scratch that.
I don’t mean that entirely.
Need and should are two different things.
I don’t feel women need to train differently than men. I mean, the human body is the human body. The female body reacts to progressive overload in much the same way the male body does. And, quite frankly, as a fitness professional, I don’t want to set the expectation that women should train “x” way while men should train in stark contrast to that.
I very much treat the women I train like the guys, and I think most – whether they realize I do this or not – appreciate it.
However, I do feel women should train differently.
What the what???
To put it another way: women should train differently compared to men, at times.
As an example, hormones do play a major role here. When a woman his having her period I can’t hold her to the same (performance) standard compared to other times outside that window. She’s going to feel like garbage (<– for lack of a better term) during this time, and I’ll almost always reduce her training volume to coincide.
Moreover, a lot of research (and anecdotal experience) backs up the notion that women don’t get sore as easily, are less quick to fatigue, can handle more training volume compared to men (maybe due to less overall muscle mass?), and that they can train closer to their 1RM more periodically comparatively speaking as well.
As we like to say in Boston, “how you like dem apples?“2
NOTE: for more information and insight you can check out THIS webinar I recorded last year on the topic.
3. Trying To “Win”
“But I don’t want to get big-and-bulky.”
Whenever I heard a woman say this to me in the past whenever I broached the words squat or deadlift I used to always try to “win” the argument.
Well, first I’d roll my eyes and then jump into a live volcano. And then I’d try to win the argument by countering with something like this:
Mind you, I still LOVE the above commentary, but I have since rescinded this approach to a large degree.
In large part because it doesn’t work and does nothing to build a meaningful, initial rapport with a prospective (female) client.
Don’t get me wrong: I still play devil’s advocate at times and relay to some that, contrary to popular belief, you won’t grow an Adam’s Apple overnight because you happen to lift something heavier than 50 lbs.
Likewise, I let it be known that saying you’re going to get big and bulky from strength training is like me saying I’m going to win the gold medal in the Olympics because I went out and did some sprints yesterday.
But I digress.
Instead of going on and on about women’s limited testosterone levels and how they’ll never attain the results of elite female bodybuilders, yada yada yada…I steal a page from local Boston-based trainer Lauren Perrault, dig deeper, and ask more questions.
“Why do you feel strength training will make you big and bulky?”
“Is this something that happened in the past?
“What exercise(s) in particular do you feel cause this?”
Maybe their train of thought projects that of a trainer they worked with previously. Maybe they never took the time to learn nor where they shown proper technique. Or, I don’t know, maybe they have a hard time letting go of certain myths and think the Abominable Snowman exists.
Sometimes it’s more helpful to take some time to peel back the onion and to ascertain someone’s root cause for thinking they way they do, rather than chastise them out of the gate for the sole purpose of proving them wrong.