You’ve seen them around. They drive cars, dance, and even show their faces in public (conditional upon religion). That’s right, I’m talking about women. This demographic is now an ever growing part of the strength and conditioning world and chances are, you or someone you know will coach them. This phenomena (apparently) begs the question: “How exactly does one go about doing that?”. In so many words, what distinct tactics are required and employed to satisfy the training needs of the fairer sex?
First of all, I think it’s worth noting that it is predominantly women that are posing this question. Second of all, what that fuck kind of question is that? When the topic of “how to coach women” is discussed it is rarely in context to our differing physiological and hormonal responses to training. Instead it’s directed towards what I would consider to be some pretty antiquated and nonsensical myths about how women should be coached.
There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to writing about ladies. On one hand, it is abhorrent the way some women claim to be uniquely deprived training specimens, portray themselves as gentle anomalies in a sea of tactless brutes, and perpetuate their own inferiority by demanding special treatment. On the other hand, I happen to be one (girl power n’ shit). While acknowledging my own hypocrisy, I would like to present an often overlooked and underrepresented perspective. It seems that for every twenty or so generic articles on how best to coach women I come across, there exists maybe one comment, post, or article that adequately represents the “calm down, Alanis Morissette” contingent among us.
As a preface, I realize that this article is just another frequency on the “noise” spectrum and I’m under no illusion that my points will be well received by my amigas. However, there is a shitton of chatter on this particular subject and in attempt to bring some balance to the force, I’ll provide several points that I wholeheartedly believe in. Do I care about arguing the validity of my statements? Maybe. Keep in mind that these are merely opinions that have been amassed over years of experience being two things: 1) a female 2) coached.
- 1. Don’t train them differently than guys. Listen, scientifically speaking, we do have tinier brains but we’re not idiots. If we are anything, it’s fucking observant. We’ll know if you’re coddling, condescending, or just flirting and generally not coaching.
- 2. Don’t automatically give them a women’s bar. I’m not sending some sort of grandiose message about gender equality, I just don’t think it’s necessary to do anything but maximal, RM-style, dynamic pulling with that little matchstick. Usually they are in short reserve so save them for the more petite gals on the lady continuum.
- 3. Whenever logistically possible, allow men and women to work on the same platform. This will only encourage both men and women to lift more weight. Gals will be trying to catch up to the guys and bros will be terrified of being out-lifted by a broette. We call this a “win-win” in the biz.
- 4. Don’t be weird. You know what I mean. Don’t try and make eye contact with your female athletes during manual resistance adduction. You would never do that with your male training partners…unless of course they were into it…in which case, lose yourself in the moment.
- 5. Picking weights for women. Think 60-66% of what a strong man would do. That’s ambitious for most women and the last thing you want to do is low ball a girl by saying “hang cleans at 65lbs” as a default. She might just ask you to kindly walk into traffic.
- 6. “Girls need positive encouragement”. Well, no shit. That’s like saying – “My dog likes it when I scratch his belly.” Everyone likes positive encouragement but if it isn’t warranted, don’t give it. See #1 and don’t be my cheerleader.
- 7. Don’t allow substitutions. Women frequently get away with changing movements in a DWOD or subbing less awkward movements in for more difficult exercises because of their persuasive sweet-talking-eyelash-batting delivery. If they’re injury free and you care about their success/performance don’t cave to their lady Jedi mind tricks. No matter how infant-like their voice becomes.
- 8. Don’t assume anything about a chick’s goals. You don’t know, we could be bulking. And leaning. And trying to get a 6 min mile for a PFT. And see a bicep vein. And trying to pick up a dude in our class. All of these potential scenarios exist, so ask “What are you training for?”.
Training women is not rocket science. Good coaches attack and strengthen potential weaknesses. Those weaknesses, whether they be physical or psychological, are not gender specific. You cannot make assumptions about an athlete (positive, negative or otherwise) based on whether that athlete is male or female. As in any performance based environment, an athlete must be assessed and measured ideally on an individual basis. We all struggle with varying degrees of the same issues but to blindly categorize the needs of one demographic versus another is ignorant and more importantly, could result in a waste of your coaching time. Besides, if you allow an article- mine included- to provide absolute rules that dictate how you coach everyone, you’re not optimizing your effectiveness. Instead, extract and enact only what works.
If there is one thing unique about training women it’s that we will always be playing catch up. It’s no secret that on the whole, we are the weaker sex. In my opinion, this puts us at a huge advantage to set an example in training. There will always be that dangling carrot just beyond our reach forcing us to endure more, commit more, prove more. It’s no different than being the youngest sibling in a family of talented athletes. Irrespective of gender- To bring the carrot within one’s grasp, or worse, remove it altogether, is to deny one of their true potential.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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