Training females is different than training males. There are certain considerations that need to be made both physically and psychologically. As a coach for the last 12 years of hundreds of women and girls, the experience has taught me a few things.
Physically, females have different anatomy compared to males, and there must be some thought given to how these differences should be trained. As an example, women typically have a greater hip Q angle, especially after puberty, than men. This means that the risk of knee valgus and knee injuries can be more significant.
As you can see from the diagram, the knees seem to “cave” in more in the female than the male. In order to combat this to some degree, we may program more lateral hip, gluteus medius strengthening for a female vs a male.
That said, for the most part, we train our athletes nearly identical, at least we attempt to. There tends to be far more misleading information in health and fitness that females are prone to follow, vs their male counterparts. Some of the most misleading notions are hard to “un-train” in female mindsets, even though there is plenty of science to prove the contrary. Many of the fads and misinformation cause females to be intimidated by strength training, and other proven protocols that will help them reach their goals.
Here are our top 4 MYTHS of training for females.
- Lifting weights makes you bulky
- Higher reps/lower weight is better for “toning”
- Doing more “cardio” will help you shed fat and give you a toned look
- You will gain fat if you eat too much protein
This notion is very frustrating to try and battle with a lot of females. There has been way too much emphasis put on HIIT training, or bootcamp type modalities in the last two/three decades, that everyone is a bit brainwashed on the style of training these companies were trying to promote. Lifting heavy weights WILL NOT make you bulky. Lifting heavy weights will make you strong.
Simply, women do not produce as much testosterone as men, and therefore will never be able to build as much muscle as men. Unless you are taking some anabolic steroids, your risk of getting “bulky” is incredibly low.
You will look and feel much better if you put on muscle. Especially as we age, the ability to do so becomes very limited. Having muscle tone, will help you look “toned”, when you start to shed some excess fat as well.
Lifting in all sorts of rep ranges is vital to building strength. This includes lower reps like a 4×4, or 5×5, or 5×3. Of course you can vary your rep selection to include higher reps like 3×12, 4×10, but if you truly want to challenge your body to adapt, you must train various volumes and loads.
View this post on Instagram
Love a good Monday morning PR 🔥. From not being to do chins-ups 6 months ago to getting 3 sets of 2-3 followed by 7 assisted. @cchristian_6 is down 30 lbs and getting stronger week by week training in our Strong Force adult class 💪🏼. #progress #chinup #smallgrouptraining #peakathletictraining
This myth piggybacks off of Myth #1, and is a great challenge for coaches to create an environment, and confidence, for females especially to drop the 5-10lb DB’s and reach for something more. Research has shown to indicate that high reps and low loads can produce the same muscle hypertrophy gains as heavy loads at low
reps, but only when intensity is matched. If you want to get stronger, make sure to increase intensity. You all know that burning feeling you get when you are near the end of your set, and it becomes very difficult to do even one more rep. Those are the reps that recruit the highest number of motor units, and therefore muscle growth.
Cardio is one of the most important aspects to training, no question. It’s very valuable to create a robust aerobic capability to feel energized while lifting weights for a duration of time, as well as strengthening the cardiac system, including your heart and lung capacity.
However, cardio is not the only effective way to burn calories, and lose fat. In fact, it may not even be the most effective in terms of looking toned and healthy. If you focus only on cardio, and a caloric deficit, you will almost certainly lose weight, but you will lose muscle if you don’t focus on resistance training as well. Cardio, HIIT, pilates, etc are all great, but they should only be side dishes to the main dish, which is progressive overload strength training. Protein synthesis required for muscle building is elevated after strength training, and can remain high for up to two days after. Speaking of protein…
Nutrition is a difficult concept as a whole for many people, and breaking things down into the various nutrients, can seem even more overwhelming for some. A fairly simple philosophy to comprehend, and one that we try and get across to all of our athletes, is that protein is the most important macronutrient. Here’s why:
- it helps with satiety, and is the most “filling” of the three
- it helps with building muscle
- the thermic effect is very high (meaning protein can actually boost your metabolism)
- aids in recovery and repair of damaged tissues after training
And these are just 4 simple ideas to show you that protein can have profound effects…if you consume enough of it. Many people, women especially, do not.
Recommendations for protein consumption range from 0.6-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. However, there is no evidence to show that consuming more will be detrimental, or cause you to gain weight. Protein, like carbohydrates, have 4 calories per gram, as opposed to fats, which have 9 calories per gram, and alcohol which is 7 calories per gram.
So here is our overall recommendation for women who want to be more athletic, look “toned”, and feel great!
- Lift heavy stuff…a lot
- Vary rep ranges (higher reps aren’t always the answer)
- Do mostly compound movements (we like all variations of squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, pulls, carries)
- Don’t overdo it on the stepper or treadmill (save time for strength training)
- HIIT can be a great alternative to mundane, steady state cardio
- Eat enough protein