"Coach, I don't want to look like a man."
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that phrase. It's one of the biggest misconceptions regarding girls and strength training.
I often just look at them and chuckle to myself, because in most cases, the girls that make those statements barely train at all. They may play a sport or two, so they're toned, but they're certainly not muscular. They'd have to train hard for years and make massive changes to their diet before they'd come close to this "bulky" and "manly" physique they're trying so hard to avoid.
In addition to drastically lower levels of testosterone, females also possess longer torsos and more narrow shoulders than males. This makes it really tough to build the extremely muscular upper-body many females picture when they think of looking "like a man." It's simply not a realistic fear, yet it's perhaps the biggest reason many female athletes avoid the type of resistance training that will actually improve their athletic performance.
Let me set the record very straight here—men and women both need to train the same way. Yup, girls need to Squat and Deadlift and do lots of hamstring work in order to become stronger, faster and less prone to injury.
We need to help shift the viewpoint around these type of exercises. This is not "training like a man." This is "training like an athlete." And if your opponent has trained like an athlete and you haven't, guess who has the edge?
The process is the same to become a better athlete for both sexes.
"There is no sensible reason why resistance training programs for women need to be different from those of men," reads the section on resistance training for female athletes in the text Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. "Whereas in the past women may have questioned the value of resistance training or even avoided this type of exercise due to social stigma, evidence clearly indicates that women are capable of tolerating and adapting to the stresses of resistance exercise and that the benefits are substantial."
However, the single-biggest difference between how we train males and females at Ultimate Advantage is we add more pre-hab work for females to prevent knee injuries and promote overall knee health. Girls are far more prone to knee injuries than boys. In sports like basketball and soccer, females are six times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males. It's believed a neuromuscular deficiency is the biggest cause of this discrepancy.
Anyone who has ever been to a girls sport camp can tell you there are many girls with knee braces and scars and stories of knee injury. The ACL/MCL tear are the most common. That's why we do lots of extra work with our female athletes to help prevent it from happening. I must say we do a pretty darn good job of it, as well, as we don't get many of our girls coming up with ACL tears. But that's a topic for another day.
While differences obviously exist between the bodies of men and women, girls who want to get faster and stronger must train like athletes. Group fitness classes may help you burn calories, but they're rarely designed for improving athletic performance.
This gets me to another statement I often hear that's completely off base. The idea that "girls should do light weight for high reps and never use heavy weight."
Lightweight reps can tone you, but little else. If you want to get in athletic shape, you also must lift heavy weights and develop your power. I have written many articles with descriptions of how you should work out to maximize training time, and those principles apply just as much to females as males. You can find them on my STACK author page.
Here's the bottom line: Girls should train no differently the boys. Same reps, same sets, same exercises. Maybe some small adjustments here and there to include more knee pre-hab, but that's about it.
Should the weights be different?
They likely will be different, but there's no rule saying they must be different. If a girl can lift just as much or more than some of the boys, she absolutely, unapologetically should. This won't be the case for most females due to biological differences, but the intensity and the effort level should be the same. Girls need to be sweating and straining hard in the weight room. Your muscle works the same as the boys.
Train hard; get strong, get fast, stay healthy. Strong girls play better!
Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock
- 4 Rules for Designing Effective Workouts for Female High School Athletes
- 20 Lessons for Female Athletes on Training and Life
- How to Build Muscle for Women