Lift like a lady: Lessons from a female S&C coach

Society’s inherent gender prejudices and stereotypes suggest that women, especially the more petite among us, are weak and incapable.

As a 50kg woman who is 163cm tall, I’ve come to love strength strength training because it has helped to mould me into a petite yet unnoticeably and unassumingly powerful person.

In my quest for strength, I have worked to become as strong as possible, while also teaching other women how to empower themselves through lifting weights and mastering their bodies.

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It’s been a struggle to establish myself in a such a male-dominated industry, but this process led me to identify, through my own trials, failures, successes and personal research and experience the finer points of female biomechanics that no book, article or study can teach. This is what I’ve discovered:

1. A different approach is needed

Coaching men and women is like working with two different breed of animals – both are so physiologically different. My advice to women who are looking to achieve something real from their training – those ladies who are investing in their physiques, their strength, their health and, most importantly, their longevity – is that the difference between good training and great training is the attention to detail.

It’s observing and understanding the little things that make a big difference. As women, we generally respond better to isolation work, we are more flexible, and we tend to have a far better range of motion than the average man, which means our outcomes are often greater.

It’s therefore also important that we include a good mix of these forms of training, along with a focus on the compound lifts – the bench press, squat and deadlift – that recruit more muscle in a single movement than any other exercise. It’s about focusing on getting bang for your buck.

When it comes to squatting and deadlifting, opt for a mix of volume and intensity as our bodies thrive on these methods.

2. Women recover faster – exploit this benefit!

Due to our more rapid rate of recovery over that of men, we don’t to suffer with common issues such as delayed onset of muscle soreness, or DOMS, and we can be less concerned with burning out our central nervous systems. The female form was designed to procreate, and procreation means the strength to carry, resilience against stress, and natural endurance.

3. Play to your strengths

Based on these physiological advantages, it’s beneficial if we follow a training plan that plays to our strengths.

Hip and quad strength are two of the most important elements that play to our inherent strengths. We are naturally stronger in these areas, so focusing on our posterior chain is advisable. Wider-stance squats and Romanian deadlifts to develop the backs of our legs and backs should be high up on our lists of beneficial strengthening exercises, and to avoid over-developed quads.

Natural quad strength is not undesirable, though, but it draws attention to exercises we should focus on less. So, unless you’re prepping for a show, do less quad-focused work and perform exercises that focus more on the glutes and hamstrings, like Romanian deadlift variations, hip thrusters and barbell bridges.

4. Strengthen your weaknesses

It is also vital that women focus on strengthening their weaknesses. Women tend to have weaker upper bodies, for instance, and carry the majority of our mass from the waist down. While most men can walk into a gym for the first time and complete a perfect push-up or pull-up, most women will find these exercises nearly impossible on our first day in the gym. Woman should focus on basic upper body movements that not only improve their relative strength, but also build their overall conditioning.

With such distinct physiological differences, the common industry advice that women should train like men is patently incorrect. When considering the finer details, it’s imperative that we focus on our unique physical characteristics. Only when we do so will we then discover the infinite possibilities that unbridled physical strength creates.

By Lil Bianchi, strength and conditioning coach and founder of OTG Athletic

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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