Looking back on my earliest years as a fitness professional, I remember I was nervous as could be when I’d work with a female client. As a male, who found fitness through bodybuilding magazines and workouts, I was most comfortable with fellow men looking for similar goals.
Often times I’d train female clients in the way that they thought they wanted to be trained. Plyometric boxes and Bosu balls. Everything worked the core, the weights were never too heavy, and cardio was always on the menu.
Flash forward roughly eight years and I find myself working with more female clients than I do male clients. I’ve adapted so much of what I’ve learned through formal education and training experience to build programs for these strong women so they can accomplish a myriad of goals.
Most importantly though, I’ve come to understand that training female clients, especially as a male trainer, requires an understanding of social pressures upon them, the psychology behind their training and body image, and an understanding of how their body is designed to ensure you always put them in a position for success.
The Social Pressures
We once blamed commercial media for putting unreasonable expectations upon women when it came to the size and shape of their bodies, and we still can. However, the bigger monster in the room has become social media; a place where half-naked bodies and Tupperware containers full of “clean meals” litter the timelines of our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.
The constant barrage of perfect bodies and crazy “only-for-camera” exercises puts tremendous pressure upon that woman who is trusting you to guide her to her fitness goals. She feels like she must keep up, contend, or at the very least, mimic.
It is critical to help your female clients disconnect from this realm for them to see success. They need to fall back in love with their own body, and accept that their own journey is going to be unique to them. Furthermore, it is important to understand that much of what they see in society around them will impact the psychology within them.
Psychology within Training
One of the most important questions a fitness professional can ask when interviewing and assessing a client for the first time is, “Why are these goals important to you?”
Plain and simple, knowing what is desired is not enough to ensure success. In fact, it can be argued that the most successful clients are the ones who are able to come to understand why their goals mattered so much to them in the first place. This snapshot of the psychology within the headspace of your female client can be critical to ensuring that you program the correct exercises, coach with the right tone, and utilize the right motivators when necessary.
Becoming cognizant of their attitudes towards training itself is equally as critical. There has been a lot of misinformation consumed by females throughout time in terms of what they should and shouldn’t do for their workouts. The rise of CrossFit and female sports has helped show women that it is awesome to be strong and throw around heavy weights, but there is still a fearful stigma among many in regard to resistance training.
A sense of humor and an honest ask for trust can go a long way in helping a female client buy into a training program that introduces a lot of modalities that they are uncomfortable with. They know that they want more “toned” arms and nice legs, and think they need to run the fat off and “burn” the muscles with absurd numbers of repetitions. You, as the fitness professional, know that doing some heavy deadlifts and overhead pressing may get them to their end goal more effectively.
It is your comprehension of her psychology that is going to bridge that chasm between what she thinks she needs and what you know she needs.
Programming the Female Form
There are definitely a few tricks to the trade when training a female client. They aren’t actually tricks per se, rather they are observations based around the biomechanical design and physiological capability of the female body.
Understanding exactly what exercises they will excel at based upon their body’s design and function can drive results and satisfy even the toughest of clients.
Here are a few specifics that can help you better design your next program:
- In my experience, women tend to deadlift better when in sumo stance and hands are inside the thighs. The Q angle of the pelvis and subsequent angle of the femurs can make it tough for many females to maintain a flat spine when at the bottom of a standard stance deadlift. This is even truer when training someone with long femurs.
- Chin-ups are a girl’s best friend. The incorporation of the biceps muscle can greatly aid their ability to reach the bar and complete a repetition. Furthermore, the confidence boost from being able to lift themselves up is worth every second.
- Barbell hip thrusts not only help develop the size and shape of the glutes, but can contribute to better squat performance. Getting the glutes and abductors to fire prior to the squat pattern can significantly improve performance in the bottom range.
- Many female runners will complain of tight hip flexors, which is often not the case. Rather, the hip flexors are weak and overused while the glutes and hamstrings are taking a vacation. Emphasizing hip hinges, dedicated glute and hamstring work, and anterior core strength can get a runner back on the road in no time.
- Time under tension can trump load. Slowing down the repetitions, or using a band can increase results dramatically in females. There will be no combativeness regarding the size of the weights, but the stimuli for hypertrophy and muscle growth will still remain.
The truth is, training a female client is no different than training a male client. There are social, psychological, and physiological factors that impact men and women equally. Social media can burden us, our minds can betray us, and the uniqueness of our own form can befuddle us.
Yet, in training women it is critical to understand that an interplay exists between all of these factors. Success will come from creating situations for achievement, acknowledging the internal and external challenges they face, and showing unrelenting gratitude for their commitment.
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