Is There Such A Thing As “Lifting Like A Woman”?

CEU Article Title: Training Women

By John Platero


It seems everywhere I look I see headlines or articles for women and fitness.
Is training a woman that much different than training a man? Like every other aspect in fitness, the answer is yes, but most of the time, no. Vern Gambetta, the former director of the Chicago White Sox says “Strength training for women is almost identical to that of men, given the same sport, age, group and conditioning goals.”
Guidelines or principles should be the same:
• Core strength before extremity, strength train movements instead of individual muscles
• body weight before external weight (unless they’re unable to use their own weight)
• strength before endurance (assuming all the neural or motor patterns are in place).
When creating a program consider these concepts:
• core strength and stability
• balance and proprioception
• agility and ground reaction forces
• pressing pushing, pulling and squatting movements

Keep in mind, there are some subtle differences to consider with females. Females mature earlier than males. Consequently, it is important to start strength training earlier, preferably before puberty. Therefore girls can begin with external resistance as early as 11 years, while boys should wait until they are 13. (1) Since females have less muscle mass on average than males, they are more susceptible to deconditioning. A female strength training program should have the athlete continue to train through the competitive season, because the loss of strength is greater for females when strength training is stopped. The benefits of strength training are the same for females as for males. However, there is a different distribution of muscle mass on a male. A male will put more mass on the upper body than a woman. At rest, men have 10 times more testosterone than females do. Because of this hormonal difference, men can generally build larger muscles and pack greater mass on their frames. Men may be able to build larger muscles on their frame; therefore a man will be stronger than a female in the absolute sense. But when strength is expressed relative to lean body mass then the strength difference will disappear. I’ve experienced this myself when training females especially with the lower extremity. I’ve found women to be as strong or even stronger when performing leg presses than men, especially in relation to their body weight. The bottom line is for females that strength train, the same adaptations and responses will occur in terms of strength acquisition. Vern Gambetta proved this when he worked with the Sarasota, Florida high school girls’ basketball team. By preparing them to lift heavy weights through a systematic and progressive program designed to make them better basketball players not to make them bigger, every girl on the team was eventually able to squat a minimum of two to four sets with 215 pounds and they liked the way they looked.(2). The girls started their strength training program in April, but did not have a bar on their backs until end of July.

Here’s the program they followed:
WEEK #1
MONDAY
Squat, 2×20
Lunge, 2×20
Step-up, 2×20
Jump squat, 2×5

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×20
Lunge, 3×20
Step-up, 3×20
Jump squat, 3×5

WEEK #2
MONDAY
Squat, 3×20
Lunge, 3×20
Step-up, 3×20
Jump squat, 3×10

THURSDAY
Squat, 4×20
Lunge, 4×20

Step-up, 4×20
Jump squat, 4X10

WEEK #3
MONDAY
Leg circuit, 3 xs

THURSDAY
Leg circuit, 3 xs

WEEK #4
MONDAY
Leg circuit, 3 xs

THURSDAY
Leg circuit, 4 xs

WEEK #5
MONDAY
Leg circuit, 3 xs

THURSDAY
Leg circuit, 4 xs

WEEK #6
MONDAY
Leg circuit, 5 xs

THURSDAY
Leg circuit, 5 xs
Weeks #7 through #12 are transitional weeks. During this time external resistance is gradually added. There is a constant emphasis on good technique with each athlete.

WEEK #7
MONDAY
Add sandbag at 10 percent of the athletes’s body weight to each exercise listed in Week #1, 2×20 for each exercise. Keep jump squats at 10 reps with no load throughout the program.

THURSDAY
Each exercise from Week #1, 3×20 with sandbag at 10 percent of athlete’s body weight.

WEEK #8
MONDAY
Each exercise from Week #1, 4×20, with sandbag

WEEKS #9 THROUGH #11
MONDAYS AND THURSDAYS
Bar, 3×10

WEEK #12
MONDAY AND THURSDAY
Bar, 4×10
Weeks #13 through #16 are an application cycle. High-speed and high force plyometric work is added. The goal here is to transfer some of the strength acquired in the previous two cycles to explosive power. External weight load is added gradually, and is based incrementally on a percentage of bodyweight, which is set by the strength coach. However, that percentage typically falls in the 10 percent to 20 percent range.

WEEK #13
MONDAY
Plyos in place
Bar + % of bodyweight, 2×8

THURSDAY
Bar x % of bodyweight, 4×8

WEEK #14
MONDAY
Plyos in place
Bar + % of bodyweight, 2×8

THURSDAY
Bar + % bodyweight, 4×6

WEEK #15
MONDAY
Plyos in place
Bar + % bodyweight, 3×6

THURSDAY
Bar + % bodyweight, 5×6

WEEK #16
MONDAY
Plyos in place
Bar + % of bodyweight, 3×4

THURSDAY
Bar + % of bodyweight, 5×6
Weeks #17 through #22 are the heaviest weeks of the training year. This is when the goal of squatting with heavy external resistance is achieved.

WEEK #17
MONDAY
Squat, 4×5

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×5

WEEK #18
MONDAY
Squat, 5×5

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×5

WEEK #19
MONDAY
Squat, 6×5

THURSDAY
Squat, 4×5

WEEK #20
MONDAY
Squat, 4×4

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×4

WEEK #21
MONDAY
Squat, 4×2

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×6
Plyos

WEEK #22
MONDAY
Squat, 4×2

THURSDAY
Squat, 3×6
Plyos

In weeks #23 through #26, one day is devoted to elastic equivalent work, which is simply a strength-training exercise followed by a plyometric exercise. This is low-volume, high-intensity work.
WEEKS #23 THROUGH #26
MONDAYS
Elastic equivalent (lift and jump)

THURSDAYS
Pyramid 10,8,6,4

WEEK #27
MONDAY AND THURSDAY
Teach new routine:
Phase One In-season
Now for some of the differences. Because females generally have wider pelvises and longer legs, they will have a greater Q-angle. The Q-angle is the angle between a line connecting the anterior superior iliac spine to the midpoint of the patella and the extension of the line connecting the tibial tubercle and the midpoint of the patella.(3) The size of the Q-angle may be proportional to the lateral force imposed on the patella by the pull of the quadriceps. This may account for the patella-femoral or lateral tracking problems experienced by a lot of women. Because of the excessive Q-angle in some females, the femur will tend to internally rotate or “cave in” when the female bends her knee, especially when jumping, pivoting, cutting, landing or “loaded” on one leg. Not to mention, the lengthening of the hip abductor muscles creating a weakness which contributes to the instability in the knee leading to a possible ACL injury. Women do tend to train the hip abductors in a seated position; however ACL injuries very rarely occur when a woman is sitting down. They almost always occur when the female is standing, landing, cutting, pivoting or jumping. Not to mention, females normally overtrain their adductors in an effort to spot reduce or make their thighs thinner which can also internally rotate the femur. When assessing females I find they generally have greater hamstring flexibility than males but often their strength is almost nonexistent. Remember, the hamstrings are major stabilizers of the knee, especially in anterior translation of the tibia on the femur. Without the hamstrings, the ACL has to do all the work all alone.

Females also have a greater anterior pelvic tilt than men. The average or normal difference in height between the PSIS or the ASIS is ½ inch in males and 3/4 inch in females.(4) This can lead to an increased lumbar lordosis which again leads to tight, shortened lumbar erectors and lengthened hamstrings. Couple that greater anterior pelvic tilt with driving the kids everywhere, along with a job in a seated position and now they have short, tight, facilitated hip flexors which then inhibits the lower abdominals which leads invariably to low back pain.

When women become pregnant, they tend to counter the weight of the baby by leaning back and increasing their lordosis. The abdominals become lengthened and are then unable to counteract the hip flexors which then put stress on the spine. Men can also have the same problems trying to counteract the weight of their “beer-bellies.”
Amenorrhea is also a problem for females. A recent study by Michelle Cameron, MD, orthopedic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, found that the prevalence of amenorrhea in collegiate female varsity athletes to be 28%, compared to two to five percent in the general population. Amenorrhea, like menopause, affects the body’s estrogen levels; bone development is compromised and osteoporosis can occur. Just imagine intercollegiate competitions where 80-year old women performed intricate dismounts off the balance bean, running the 400-meter hurdles in under a minute and grandmothers falling to the basketball court wrestling for the loose balls. Pretty crazy huh? But some of the female student athletes who appear young and strong on the outside are actually as frail on the inside as these imaginary elder athletes. Dietary habits are key here. The inclusion of fat, protein, calcium and vitamin D are very important for a female who is training hard.

All of these factors can make training a female a little different than training a man. So again, training females can be very similar to training men, just keep in mind these possible differences.
Oh, I forgot, women smell a lot nicer too!

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REFERENCES:


1. Gambetta, Vern, Sugar and Spice?, Training and Conditioning, October, 2002
2. Gambetta, Vern, Sugar and Spice, Training and Conditioning, October, 2002
3. Norkin, Cynthia C., Levangie, Pamela K. Joint Structure and Function, p. 372
4. Maund, Chris, Chek, points for runners