Even though this is ostensibly a site about women, a lot of male readers email me. Some are trying to encourage the recalcitrant females in their lives to hit the weights and are looking for evidence of why weight training is a good thing. Some would like assistance in training their wives, girlfriends, friends, moms, daughters, and female clients. Some just like the training advice, most of which is gender neutral.
I am always happy to hear that guys are encouraging their female acquaintances and partners to train with weights. Many women are introduced to weights by male partners and friends, and this introduction creates an ongoing interest. Some women athletes may find themselves entirely surrounded by men, either because their sport of choice is so male-dominated (like powerlifting) or because the assistance they need can only come from another very physically strong person, and there aren’t as many strongwomen around as there should be!
I think that men can be a very positive influence in the gym, and certainly there have been numerous men who made a wonderful contribution to my training experience, both as trainers and workout partners. However I have also heard and experienced many negative things from men in the gym. Sometimes the guys are just clueless, other times they’re being deliberately obstructive and rude. So, what if you’re a guy that’s interested in women’s training, and want to know how to do a good job? Read on!
dos and don’ts
Do encourage the women in your life to train with weights. No matter what her skill level, ability, age, or body shape, every woman can benefit from weight training.
Don’t push her if she’s not interested. She may be uncomfortable, she may hate weight training, she may not want to work out with you (I know you’re a swell guy, but hey, it happens). She might prefer to work out in a different setting or in a different way.
Do debunk myths about women and weight training. Explain to her that she will not get too big, or turn into a man, or wind up muscle-bound and slow, or whatever people think happens when they lift weights. Assure her that it is okay to work out with free weights, and that it is much more effective to squat than to do a thousand unweighted leg lifts. Send her to this site if you must.
Don’t get too bummed out if she doesn’t listen to you. I get a lot of mail from desperate boyfriends, husbands, fathers, and sons who are trying unsuccessfully to convince the women and girls in their lives to lift weights. Many male trainers and coaches despair of this too. First, wives never listen to their husbands anyway (I should know). But quite often, the grrls need to be shown actual, positive examples of other women who have lifted weights and not turned into monsters. Try pointing her towards Maryse Turcotte, who lifts weights heavy enough to make her an international champion.
Along with role models, do show her positive real-life examples of what weight training can do, particularly examples which relate to her needs. She may want strength and power for another sport or activity. She may want functional strength. She may want to lose bodyfat. She may want to increase her bone density. All of these and a variety of other goals can be accomplished through weight training.
Don’t assume she shares your goals, but be happy if she does.
Don’t indulge in worries about her weight training threatening your masculinity. There is no direct, inverse relationship between her bench press and your penis size. Of course, if you’re reading this you’re probably not overly threatened. Strong women are cool! Every straight boy should want one!
Do be positive and encouraging about her progress. If possible focus on strength achievements and skill mastery, not losing bodyfat. For most male-female couples who aren’t pro bodybuilders, discussions about bodyfat are dangerous territory. This also goes for discussions about femininity.
Don’t criticize her body. There’s a good chance she will be more critical of herself than you could be of her, but make sure you’re not saying anything negative anyway. Also don’t compare her to other women (unless you want to score points by telling her how much more buff she is than Jane So-and-So).
Do start her off small if she is a beginner. Let her work within a range where she is comfortable and understand that many people need to progress slowly within the bounds of their security. Think long term progress rather than short term gains. A good weight to start with is something she can handle for about 12-15 reps per set, not because this is for “toning” but because it’s light enough that she can learn good form, as well as allow her connective tissue to adapt. After 6-12 months she can start going heavier.
Don’t underestimate her capacity to gain strength. She may gravitate immediately towards the heavy stuff. Let her run with it and you might be surprised where she ends up.
Do gear her training program to her needs and goals. This might not be the same kind of program you use. But do also steer her away from the typical female program of hours of low intensity cardio and tiny weights, if you can.
Don’t give her a sucky program just because she is a girl. Don’t tell her to tone, firm, or sculpt. Women do not need special programs with ultrahigh reps and low weight. We can squat, deadlift, power clean, throw a shotput, do one-rep maxes, yadayadayada, just fine thankyouverymuch! “Definition” is just a function of bodyfat levels, but I’m sure you know that already. (If you don’t, read this)
Don’t advise her against using “too much weight” unless that advice is genuinely useful (i.e. if you see her about to bench press 400 lbs. on her first day).
Don’t tell her she is going to hurt herself unless, again, this is genuinely useful advice.
Don’t worry about her hurting her reproductive organs. Her reproductive organs are much better protected than yours.
Do realize that the average untrained woman is going to be weaker than the average trained male. Don’t expect her to immediately do stuff that was easy for you. I recall seeing a guy and a girl working out together. She was just starting out and he could not figure out why she couldn’t do a pullup. In his mind she just wasn’t trying hard enough. For him it had been easy to do a pullup right in the beginning.
Do be aware that while in most ways a woman’s program does not differ from a man’s, there are some things that might be dissimilar. Starting strength is one thing. She may also find that her menstrual cycle affects how her training goes from workout to workout. She may react differently to carbs than you, and will quite likely find it more difficult to lose bodyfat. Her squat or deadlift stance may be different than yours, or she may find it more comfortable to use narrower dipping bars. Her flexibility is likely better, but the downside of that is that her joint laxity may be too, which means watching out for joint hyperextension.
Do take her, her goals, and her progress seriously.
Don’t make stupid sexist jokes or comments, because this sends a negative message (and it also makes you look like an ass).
Do be aware of how other women feel in the gym, which continues to be a somewhat male-dominated space. Be aware of how you’re using the space, and be considerate of the fact that women may not feel as comfortable as you. Think about how you feel when you’re in a situation where you’re the only person like you and everyone else is different.
Don’t leave machines and bars loaded up with heavy weights. It’s totally intimidating for a beginner to have to unrack a pile of 45s and bad gym etiquette anyway. If you can lift it, then you should damn well clean it up too.
Don’t ogle or hit on women. You may think you’re being subtle but most of the time you’re not. If a woman is wearing a Walkman that’s likely a signal that she doesn’t want to be disturbed during her workout. Be polite and friendly but don’t act like a sleazy superstud. And if women in the gym avoid you, there’s probably a reason.
Don’t be yucky. Women have a better sense of smell than you do. And testosterone makes you funkier anyway. The ladies, they are not impressed by your masculine musk. Yeah, we all get sweaty, but there’s fresh gym sweat and “clothes marinating in a hockey bag for a month” sweat. Please, for the health of our olfaction, stay clean, use deodorant, and do your laundry!
Do help your female friend, partner, or client feel more comfortable. Include her as much as you can in the gym community. Help her feel like the gym is her rightful space too.
Now get out there and get your old lady hauling some iron!