CrossFit Newmarket Central
125 Harry Walker Parkway, Unit B
Newmarket, ON, L3Y 7B8 Canada
David Adamson and I were driving to the IPA Nationals this past weekend talking training (yeah we’re pretty passionate about what we do) when the subject of training women with heavy weights came up. I’m in my ninth year at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) as the head strength and conditioning coach, and David has been in strength and conditioning for three years. This is a subject we deal with every year regardless of how much training information is available to the public.
The best way to get information is to go to the source. So we asked Sarah Walls, another strength and conditioning coach at VCU. Sarah is also a writer for Muscle and Fitness Hers, a former figure competitor, and a women’s tri-fitness competitor—not to mention a strong female athlete who isn’t bulked up. Therefore, she has a great perspective on the subject.
We, being a good team, put our heads together to find a way to combat this never-ending dilemma. Our way of doing that is through education. And, only one answer to a question is never enough. If you know your job well, then you know that there is more than one way to skin a cat. So we came up with the following list:
And, according to Zatsiorsky and Kreamer in Science and Practice of Strength Training, women need to train with heavy weights not only to strengthen the muscles but also to cause positive adaptations in the bones and connective tissues.
6. Bulking up is not an overnight process. Many women think they will start lifting weights, wake up one morning, and say “Holy sh__! I’m huge!” This doesn’t happen. The men that you see who have more muscle than the average person have worked hard for a long time (years) to get that way. If you bulk up overnight, contact us because we want to do what you’re doing.
7. What the personal trainer is prescribing is not working. Many female athletes come into a new program and say they want to do body weight step-ups, body weight lunges, and leg extensions because it’s what their personal trainer back home had them do. However, many of these girls need to look in a mirror and have a reality check because their trainer’s so-called magical toning exercises are not working. Trainers will hand out easy workouts and tell people they work because they know that if they make the program too hard the client will complain. And, if the client is complaining, there’s a good chance the trainer might lose that client (a client to a trainer equals money).
8. Bulking up is calorie dependant. This means if you eat more than you are burning, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you are burning, you will lose weight. Unfortunately, most female athletes perceive any weight gain as “bulking up” and do not give attention to the fact that they are simply getting fatter. As Todd Hamer, a strength and conditioning coach at George Mason University said, “Squats don’t bulk you up. It’s the ten beers a night that bulk you up.” This cannot be emphasized enough.
If you’re a female athlete and training with heavy weights (or not), you need to watch what you eat. Let’s be real—the main concern that female athletes have when coming to their coach about gaining weight is not their performance but aesthetics. If you choose to ignore this fact as a coach, you will lose your athletes!
9. The freshman 15 is not caused by strength training. It is physiologically impossible to gain 15 lbs of muscle in only a few weeks unless you are on performance enhancing drugs. Yes the freshman 15 can come on in only a few weeks. This becomes more complex when an athlete comes to a new school, starts a new training program, and also has a considerable change in her diet (i.e. only eating one or two times per day in addition to adding 6–8 beers per evening for 2–4 evenings per week). They gain fat weight, get slower, and then blame the strength program. Of course, strength training being the underlying cause is the only reasonable answer for weight gain. The fact that two meals per day has slowed the athlete’s metabolism down to almost zero and then the multiple beers added on top of that couldn’t have anything to do with weight gain...it must be the lifting.
10. Most of the so-called experts are only experts on how to sound like they know what they are talking about. The people who “educate” female athletes on training and nutrition have no idea what they’re talking about. Let’s face it—how many people do you know who claim to “know a thing or two about lifting and nutrition?” Now, how many people do you know who actually know what they’re talking about, have lived the life, dieted down to make a weight class requirement, or got on stage at single digit body fat? Invariably, these so-called experts are also the people who blame their gut on poor genetics.
These so-called experts are the reason you see so many women doing sets of 10 with a weight they could do 20 or 30 times. They are being told by the experts that this is what it takes to “tone” the muscles. Instead, they are only wasting their time doing an exercise with a weight that is making no contribution to the fitness levels or the development of the muscle.
In case you haven’t figured it out by this point in the article, what is currently being done in fitness clubs to help female athletes tone their bodies is not working. It’s not helping these women get toned, and it is definitely not helping improve athletic performance. Maybe it’s time for a change. Contrary to the ineffective light weights currently being used, heavy weights offer many benefits for women including improved body composition, stronger muscles, decreased injury rate, and stronger bones (which helps prevent osteoporosis). Let’s try lifting some heavy weights and controlling our diet and watch this logical, science-based solution make the difference we’ve been looking for.
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125 Harry Walker Parkway, Unit B - Newmarket, ON, L3Y 7B8, Canada - (905) 895-4461 - firstname.lastname@example.org
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