The majority of the personal training market is females. Unless you have some special niche market with guys, most male trainers will have a lot of female clients.
A while back, the PTDC published an excellent article on training female clients by Elsbeth Vaino. A lot of guys (myself included) found this very helpful and very informative (I had no idea about the sports bra stuff). As guys we think and act differently than women. As a result, we need to adjust our coaching style.
Below are 7 tips for dudes to help them train females better. These are general statements and, as with any information like this, don’t apply to every situation.
1. Create clear, tangible goals AND a great experience
Guys love stats. Whether we’re talking sports or fitness, we’re all about the numbers. We care about batting averages, bench press 1RM’s, body fat percentages, and arm measurements. However, rather than focusing on these objective measures, ladies tend to evaluate their fitness more on subjective terms such as how it makes them feel. The challenge for us is to find a way to know if our programs are working or if something needs to be changed.
Note: be careful with triggers. If your client has had a history of disordered eating, body image issues or is insecure about her body, girth measurements and body composition testing may do more harm than good.
Start by asking her to tell you exactly what she is looking for. Listen intently and ask clarification questions. Also, know how to interpret things from her language to yours. For example, she might say, “I want to get fitter.”
Upon further probing you might find that what she wants to lose fat. Great, now you know the goal and you can track fat loss. Or, she might talk about “lifting the butt” which can be translated into our language as fat loss and glute hypertrophy.
[Video] How To Do Reverse Hypers To Hit Your Glutes Without Punishing Your BackThe reverse hyper can be a great exercise to emphasize the glutes or it can be done terribly and place a great deal of stress on the lower back.In the first instance here (done properly), you can see that Molly is contracting her glutes as opposed to focusing how high her legs and then controlling the lowering portion.In the second instance (done incorrectly), you can see that she’s swinging her legs to maximize the height of her legs and failing to control the lowering portion. This puts a great deal more stress on the lower back.Whether you do these unloaded (as was demonstrated here) or loaded, the key is to focus on the contraction of the muscles you’re trying to work and controlling the negative to prevent excessive momentum on the swing.—This video is property of Molly Galbraith of Girls Gone Strong and is used with permission. Learn More about Molly at mollygalbraith.com or www.girlsgonestrong.com.
Posted by Personal Trainer Development Center on Thursday, October 8, 2015
Also, focus on her experience during the session. If she’s greeted with enthusiasm, encouraged, listened to, understood, challenged, applauded and given your undivided attention, she will come back for more. If she’s feeling better, her clothes are fitting well and she’s getting complimented by her friends and loved ones then congratulations – your client is now have a raving fan!
2. Help her get over the fear about bulking up
If you’ve ever tried to gain muscle without steroids, you know how tough it is. As a result, we all want to roll our eyes anytime someone talks about the fear of bulking up.
However, for many women, this is still a real fear for them. Also, because you’re a guy, they may feel that you don’t understand this concern. The first think you need to do is to acknowledge that this fear is very common. Then, you need to go to work at putting her mind at ease. Nothing good will happen in the weight room until she gets over the fear bulking up.
Here are some practical strategies to try next time you face this bulking up issue:
Explain the side-effects of steroid use. Steroids not only cause abnormal amounts of muscle gain, they can also cause reverse sexual characteristics. If a women pumps herself full of a male sex hormone, it will masculinize her body. Your client needs to clearly understand that this is the result of steroids, not barbells. This is where a picture of a female physique athlete who is on steroids and one who is not can be a helpful visual comparison.
Explain that when you design a program you manipulate training variables for a specific goal. Tell your client, “If I gave this program to a male client who was looking to bulk up, he would fire me, because this program sucks for gaining mass.”
If you have a friend or female colleague who is strong and fit, ask her if she can have a quick chat with your client to help put her mind at ease.
Some people do gain a few pounds of muscle in the beginner phase. However, for most adults, this is not really gaining but rather re-gaining lost muscle. It won’t continue to happen month after month.
Finally, worst case scenario, you do end up gaining more muscle than you wanted, you can always lose that muscle.
You can also adjust the program further if she truly does have a body type that gains muscle easily. By decreasing the volume of weight training (e.g. 2×5, 3×3), you will negate the hypertrophy response. I’ve used this for both male and female athletes who are freaky mesomorphs and it allows them to get really strong without gaining muscle.
3. Track and modify emotional eating issues
One of the greatest challenges for female clients (and many guys if they are honest) is emotional eating. Your client already knows what she should not be eating. She does not need you to tell her that donuts are not helpful when trying to lose fat. What she needs is someone who is non-judgmental and can help her gain control over her emotional eating habits.
To deal with this, start by having your clients keeping a food journal. Each session, take a few minutes at the start and look through it. Circle problem foods and then ask about what’s going on. Work with your clients to identify when and what seems to cause inappropriate nutrition choices. Then, brainstorm with your clients some alternative activities that can be done to replace emotional eating during these times.
Here are some examples:
Problem time: feeling relaxed at night while watching TV and wanting to snack.
Eating alternative: use laziness to your advantage. Before you sit down, brush and floss your teeth. Do this thoroughly and take a good amount of time. After that, you will less likely want to repeat this process and it will be easier to avoid the snack foods.
Problem time: feeling nervous at a party and hanging out at the chip bowl.
Eating alternative: Nurse a water bottle – grab a bottle or glass of water and hold it in front of you like people do with a beer. Each time you are nervous or there is an awkward pause in the conversation, take sip.
Problem time: feeling stressed or down and looking for “comfort food”
Eating alternative: look for go-to activities that relax and recharge you. These can include: going for a walk/bike ride outside, listening to music, finding something funny to watch or listen to so you can have a good laugh or even just some slow, deep breathing with your diaphragm.
Problem time: feeling bored and searching the cupboard for a snack
Eating alternative: always keep interesting, helpful reading materials with you. If you find yourself with lots of time on your hands, consider taking up a hobby. Precision Nutrition wisely advises clients to consider what they want for a snack. If they want something healthy (e.g. veggies and humus) they are truly physiologically hungry and should eat. If all they want is cookies or chips, the hunger is likely more psychologically boredom.
Note: these practical strategies are not to undermine how deeply rooted emotional eating can be. Emotional eating can simply be a symptom of some really big psychological issues. Don’t try to play psychiatrist. If you think you’re getting in over your head, refer from some professional help. Resolving these issues can be what unlocks the door to effective fat loss training.
4. Understand the key physiological differences
Every trainer must spend time under the bar to learn things about training you can’t learn in books. These are invaluable lessons for any trainer and hugely impact your coaching ability. However, when working with female clients, remember that there will be some differences from your training experiences.
Here are some examples:
- Women have more slow-twitch fibers than men and as a result, they can usually get more reps than you can at any given percentage of their 1RM.
- Many women can handle more volume and recover faster between sets than you can (this is especially true with women who are fit aerobically but have low to moderate strength levels). I have given programs to female clients that would kill me and still get feedback that it is too easy.
- Most guys tend to do better moving into some type of upper/lower, movement or body part split as we advance (especially with aesthetic goals), ladies seem to do better with whole body routines.
Note: one area where women can be much stronger than you think is their leg strength. Do not underestimate what your female clients can do with their leg exercises.
While these guidelines can help you in your programming, do not ignore the principle of individuality. I have female athletes who thrive off of heavy sets of 3. I joke with them that anything over 5 reps is cardio. Also, some women have quite a low work capacity. Know the trends, but don’t stereotype. Always adjust as needed for your individual.
[Video] Step By Step Sumo Deadlifts A lot of people end up performing the sumo deadlift as more of a squat than a deadlift. In this video, Nia Shanks provides some great tips on the proper setup for a solid pull to hit the posterior chain.—This video is property of Nia Shanks and is used with permission. Learn More about Nia at Nia Shanks – Lift Like a Girl or at http://www.niashanks.com.
Posted by Personal Trainer Development Center on Tuesday, October 6, 2015
5. Get the right equipment
Weights are manufactured for average size guys. This can create some challenges for smaller women. The right equipment can make a huge difference is your client’s results as well as her enjoyment of your training sessions. In her article, Elsbeth Vaino discussed the benefits of Women’s bars. I whole-heartedly agree. We got them a few years back and our ladies love them!
One additional benefit is that when you have the right equipment, it gives your clients not only a great training session, but one more great reason to train with you at your facility. If they ever do have to train at another gym (e.g. travel) and have to use those thick, smooth slimy barbells, they will spend the whole session wishing they were back at your facility.
Another problem for women can be the weight progression options. Barbells go up by 5lbs, which for presses can be a huge jump. Dumbbells in most gyms are even worse as they go up by 5lbs – per hand (i.e. 10lb jump). The result of this is that many women get stuck at a certain weight because the next weight jump is just too much.
For Olympic barbells, consider getting a set of fractional plates which come in 0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1lbs. For dumbbells, consider getting PlateMates® to attach to regular dumbbells (note: these won’t work if your dumbbells are coated with rubber or plastic).
I also have some screw-lock adjustable dumbbells and a pile of standard plates for our female athletes that allow us to go up by 1.25lbs per hand. These small loading progressions allow women to make steady gains in strength and gradually work up to weights they never thought they could lift.
6. Get your female clients doing pull-ups
I want to all of my female athletes and healthy clients doing pull-ups for the following reasons:
- They’re an effective, time-efficient and upper body strength is something most females lack.
- Pull-ups require a strong, lean, athletic body – which is exactly what most women are going for.
- Pull-ups are very empowering for women. EVERYONE in the gym is impressed when a woman busts out a set of strict pull-ups.
- Standing there while you coaching your client through a solid set of strict pull-ups makes you look a great trainer.
I love taking female athletes who on the first day look up at the pull-up bar with body language that sarcastically says, “yah right!” to being able to do strict weighted pull-ups from the rings.
The secret to getting your female clients able to do a lot of pull-ups is to get them doing a lot of pull-ups (i.e. pull-ups require sufficient volume and frequency to get good at them). Most pull-up rookies try too hard and fry themselves on the first set. This results in not being able to do sufficient volume.
Instead, teach your clients to pace themselves. Start at a level that allows them to do at least 3-5 reps on the first set with another 1-2 reps left in the tank. Use a band or machine-assist if needed. Do a set of pull-ups between each set of other non-competing exercises (i.e. squatting or upper body pressing – not rows or deadlifts).
Stop each set about 2 reps short of total failure and do as many sets as necessary to get at least 15-25 total pull-ups in a session. Each session try to get her doing a few more total reps and soon she will find she can get more reps on those first few sets.
Here’s a great video showing an in-between between an assisted pull-up and un-assisted from Nia Shanks:
Advanced Band-Assisted Pull Up VariationSometimes when using a band to assist a client to learn pull ups you need an exercise to bridge the gap between doing a band-assisted pull up and a completely unassisted pull up.Here Nia demonstrates a variation where the band is used to assist in the concentric (lifting) portion of the lift, but the bending of the knees lessens the contribution of the band on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement making it a bit more challenging.*** Personal trainer? We’ve got everything you need to be more successful, Learn more here: theptdc.com/about-us ***-This video is property of Nia Shanks and is used with permission. Learn More about Nia at Nia Shanks – Lift Like a Girl or at http://www.niashanks.com.
Posted by Personal Trainer Development Center on Wednesday, November 11, 2015
7. Be 100% professional 100% of the time
Both for you and for every trainer in the industry, strive to be completely professional. Not stiff, cold and distant, but a way that no one every mistakes you for someone who loves his job for all the wrong reasons.
Here are 3 examples:
Example 1: Treat all women equal
It’s easy to get excited about training when you have attractive, outgoing female clients. However, you need to be just as engaged and passionate about training your not-so-attractive, shy female clients. Make it your goal to treat every female client the same.
People in the gym are watching you and they will notice your kind, professional manner. They will see that you are not just there to make a quick buck or flirt, but that you truly do care about people. Even if they don’t hire you, they will respect you.
Example 2: Watch your coaching positions
It is easy when you’re coaching to get into the zone. You’re active, moving around to see all the angles and trying to do a good job. However, if you’re not careful, could end up in a position that not only looks unprofessional, but can also make your client feel uncomfortable. For example:
- Don’t stand right behind a client doing a hip hinge.
- Don’t stand in front of a female client when she is doing an exercise like bent-over rows.
These awkward positions are even worse if you use the wrong coaching cues (e.g. “that looks great!”).
Example 3: Privacy
Let’s say you need to do skinfold measurements with your client. Obviously you aren’t going to do this on the gym floor. But I would not advise you go off to a storage closest just the two of you. Not only does this look inappropriate, but if you were ever accused of sexual harassment, it is her word against yours. Try to never be alone in a private area with a female client. If you do need to do something private like skinfolds, bring a female staff member with you.