Over the past several years, I've had wonderful experiences while coaching women in person and through online personal training. I have seen them overcome obstacles in the gym and in their personal lives. There is always something special about seeing a woman pushing herself and finding out she is stronger than she ever imagined, and I can think of no better way to destroy the stigma of the “fairer sex”. But one of the biggest gym fails I was making that I've learned to avoid:
I stopped training women the same way I train men.
You read that right: my biggest gym fails of all was training women like they were men. That doesn't mean I will ever encourage light-weight and high-reps exercises, but I've learned that pushing women to a barbell (another big gym fails I learned) isn’t normally productive for what most of them want to achieve: a tighter, stronger, and more toned body. You don't need excessive or heavy weights to achieve that goal.
This year, I switched things up with my female students. We started experimenting with different training methods and styles, and these are the biggest gym fails women are still making today.
The first mistake I cut out was the one-repetition maximum with certain exercises, such as dumbbells, double kettlebells, and barbells. A 1RM can freak out grown men, who are experienced weightlifters; imagine what it does to women who just want to look their best!
A great alternative to 1RM was incorporating 5- and 10-rep maxes in order to provide a challenge, stimulate progress, and remove the mental barriers that come with having “the heaviest weight you've ever had on your back.”
Regardless of how many repetitions you perform, a personal record with any weight is still a personal record. The joy of hitting a new 5RM PR is the same as that of hitting a 1RM PR, and it comes with a lot less risk and mental stress. Learn from me and my gym fails of pushing women to max out.
Another mistake I found to be holding back many of my students was exercising either by splitting different body part workouts throughout the week or splitting body sessions into upper or lower only. Although we did see positive results with split training, dividing our days up limited the progress we could accomplish and the amount of weight we could lift each week. Big gym fails right here.
When strength training women, I've found that full-body training works best. I already saw more smiles when my students started doing full-body training sessions (because they actually enjoyed the new style of training), but after achieving results, all the compliments they continue to receive have sealed the deal for me.
The best part of full-body training was that my students finally felt like they were getting the complete workout they'd been looking for, simply by doing and accomplishing more each session.
After addressing the issues above, the next mistake I found that affected my female students was the fact that women's recovery rate is a lot faster than men's, though this is highly debatable and a lot of factors play into it. Taking into account the differences between weights lifted by men and women, I've noticed a trend among my female students, who on average tend to recover quicker than their male counterparts.
This is not a bad thing by any means, but if your coach isn't pushing you hard enough during your workout, you will hit a plateau and fail to reach your full potential. This is most common of gym fails in group classes; in addition to a lack of equipment, space, and coaches, the fact that the women in a group recover faster than the men prevents the female students from achieving the full benefits of training.
How can we train female athletes with an effective full-body program and challenge them to reach their full potential, regardless of whether they're in a women-only group class, in a mixed class, or training one-on-one? The key is to use supersets.
What is a superset, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like: a “super set” of two or more exercises back-to-back.
One example of a superset would be ten squats immediately followed by ten push-ups, then resting for about 90 seconds before performing the next superset. I use this example to illustrate how you can get a full-body workout faster than with a normal set: three full sets of ten squats first, then three full sets of ten push-ups later. See how a superset saves time?
By using supersets, I was able to get a lot more done in the limited time I had with my female students. I was also able to mix up the training and bodyweight supersets with dumbbell and barbell exercises, depending on their fitness level.
By being able to tackle upper and lower body workouts in one session, we cut excess fat and build muscle more efficiently.
If you're a woman already performing weighted exercises —which you should definitely be doing — try following it up with an opposite bodyweight exercise and see how different your body feels afterwards (a good starting point would be the ten-squats-and-ten-push-ups superset I mentioned earlier).
Even though supersetting is nothing new to the fitness community, I feel it's underused in weight training for women. If you've been struggling to get rid of excess fat—if running isn't helping anymore and the typical group session isn’t producing the results it used to—maybe it’s time to start changing things up. By fixing these women's training mistakes and adding more volume to your training by trying out full-body supersets, you can achieve the results you want faster and easier!
Have you ever made these gym fails like me before? How have they affected your training? Share your experience in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with all the women in your life!