For those who visit our facility, they’ve surely noticed a trend: the fastest growing demographic, for us, is female athletes. We’ve added 35 new girls to our program this year, which is really exciting. And, we’ve teamed with a local volleyball club to train 100 more on a part-time basis. Females aren’t necessarily more fragile then men, but their training needs do differ slightly. Here’s our overview of training needs of female athletes.
1. Major Focus on Knee Tracking
Too many girls display a valgus twitch when they squat and jump – the twitch of their knees knocking inward to initiate movement. “Valgus” is a type of force, most easily understood as the force applying to a joint in the direction it is not supposed to bend. When the knees knock inward, toward the center of the body, this is valgus force. When the knees track inward, valgus force stresses the knee ligaments, which can cause ACL tears and other knee injuries.
What we want is knees that always bend – during squatting, lunging, jumping and running – over the 2nd toe. This is how knees are supposed to bend. Teaching what good knee tracking looks like is crucial, as is strengthening the legs and lateral hips, which control the movement of the lower leg. Here’s one exercise that helps strengthen the lateral hips, that will in turn allow a girl to resist valgus collapse in the knees. We use tools like shock jumps and general education to make sure they know the correct movement pattern both when somewhat stable (squatting) versus when dynamic (jumping and landing).
#2. Solid Legs
It’s hard to compartmentalize all of the things girls need more of in regards to leg strength – they need it all. We simply make sure they get a balance of quad, hamstring, glute and lateral hip exercises. We focus more on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes than we do the quads, and we focus quite a lot on lateral hip strength. Here’s one of our gals performing the Romanian Deadlift, a great hamstring, glute and lower back exercise. She can perform this at 135lbs for 8 reps at a bodyweight of 125, which is really good!
Really, we see too much quad and too little glute and hamstring strength in every athlete, not just females. But, females are subject to more potential injuries if their legs aren’t holistically strong. This is partly because their hips are wider, which results in higher Q-angles. We look to balance and build rock-solid legs, especially the posterior.
#3. More Social
There’s more to training girls than just the physical training itself. We’ve grown because girls are social creatures, and right now our female Warbird creatures tell their friends how much they like lifting weights (at least our weights).
Strength training is intimidating for many women, especially the kind of training we want them to do. Our gym features dumbbells up to 175lbs each, power racks, all sorts of chains, bands, heavy barbells, sleds, kettlebells and many tools for the elite, strong athlete. This is uncommon territory for a 13 year old girl. But, we want them to learn this style of training, which is the same style they’ll perform at their future D-1 university. Heavy, high-intensity lifting with good technique and a focus on explosiveness is what we deliver. (Stay fierce)
Our gym was once 95% boys and men. It’s now 50-50, and we’re proud of that. The reason is that we try hard to relate to the girls, make them feel cared about and hope the intimidation will fade with laughter and sarcasm (which we’re legendary for). Once they feel like we’ve got their backs, boy do they open up…
We listen to countless stories every day that have, well, not much of a punch line. Girls run in the door and regale us with a tale about “this one time when we were at Disney and my Mom got SO mad at me.” This is often followed by, “OMG have you seen my cat? Let me show you 9000 pictures!” And, we listen. Then, we tell them, politely, to shut up and get to work.
When the girls get a little too chatty, we’ll yell when we have to, but it’s not often. We try to find the balance of letting them (and all of our athletes) enjoy the atmosphere that we provide, all the while getting in quality work. We know that if they like training, they’re more likely to make it a 12-month per year habit. If they get yelled at constantly and feel it’s a burden, it becomes an 8-month habit, if at all. We take the tradeoff of letting them tell one extra story or joke to a friend if it keeps them in the gym for more months and more years. We’re looking long-term, building for the future.
#4. Upper body Strength
Our goal is that every girl can do 20 quality push ups and 5 quality chin ups. Most can reach the push up goal in 3-4 months with us, and the chin up goal if they stay consistent for 6-12 months. The average girl who comes to us can’t perform a single push up properly. Think what an advantage it is to possess the strength to perform twenty! Girls who have this edge in upper body strength will be light years ahead of their peers. We don’t like knee push ups – they’re degrading and feel awkward. Instead, we use varying resistance levels to progress our athletes down to the floor. Watch the video below for an good demonstration.
#5. The other details – Grip, Rotator Cuff
Core training is integrated with everything. Did you know that chin ups and front squats have some of the highest EMG activity? They’re better “ab” exercises than “ab” exercises like sit ups (which are terrible for the back). We get core training in utilizing big, compound lifts. Other often overlooked details are grip strength and rotator cuff strength and stability. Strong hands (grip strength) mean harder hits in volleyball, more batspeed and throwing velocity in softball. A stable rotator cuff means harder hitting and throwing speed, as well as injury and fatigue resistance. Most rotator cuff injuries can be prevented with preemeptive strengthening.
I’m trying to write this article in a way that conveys the differences in how we train females than males. But, the reality is that there isn’t a massive difference. We want every athlete to have strong legs, upper body, strong hands, a stable rotator cuff and a stiff core. Girls just often need more attention paid to them as whole athletes, and most shy away from strength training in general. We, in summary, just want to avoid the idea that girls are fragile and should trained differently; they aren’t and shouldn’t. We see common deficiencies and they are subject to more pathologies (ACL tears, patellofemoral syndrome, congenital shoulder laxity, etc) but this doesn’t necessary change much. Girls listen, work hard and have more scholarships ready for the taking. Quality training helps bridge the gap.