For over a decade I’ve interacted with thousands of women – at the gym I co-founded, through the internet, and through our online coaching program – and you know what I’ve found?
Most women who are looking for training advice want five things. They want to:
- look good
- feel good
- be healthy
- be strong
- feel at peace with their bodies and themselves
…all without spending their life in the gym. So, why is this so hard to accomplish? Why can’t they get the results they want when they are willing to work so hard?
To say women are making mistakes may sound a little negative. What I mean is these are mistakes they don’t even realize they’re making. They’re usually simply following the popular advice delivered by the loudest voices. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are usually the voices of under-qualified “celebrity” trainers and the multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry.
The weight-loss industry in particular employs ruthless and unethical tactics that prey on the insecurities of women. They try to convince us we aren’t good enough and promise unrealistic results that can be achieved “effortlessly” via the latest pill, powder, gadget, or fitness trend… but I digress. That’s an article for another day.
The majority of fitness information geared towards women not only insults our intelligence and attacks our self-esteem, more often than not the underlying goal is to sell us something. There is no shortage of confusing and conflicting information out there, and that leads to making mistakes while earnestly believing we’re doing things that will work.
These are the top 5 mistakes women make when it comes to looking and feeling good, being healthy and strong, and feeling at peace with their bodies.
Mistake #1: Choosing the wrong training modality for her specific goals.
When a woman decides she wants to “get in shape,” she often gravitates towards cardio-heavy activities like running, spinning, or kickboxing, and shies away from pure strength training. While there is nothing wrong with doing cardio, (especially if you enjoy it), there are numerous benefits to strength training for women.
As you’ve probably read before, strength training can help you improve your posture and increase your bone density. It will also help you add muscle mass, which is metabolically expensive (read: burns more calories) especially when recovering from exercise, making it easier for you to lose body fat. Not to mention, getting stronger is one of the most effective self-confidence boosters around!
Yes, there has been a huge shift over the last five or six years with more women choosing the weight room than ever, but as long as there are still “fitness experts” spewing BS about women “never lifting more than three pounds” there is a lot of work left to do.
Of course, we would never tell anyone to refrain from doing an activity they enjoy, however, if looking and feeling fit, healthy, and strong is on your list of goals, strength training is a must!
Mistake #2: Not following a well-designed program.
As I mentioned above, strength training is critical for women. But you know what? Simply picking up some weights and doing a few random exercises is not enough. A proper training program is a balanced program.
I say it all the time: you can’t just run, you can’t just stretch, you can’t just lift. In order to make meaningful progress, you must ensure that you’re doing a few key things. You need a well-rounded training program, one that consists of:
I like to incorporate breathing with a full exhale at the beginning of the workout to help my clients get prepared for their workout. This full exhale is exactly what it sounds like, an exhale where all of the air is blown out and the ribcage comes down towards the pelvis. I also like to include deep, slow nasal breathing at the end of the workout as a way to calm down and switch to a more parasympathetic rest-and-digest state and help jump-start recovery.
Soft Tissue Work
I usually use a foam roller for soft tissue work, but you can use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, stick, PVC pipe, tiger tail, Theracane, or whatever you’d like. Spending a few minutes before each training session doing soft tissue work can increase blood flow to the area, send a signal to the brain to relax that muscle a bit, and give you a few minutes to mentally prepare and get into “training mode.”
This is generally a series of 6-12 exercises designed to prepare you for your workout. For most people, it includes some basic hip and thoracic mobility drills, some glute activation drills, and some core stability exercises. These exercise can go a long way in improving your overall movement quality.
Your training routine will vary based on your training age (how long you’ve been working out) and ability level, but it will include variations of the following movement patterns: squat, hinge, push, and pull, along with resisting rotation, extension, and lateral flexion with your core. It will also include single-leg and split-stance work.
The amount and type of cardio you need to do depends on your goals, ability level, the amount of time you have available to train, and what you enjoy. I like using a mix of both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate intensity cardio (MIC).
While many fitness professional demonize moderate intensity cardio, including a couple of sessions a week to build and maintain a solid aerobic base, can help you recover quicker between exercises within a workout, and between workouts so you can approach each session fresh and ready to train. That being said, if you have limited time to train, it’s ok to limit these sessions to an hour a week or less.
If your program is missing any one of these critical components, you’re missing out on maximum results as well.
Mistake #3: Not lifting heavy enough.
Back in 2002 or 2003 – before I knew anything about strength training – I’d go to the gym and spend 60 minutes on the treadmill, and then walk over to the free weights and grab 5 or 1-pound dumbbells and go to town.
I would do a little of this (lateral raises) and then a little of that (biceps curls), and then I’d try to slyly copy what someone was doing that looked really cool. Arnold Presses! Yes! I needed Arnold Presses in my life!
It’s safe to say that I got just about nowhere. My body didn’t change, and I didn’t notice any increases in my strength, at all.
But…but…but…I was lifting weights! And I was consistent! Why didn’t I see results?
Because I wasn’t lifting heavy enough, plain and simple.
Keep in mind that “heavy enough” is relative. If you are new to strength training, using your own body weight is usually plenty “heavy” in the beginning, and as you get stronger you can start adding external load to your training program. For example, you may start with Bodyweight Squats and over time progress to Goblet Squats, and then Barbell Front Squats and Barbell Back Squats.
You simply need to make sure that you’re always challenging yourself so that your body has to constantly adapt to keep up with the increasing demands you’re placing on it. This is how you make progress in strength, performance, and body composition. There are many ways to progress exercises beyond just adding weight.
Mistake #4: Not resting long enough in between exercises.
Almost every time a new client receives her first training program from me, I get the same question:
Client: “What do I do during my rest periods?”
Me: “You rest.”
While there is undoubtedly a time and place in which it’s best to perform consecutive strength training movements, back-to-back with minimal rest in between sets, that time is generally not during your pure strength program – at least not with the bigger movements, anyway. As we say around here, more isn’t better. Better is better.
Taking time to rest appropriately between exercises allows your muscles to recover almost fully, so that you can perform quality reps of each exercise with the heaviest load your body can handle for the given set and rep recommendation.
For bigger compound movements that are placed at the beginning of your workout, take a longer rest (generally 2-3 minutes, sometimes 4-5 if you’re going super heavy and want full recovery).
In contrast, you can typically get away with 30-90 seconds between sets of accessory movements, especially if they are paired with other exercises.
Mistake #5. Not doing a thorough warm-up.
This is one of the biggest mistakes many women and men, make in the gym. Most people walk in, go right to the machine or free weights that they plan on using, pick their working weight, and get after it. If they’re really “in-the-know,” they might walk on the treadmill for five minutes to warm-up. Yikes!
I already gave you a little information of what a good dynamic warm-up consists of, but let me give you some of the benefits. Not only does it increase blood flow to muscles, increase your core temperature and get your body prepared for your workout, it’s also fantastic for improving body awareness and increasing your mind-muscle connection. This can help re-teach your body how to perform certain movement patterns using the correct muscle groups and allow for more effective and safe workouts.
There you have ‘em – the five biggest training mistakes you might be making, and how you can fix them.