This article was inspired by "The Few Things I Know About Women" by Eric Cressey. I thought Eric's article was excellent and I absolutely agree with what he said. However, when I read it I wanted more, not so much for me, but for the women training with trainers that want to train them like they do the guys. As Eric pointed out, women will respond differently (than men) to the way the program is designed, and more importantly, to the way they are coached.
If a woman says "I do not want to be too muscular" please do not say "this can not happen." Hear her out or ask her to explain what "too muscular" is to her. I assure you she will have an opinion about it.
As a trainer, it is obviously important to have a plan but if you train women that are not competitive athletes then you better be prepared with plan B. Why do you need a plan B you ask? Well, let's say you've planned running interviews for the day's workout and one of the following happens:
1. Client shows up and she is seriously PMS-ing (Yes, PMS. It's real.)
2. Client shows up and she forgot her sports bra
3. Client shows up and it's 2 pm and she has not ate anything yet today
4. Client shows up and she is very sad because she broke up with her boyfriend
If at this point, with this information you proceed with running intervals because you know this is the best way to burn fat and you are all about maximum calorie burn then guess what? Your client will do it (because you said so) but in her head she is flipping you off and cursing you but the workout gets done so feel good. Well, the next time any of the above happens, it is likely she cancels the workout. You do not know why – maybe she says she's sick or busy, but I promise you it's because she is not prepared to feel like "crap."
After another time or two of this she just stops coming. Had you roled into a plan B and did a nice rhythmic circuit workout using mostly stable exercises but moving enough to expend some energy, your client would leave knowing no matter how bad she feels when she shows up, she will always feel better when she leaves . Not every workout needs to be the hardest most challenging workout ever. It is consistency over the long haul that makes the difference. My clients are trained on my motto "you are only one workout away from a good mood," which is probably why they rarely cancel.
On the days when your female client comes in with a lot of energy because she's really mad about some work issues or about an altercation that just happened in the gym parking lot, this is not the time to be doing a bunch of balance exercises. You need to blow some energy out. Let her feel strong. Bench press, step ups, Valslide lunges, med ball throws or intervals are all good. The bottom line is that clients in general, women in particular, want to feel like they succeeded and that they did a good job. They want your praise. Help them win!
Sometimes clients will come in and explain why they could not do the diet or extra cardio. They are not looking for a scolding (they have already done that for you) but they do want to be held accountable. It's OK to remind them of their goals and explain how they might be sabotaging them. Be gentle but firm and then teach them strategies. For example if I have a client that came to me to get ready for a beach vacation with the new boyfriend but then tells me she can not give up her Margaritas during Girls Night or does not want to do the last set of Valslide lunges , then all I have to say is "Hawaii Bikini 3 weeks. I did not tell them they had to be a size 6, 4 or 2. They told me. It is up to me to provide the plan that will get them there but they need to know it takes commitment on their part.
Most women want to build their glutes (thank you J. Lo) but they do not always want to add size to their quads. It is irrelevant if you think the leg looks better filled out or you are so attached to squats and lunges you do not know what else to do. The problem is, when women lose weight (which is great) they want to fit in a smaller jean. So let's say they went from a 32 to a 28 waist. This makes them feel really good. They will think you are brilliant and want to keep training with you. However, if the thighs do not fit in the new smaller waisted jean, well then you just screwed yourself. This will mean the program is not working. They have been putting in a lot of hard work for the wrong result. Yes, I know diet plays a large part. You better be on top of that too because if the legs get bigger before they get smaller, you have a problem.
How do you help your client? Recognize that different women want different results. If the client tells you they like the "long lean look" favored by Hollywood stars, then know that this is very specific programming (like Red Carpet Ready). Stop being attached to specific exercises. Yes, lunges and squats are awesome but try adding in some isolated glute work such as a single leg glute bridge, donkey kicks or mini band side steps. Finally, progress does not only happen by adding weight. It could mean increasing the number of exercises within a circuit, or creating instability. Trust me, your client will still feel challenged when you progress them from a body weight squat, to a single leg squat, to a single leg squat on an Airex pad.