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Mistakes that women still make in the gym

Fehler, die Frauen immer noch im Fitnessstudio machen

Questionable practices

Although both men and women make predictable mistakes in the gym, some of the current trends in female figure training are particularly questionable. For starters, you might wonder who is using some of the inane things you see women doing in the gym - like workouts that consist entirely of jumps and pseudo-polymetric exercises.

How about workouts that include nothing but tricep kickbacks, exercises that focus heavily on balance (like dumbbell presses standing on a BOSU balance trainer) and multi-tasking exercises like lunges with light dumbbells that you push up overhead with every lunge?

Time wasting workouts

Men are much more likely to rely on tried and tested basic exercises that have been successfully used by athletes for decades to build their bodies - squats, presses of all kinds, pull-ups, dips, rowing, deadlifts and, of course, direct training for arms, abs and calves.

Many women, on the other hand, focus primarily on exercises that are so demanding on athletic ability and/or balance that they cannot be performed with enough weight to significantly improve strength or hypertrophy. A good example of this is when women perform lunges and overhead presses at the same time. If those dumbbells are light enough for overhead presses, then they won't be heavy enough to present a challenge during the lunge portion of the exercise. Or exercises like shoulder presses on a BOSU balance trainer. If you're standing on an unstable surface, you won't be able to use a weight heavy enough to challenge the target muscles.

If your training goals primarily include getting stronger, leaner or more muscular, then the exercises you perform must allow you to do a significant amount of work, which is defined as moving a specific mass over a given distance. Exercises that significantly limit (or even eliminate) the amount of work you perform are suboptimal for the purpose of building strength and muscle. In other words, these exercises are pretty useless.

Exercises that do and exercises that don't do much

The exercises with weights that work best for most exercisers (men or women) are the exercises in which relatively heavy weights are moved over a relatively long distance - with sufficient safety, of course. This is the reason why many strength coaches and athletes have called squats with a barbell the "queen of exercises" over the past decades. Some would suggest deadlifts for this title, but regardless of the actual exercise, you'll understand what I mean. In addition to this, more than a few experts refer to dips and pull-ups as "squats for the upper body.

It's important to see the common characteristics of these four exercises. They allow you to safely move a heavy weight over a long distance. And it should be noted that all four of these exercises work a number of different muscles simultaneously.

Compare these exercises to some of the exercises we've all seen women perform recently - both in person and on social media.

  • Bulgarian split squats with the back foot in the sling of a sling trainer while simultaneously pushing up a pair of light dumbbells at the end of each repetition.
  • A squat / twisted lunge combo performed with very light weights for very many repetitions.
  • A burpee/pull-up combo performed by a hard-working woman who meant well but wasn't strong enough to perform a proper push-up or pull-up. Both exercises are performed with the poor and unsafe technique one would expect.
  • Squats performed with knees and feet together. Aside from the obvious dangers of this exercise in terms of instability, the stance used dramatically reduces the range of motion compared to a more conventional placement of the feet.

Why do so many women train this way?

Why are female exercisers so prone to ignore the fact that in order to make significant progress they need to move a relatively heavy weight over a long distance?

It is likely that women learn these techniques from other fitness professionals who are either trainers or competitors in the figure arena. But assuming that this is the case, the question arises as to how these fitness professionals came up with such crazy ideas. What are the underlying premises or reasons? Here are some possible explanations for this mystery.

1 - Fear of looking like a man

There continues to be a persistent myth that more conventional resistance training exercises (i.e. the exercises that actually do something) will only serve to make women more masculine, which is especially true when performed with heavy weights. This harmful mistake is difficult to eradicate. There is an overwhelming tendency to believe that if we simply do what someone else is doing, we will achieve the same results. The problem with this, however, is that we may not have the same genetics or the same performance enhancing substances.

It's a classic case of mistaking correlation for causation. When women see the muscular bodies of professional bodybuilders and strength athletes, it discourages them from training like these women. This is, of course, a mistake.

2 - Not listening to good trainers

Whenever you as a trainer start with a new client, there is a risk of a mental competition. Many clients have fixed ideas of what they think they should be doing and as a fitness professional you naturally have your ideas too. More often than you might think, trainers tend to gradually give in to the ill-informed wishes of their clients instead of defending their position as a professional and insisting on good decisions.

3 - Overestimating the energy cost of the exercises they perform

Many men make the same mistake. This is especially true for jumping exercises, which are very strenuous and therefore give the idea that they burn a lot of calories. And to be fair, many of these exercises will burn more calories per unit of time than other exercises. However, there are a few problems with this line of thinking:

  • You can't perform these exercises for a long enough period of time to elicit a high calorie burn.
  • Jumping exercises pose a high risk to your joints - especially women's knees. Whenever you are weighing up the potential use of an exercise, you need to examine the cost-benefit ratio. Few benefits with low risk means minimal value. What we're looking for are low-risk, high-benefit exercises.
  • These exercises don't do much - or anything - when it comes to building strength or muscle.

The underlying problem is that people tend to assume that difficult or painful equates to 'effective', even though this is often not the case.

4 - Giving in to boredom

A truly effective workout tends to be rather monotonous. This is the reason that most successful training programs (such as P90X) are all based on a large degree of variability. Despite this, most successful weight training programs are comparatively boring.

5 - They tend to do what they do best

This is human nature. Women tend to be relatively better at tasks that require more agility, endurance and complexity and their training tends to reflect this.

6 - They hire misogynistic trainers

I observed a handful of male trainers at a local commercial gym over a period of several months. When they have a male client, they have him perform legitimate, effective exercises like squats, pull-ups, Romanian deadlifts, shoulder presses, etc.

The next client is often female. She is instructed to ride the exercise bike for 10 minutes, which is followed by 10 minutes of foam roller work and running with elastic bands around the knees. This is followed by a few sumo squats with light kettlebells, some lateral raises and a few sets of gluteus bridges.

However, the problems are not limited to ineffective exercises, but also include inadequate training weights and too much time spent on preparatory activities. In addition to this, these trainers show genuine enthusiasm when working with male clients, whereas they show disinterest when working with women - at least when the client is not particularly hot. These trainers simply don't respect or appreciate the majority of their female clients.

3 things women do right

However, there are also many things that men can learn from women in the gym.

  1. For example, men tend to focus excessively on the weight on the bar and not enough on the quality of the movement and the mind-muscle connection. Men also almost always value quantity over quality - often to their detriment. None of this is the case with women.
  2. Women never try to train through pain in a stupid way. Men, on the other hand, often allow their ego to dominate over common sense. This is as stupid as it is dangerous.
  3. Lastly, women often tend to think of themselves as beginners, even if they already have a lot of experience, whereas men, because of their Y chromosome, tend to think that they know how to train with weights from birth. The result of this is that women are much more open to learning compared to men.

by Charles Staley
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