Tag Archives: strength training for women

120 Tips on Strength Training for Women

For six months I’ve been taking notes while training my female clients, and I’m finally comfortable with the list. Here are 120 tips on strength training for women (many aren’t really tips, just observations). Please understand that I intend no disrespect or offense, I’m not trying to be controversial, I’m aware that I could be wrong in some cases, and obviously I’ve made broad generalizations and there are many exceptions to this list. My primary intent is to inform other trainers and coaches about my observations – it’s likely that your observations will differ from mine. Here they are separated into four categories:

Exercise Considerations

  1. Women have to be taught that the eccentric portion of the movement is important, and most will let their form go down the tubes when lowering their last rep of a set (for example during deadlifts or chins)
  2. Women are more prone than men to exhibit valgus collapse during squatting – while individual differences such as Q-angles contribute to this, “sitting like a lady” probably contributes to it as well
  3. A woman’s glutes can become stronger than a male’s – indicated by a greater relative hip thrust strength seen in women (a 2xBW hip thrust appears to be much more common in trained women than trained men, as is a 3xBW hip thrust)
  4. Proper push-up form is much more difficult to attain for women than it is for men
  5. Women have good “reactive/elastic strength” or stretch-shortening cycle efficiency, but they have poor “starting strength” – for example if they start a deadlift or shoulder press from the top of the movement with an eccentric lowering first, the performance is markedly better than if they perform the concentric portion first (more so than that of men)
  6. Some women struggle to activate their glutes with straightened legs (ex: planks and back extensions), but easily can when the knees are bent (ex: squats and hip thrusts) – I don’t quite know why this occurs
  7. Women utilize a variety of lumbar-pelvic strategies when lifting and often resort to overarching (excessive hyperextension) the spine during planks, push-ups, pull-ups, and deadlifts
  8. Most women prefer the EZ bar over the traditional barbell for hip thrusts as their pelvises can get beat up by traditional barbells (depends on the EZ bar though)
  9. Some women have “coregasms” when training, and the hanging leg raise is the primary culprit (these orgasms usually aren’t welcomed as they’re inconvenient)
  10. Bodyweight exercises for the upper body are much harder for women compared to men
  11. Bodyweight reverse hypers are often more effective for women compared to men
  12. Single leg RDL form comes more naturally to women due to better hip flexion mobility
  13. Conversely, single leg squat form is more difficult for women due to anatomical differences (Q-angle) and greater frontal plane hip stability requirements

Programming Design Considerations

  1. Women have much better stamina than men in terms of training density at higher intensities – they don’t require as much intra-set rest time as men
  2. Most women initially possess “quad dominance”, which should actually be referred to as “posterior chain weakness”
  3. Women are not initially very competent at executing 1RM’s, and this skill takes more time to develop in women compared to men
  4. Women tend to go too light with resistance training, whereas men tend to go too heavy to the point where their form breaks down too much or they rely on excessive momentum (there’s a popular saying in our industry that women should add 10% to the bar while men should take 10% off the bar)
  5. Women’s upper bodies are much weaker than those of men – lower body strength is around 70-75% of men, whereas upper body strength is around 40-60%
  6. When the spine is taken out of the equation, women’s relative compound lower body strength is more comparable to that of men (example leg press, hip thrust), however, in lifts that require significant spinal stability, relative compound lower body strength lags even greater when compared to men (example squats, deadlifts)
  7. Many women love isolation lifts and feeling the burn with them, probably too much, as most of them love these movements for the wrong reasons (see next point)
  8. The vast majority of women believe in spot reduction – even if they’ve heard the truth about spot reduction on numerous occasions (many mistakenly believe that tricep, adductor, and low ab exercises burn fat in those regions)
  9. Most women think there’s some magic fitness secret out there and therefore try to juggle every fitness methodology under the sun, which results in being mediocre at a variety of things rather than highly skilled in one or just a few areas
  10. Many women can tolerate greater training frequency of heavy lifting for the upper body due to less neural demand on account of lower strength levels
  11. Women absolutely love it when they perform their first legitimate push-up and chin-up, and many love doing “masculine” things in the gym such as pushing sleds
  12. Some women who have boob jobs have to permanently alter their programming, others don’t, and some can resume normal training after a period of time (for example, prone exercises, pec exercises, and even lat exercises can be problematic)
  13. Women tend to appreciate excellent form more so than men and aren’t as prone to “ego lifting”
  14. However, many women lack the fortitude and dedication to ever see incredible results from lifting due to “being a lifter” rather than “being a student of weight lifting”
  15. Many women will never appear “too muscular” no matter how much resistance training they perform
  16. Some women, however, can indeed get too big of quads through progressive overload with squats/lunges, contrary to popular opinion
  17. And some women can indeed get too big of traps/back through progressive overload with deadlifts, contrary to popular opinion
  18. Some women can get too muscular for their preferences in the upper body and should simply utilize variety rather than progressive overload for upper body lifts
  19. Women can indeed build blocky abdominals with too much core training
  20. The vast majority of women will never have “too much booty” as in gluteus maximus musculature no matter how much resistance training they perform
  21. Most women feel that plyos have some special fat-zapping properties for the legs (they don’t)
  22. Many women resort to sprinting for glute-building and end up injuring themselves due to inadequate preparation – a better strategy is to simply master the hip thrust as it’s markedly safer for non-athletes
  23. If you let them, many women would perform their entire workout as one giant circuit (therefore you have to teach them to rest adequately for strength gains)
  24. Women require smaller jumps in progressive overload – smaller plates are therefore critical (example 1.25-2.5lbs), as are smaller barbells (and smaller jumps in db’s, kb’s, and bands)
  25. Women prefer variety with training – put a man in a garage with pair of squat stands and a barbell loaded with bumper plates and he’d be accepting, whereas a woman would sorely miss her kettlebells, suspension system, and elastic bands

Anatomical, Physiological, Psychological, and Random Considerations

  1. Women in general complain about pain more frequently than men (by the way, the notion that women have higher pain tolerances than men is not supported in the literature)
  2. Many women loathe calluses and prefer to wear lifting gloves as they feel it allows them to retain their femininity – and I have absolutely no problem with this as a trainer
  3. The hip thrust strength discrepancy between men and women is strange because the literature shows that women’s glutes are smaller compared to men, both in an absolute and a relative manner, though individual variation in glute size is enormous
  4. Women’s muscles, when expressed per unit of area, produce the same amount of force as those of men, but women carry less muscle mass (18-22 less kgs of lean body mass)
  5. This spinal stability discrepancy between men and women may have to do with the lesser leverage (moment arms) of core muscles on account of smaller torsos in women compared to men, which translates to lesser spinal stability strength per amount of muscle force
  6. Compared to men, most women have better hip, t-spine, shoulder, and pelvic mobility
  7. It is common for women, however, to have poor ankle mobility – just as it is for men
  8. Many women initially possess very poor levels of core stability; even more so than men
  9. An alarming number of female beginners possess very little noticeable levels of glute activation during various glute exercises
  10. Women tend to be very grateful and appreciative of their trainers, more so than men
  11. Some women giggle when they’re struggling with exercise form or when pushing a set near failure – men don’t do this
  12. Women love feeling strong, contrary to popular opinion
  13. Women often bring drama to the gym and have more trouble detaching from everyday life-struggles when training
  14. Women are great motivators and encouragers in the gym
  15. Women have different physique goals than men, and this needs to be taken into account with programming
  16. Women often struggle to load and unload plates off of barbells properly due to pulling or positioning them off-track rather than centering them perfectly and pushing/pulling straight-on
  17. High heels likely contributes to certain women’s quad dominance and tight plantarflexors
  18. Certain female sexual positions might contribute to women possessing good hip mobility and pelvic control (ex: ones that have the woman in a deep squat position, ones that have the woman in a bridge position, ones that have the woman rocking their hips back and forth, etc.)
  19. More women than men tend to look to the side during sagittal plane lifts – their eyes veer off to the left or right rather than remain focused straight ahead
  20. Women don’t tend to look at themselves in the mirror as much as men when training
  21. More women possess hypermobility than men
  22. On average, women are not as consistent as men at keeping training logs
  23. Women are not as proficient at learning gym lingo, learning the names of exercises, and learning which exercises work the various muscles compared to men
  24. Women differ anatomically compared to men (for example, the average male over 20 yrs of age is 5’10” and weighs 190 lbs, whereas the average female over 20 yrs of age is 5’4” and weighs 163 lbs – in addition, women possess wider pelvises and larger Q-angles than men)
  25. Women differ physiologically compared to men, which influences anatomy (for example they possess greater bodyfat percentages of 25-31% compared to men at 18-24%)
  26. Women differ psychologically compared to men (for example they’re motivated to train uniquely, and what revs up a man to max out doesn’t necessarily rev up a woman to max out)
  27. It is common for women to miss periods (menstrual cycles) upon embarking on an intensive training regimen (not to be confused with amenorrhea which happens when body fat drops too low)
  28. Menstrual cycles usually have a huge influence on factors such as training motivation, irritability/mood, water retention, and self-esteem during exercise
  29. The size of women’s breasts and also butts can fluctuate markedly throughout the month, which can lead to frustration
  30. Some women experience urinary incontinence when exercising, and the likelihood increases after giving birth
  31. Woman are better than men at fostering camaraderie but not quite as good as men at holding training partners accountable for showing up
  32. Many women don’t activate their pelvic floor muscles properly
  33. Women tend to prefer different training music than men
  34. More women than men like to offer up the phrase “they say” as proof of evidence (who exactly is “they”?)
  35. Most women don’t like getting weighed on scales, and many prefer to see how clothes fit as measures of progress (I don’t agree with this practice as I like to utilize all measures of progress)
  36. Women like wearing pink workout apparel and take their training attire much more seriously than men (for example they tend to match their shoes with their shorts or shirts, etc.)
  37. Women love putting chalk on their hands and then clapping hard – thereby getting chalk everywhere rather than keeping it solely on the hands (they probably do this because they saw gymnasts do it)
  38. Women are not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses
  39. Women love compliments – it fuels their fire to train even harder
  40. Most women are initially very insecure about lifting weights – many desire private or small training environments since they’re less intimidating
  41. Many women are very intimidated of free-weights in general – especially in gyms, and especially in free-weight sections of heavily populated gyms – which is why many opt for the cardio area
  42. Many women overvalue the importance of cardio, met-con, and high-intensity interval training
  43. Many women overvalue the importance of stretching
  44. Many women overvalue the importance of abdominal training
  45. Many women undervalue the importance of strength
  46. Many women fear getting bulky – and sometimes this fear is warranted as it can indeed happen, especially with certain muscle groups (despite most trainers and coaches saying it’s not a concern)
  47. Compared to men, women carry a greater percentage of their weight in their lower bodies and a lower percentage of their weight in their upper bodies
  48. Most women will name types like Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, or Jamie Eason as their ideal physique – men tend to assume that all women want to look like J-Lo or Shakira
  49. The female body makes around 10% as much testosterone as a man’s, but androstenedione levels are similar (however testosterone levels vary dramatically between women)
  50. Genetics for muscle building varies dramatically between women, possibly due to the variances in T-levels, muscle fiber type proportions, and/or satellite cell efficiency
  51. Genetics for fat loss varies dramatically between women – some stay very lean despite consuming a surprisingly large amount of calories and/or “junk” food, whereas others seem to do everything right yet can’t improve their body composition
  52. Where women store fat varies dramatically between women – typical problematic areas for fat storage are the inner thighs, buttocks, and back of the arms, however some struggle in the lower abdominal and lower back regions too
  53. Where women build muscle varies dramatically between women – for example some women can grow a booty by just looking at a barbell, whereas others seem to do everything right but still struggle (some can even grow a booty by just doing tons of cardio, whereas this recipe would spell disasters for most women for that purpose)
  54. Most women, when looking in the mirror, hone in on their “problem areas” rather than focus on their best parts
  55. A small percentage of women possess what I call “Tasmanian devil syndrome,” characterized by a barrel chest with two chicken legs – this is the hardest body type to improve!
  56. Most women have well-intentioned male friends who give them horrendous advice pertaining to their goals
  57. If a woman has a boyfriend/husband who is a coach/trainer, she won’t listen to him no matter what his credentials are (never a prophet in your own land)
  58. More women than men attempt to chat during lifts, and they’ll even do so with maximal attempts (men instinctively shut their traps and focus on the task at hand when maxing out)
  59. Women prefer to hear feminine terms such as “firm,” toned,” “tight,” “lean,” “long,” “sculpted” and “sexy,” rather than masculine terms such as “jacked,” “yoked,” “swole,” “huge,” “ripped,” “shredded,” or “muscular,” and even the word “hypertrophy” can scare them off
  60. Women don’t tend to value training partners in the same manner that men do
  61. Women sometimes dress very sexy for the gym and are then annoyed when males show interest while they’re training, which on the surface doesn’t make the best of sense
  62. However, women often aren’t dressing to impress men, they like looking and feeling their best  in the gym for personal reasons related to motivation and confidence
  63. Women usually don’t want to be bothered in the gym – unsolicited advice from meatheads and cheesy pick-up lines get old quickly, yet men will nevertheless remain persistent
  64. Women don’t tend to care as much about science and research – anecdotes are often sufficient for evidence
  65. Some women make sexual-sounding grunts when lifting; men grunt but it doesn’t sound sexual
  66. Women respond differently hormonally to exercise than men (they tend to release more growth hormone, less testosterone and more cortisol)
  67. Some women prefer hiring a female trainer because they feel more comfortable and that a woman can relate better to their needs, whereas training with the same sex or they feel that a woman will better relate to their needs, while other women prefer hiring a male trainer since they feel that men can better motivate and push them to new levels of development
  68. Many women feel that all upper body training is “arm” training (they refer to chest, shoulder, and back exercises as arm exercises)
  69. During casual conversation, when most women imitate weight lifting form to friends, family members, or peers, all of a sudden they get the form all wrong (for example they’ll imitate a deadlift like an upright row)
  70. Many women are self-conscious about the way they look when lifting – for example they’re initially insecure about performing RDLs or hip thrusts, they’re keenly aware of how their clothing is situated on their bodies, and they try to avoid grimacing when the intensity rises
  71. Some women seem impossible with their complaints; for example one day they’re worried about getting too bulky and the next day they’re upset that they lost muscle size somewhere
  72. Women sometimes twist compliments into insults, and they’re more sensitive to criticism than men

Nutrition and Health Considerations

  1. Women are more gullible and prone to gimmicks and fads in regards to exercise and fitness
  2. However, women spend less money on muscle building supplements than men
  3. Women have better sleep quality compared to men – they sleep longer, they fall asleep faster, and their sleep is more efficient, but despite this, women have more sleep-related complaints than men (this is shown in the literature)
  4. Women are more prone than men to getting fooled into buying “fake” healthy foods (they trust labels and don’t inspect the ingredients and nutritional info)
  5. Many women don’t like the taste of protein shakes, whereas most men enjoy the taste
  6. Many women don’t consume optimal protein intake because they assume that items like yogurt and nuts are high in protein
  7. Many women have unhealthy attitudes about their body images
  8. Due to this, many women have unhealthy relationships with food – women are more prone to eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating
  9. Some women end up permanently damaging their metabolisms by engaging in unsafe dietary practices when training for competitions (often recommended by their trainers and coaches)
  10. Women tend to be better than men at getting in their fruits and veggies, whereas they don’t tend to crave meat and eggs as much as men

Strength Training for Women

Female Strength Levels

We see a lot of YouTube videos these days involving people performing astounding feats of strength. It’s important to not get discouraged or biased when watching these videos. For example, I can full squat around 365 lbs right now, but there are Olympic weightlifters who can bust out 900 lbs. I can deadlift around 565 right now, which is one of my best lifts. But the world record is over 1,000 lbs! If I compared myself to these individuals I’d feel like a sissy!

It’s important to be inspired by these freaks of nature, but it’s also important to always keep things in perspective. When I used to train at commercial gyms, people were very impressed with my workouts. For commercial gym standards, I’m pretty strong. It’s not everyday you see some guy squatting with over three plates per side while going rock bottom, pulling over five plates per side in the deadlift, or hip thrusting with over four plates per side, nor is it common to see a guy performing chin ups with two plates strapped around his waist. I’m very proud of these feats as it’s taken me many years to reach these levels, and when you’re 6’4″ tall some lifts just don’t come easy.


Think about it. Approximately 2/3 or 67% of people in the United States are either overweight or obese. It is quite rare for an overweight or obese individual to be able to perform a proper repetition in the squat, lunge, push up, or chin up.

As for the remaining 1/3 or 33% of the female population who is of normal weight, probably only a 1/3 of them perform proper resistance training. This means around 10% of women are “competing” with you for strength. As a matter of fact, I’d venture to guess that if you are a woman and you can perform a chin up, you’re in the 95th-pecentile in terms of upper body pulling strength. To reiterate, if you took a random sample of 100 women I doubt that more than five could bust out a full range chin up.

While many women are biased because they base their perception of female-strength off of what they see advanced women doing in the gym or what they’ve seen on Youtube videos, I’m here to give you the real-life breakdown in terms of female-strength. I can speak about this with confidence as there aren’t many trainers out there who have trained more women than me in the past decade. At one point several years ago I had over 30 female clients and I managed to train them all by myself week in, week out.

Below is a chart that I created based on my experiences in training hundreds of women over the past decade.

I thought about including front squats, sumo deadlifts, barbell glute bridges, Bulgarian split squats, glute ham raises, close grip bench press, lat pulldowns, chest supported rows, seated rows, inverted rows, and dumbbell curls, but I opted to keep it simple.


  •  No anabolic steroids (this changes everything)
  • Typical anthropometry (height, weight, body segment length ratios)
  • Of normal age range (16-50 years old)
  • Proper form (full range of motion – no partial reps)

Women taking steroids are in a league of their own as they are manipulating their physiology to function more like a man. Actually some of them are exceeding normal male testosterone levels as our juevos only create around 10 mgs of testosterone per day. These women should not be taken into consideration when determining female strength levels.

Anthropometry plays a huge role in the display of strength. It is not uncommon for a tall women to front squat just the barbell but deadlift with over 135 lbs. Women with a tiny upper body with shapely legs may never be able to do a chin up no matter how lean she gets. Bodyweight reverse hypers are an excellent exercise for this type of client as their ratio of lower body weight to upper body weight makes it quite challenging. Conversely, this type of client can bust out bodyweight 45 degree hypers like it ain’t no thang and needs to hold onto dumbbells to make it challenging.

It’s quite impressive for an elderly women (60+) to be able to squat and lunge with her own bodyweight and deadlift and press with a barbell.

Last, exercises need to be taken through a full range of motion to be considered legit. I’ve seen women who can partial squat 95 lbs for ten reps but can’t do a single rep to parallel or deeper with the same weight. I’ve seen women bust out three partial range chin ups who can’t do a single rep when attempting to start from a dead hang and stopping at their sternum. I’ve seen women claim to dumbbell military press a ton of weight, but when forced to use a complete range of motion by starting at shoulder level and progressing to lockout while keeping a tall spine, it’s whole different story.


Typical, untrained women don’t show up at my doorstep being able to bust out barbell full squats. Beginners need to start off with their own bodyweight, ensure proper levels of mobility, stability, and motor control, and use basic progressions. They need to build a foundation by gaining flexibility, getting their glutes to activate properly, learning how to stabilize their core, and building up some scapular muscles so they can perform exercises with proper form. They need to progress optimally in range with range of motion, reptitions, resistance, and exercise variation. For example, goblet squats are a good intermediate exercise that bridges the gap between bodyweight and barbell squats. Barbell glute bridges come before barbell hip thrusts, and rack pulls come before deadlifts. Dumbbells for upper body are often necessary to bridge the gap between bodyweight and barbells. Bands can be used for assistance on chin ups. The angle on inverted rows and push ups can be elevated to make them easier.

Be the Best “You”

I used to envy others and try to compete with my friends in terms of strength. While being competitive is certainly fine, it’s important to realize that some people will naturally have an advantage with certain exercises and rep ranges. One individual may be horrible at squatting but excellent at deadlifting or vice versa. One individual may not be good at maxing out but excels at performing higher repetitions. One individual may suck at upper body pressing but rock the house with upper body pulling. Just be the best “you” possible and try to set personal records consistently when training.

If you’re at the “advanced” or “elite” stage in any of the exercises listed above, be damn proud of yourself, as that means you’ve trained hard and consistently. Hopefully this chart will help many women keep their strength in proper perspective.

Training Women

When I first started training clients full-time, I assumed that I’d specialize in training athletes. I bought all sorts of equipment from Elitefts including a huge power rack/platform with all the accessories (box squat box, step up attachment, monkey chin bar, dip bars, band peg attachments), a 45 degree hyper, glute ham raise, reverse hyper, competition bench press, incline press, deadlift lever, chalk bin, bands, chains, specialty barbells, etc. I situated the equipment in my garage and was in awe at how manly my gym appeared! I was well on my way to be the next Joe DeFranco.

What happened next was unexpected. A bunch of female friends and relatives of mine started requesting that I train them. At first, I told them, “I’m not sure, my equipment is more geared toward training athletes.” They’d say, “Cool, when can I start?” I quickly realized that women like this type of training and all of a sudden I’m training tons of women.

Next thing you know, I open up my own studio and within three months I have 55 clients; probably 45 of them were women. If you train a few women well, out of nowhere you’ll have tons of female clients through word-of-mouth advertisement as they love to tell their friends about their trainer. I’ve really grown to love training women over the past five years, and here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Women Can Tolerate More Training Frequency than Men

A very recent study showed that following a bench press training session, men took 48 hours to return to their previous levels of strength, whereas women took only 4 hours (Judge & Burke, 2010). Women are simply not as physically strong as men (especially in upper body strength) and don’t tax their muscular and nervous systems to the extent of males. For this reason, they should not be trained the same way as men and should be prescribed higher training frequencies. One of the primary reasons why my female clients get extremely strong and dramatically improve their shape is due to the fact that I train their entire bodies very frequently to take advantage of their superior recovery abilities.

2. Total Body Training is Best for the Majority of Women

In my experience, women do best with total body workouts. This is closely related to topic number one above. They can recover quicker and therefore probably detrain quicker as well. Men will swing a sledgehammer at a nail and whack it down in one attempt, and then take a nap. Women will take a hammer and continue to tap on the nail until it’s all the way in, and then move onto the next nail. What I’m getting at is that women should not perform bodypart splits or even lower/upper splits. It doesn’t matter how many times a woman trains with me per week (once, twice, three times, four times, or even five times), each session I’m going to hit her entire body. The trick is to give them a great workout without creating too much fatigue or soreness the following day.

3. Women are Often Intimidated, Self-Conscious, and Insecure

Women initially fear weight training and don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of libidinous men leering over them, grunting, and throwing around heavy weights. Many like to train with fellow females so they don’t feel threatened, and they need reassurance and guidance. Women appreciate a confident trainer so make sure you exude confidence in your methods and in their ability to succeed. Most important, they thrive off of compliments! Notice the little things and compliment good effort and you’ll have a client for life.

4. Women Have Anatomical and Physiological Differences

Women are anatomically and physiologically different than males. They have wider q-angles which predisposes them to knee injuries, they are taught to “sit like a lady” which probably reinforces valgus-collapse over the years, they produce on average a tenth of the testosterone of males, and their estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH fluctuate throughout the month according to their menstrual cycles. They have different strength balances than men (less hamstring:quadricep strength ratio, greater lower body:upper body strength ratio) and their muscles fire differently than men as well (glute and hamstring timing often fires earlier due to a perception of weakness).

For these reasons, it’s important to teach proper mechanics, strengthen the posterior chain, and be understanding of mood-swings when training women because often it’s not their fault.

5. Women Can Ditch Flexibility/Mobility Work in Favor of Stability/Strength Work

Women are much more flexible on average than men. In fact, many are hypermobile. For this reason, they often do not need to do any stretching or mobility drills. They already possess good flexibility and many have laxity in certain joints. For this reason, it’s wiser to focus on stability and activation exercises in addition to some basic strength movements during the general dynamic warm-up rather than static stretches or mobility drills. If you have 50 minutes to train a female, most of that 50 minutes should be used for strengthening and conditioning. If strength exercises are taken through full ranges of motion then they’ll retain joint mobility while adding stability and strength to the joint which is exactly what they need.

One drawback of hypermobility is that many women over-extend their lumbar spine when they lift. It’s common to see women excessively arching (hyperextending) their low backs when they squat, deadlift, do push ups, hip thrusts, back extensions, and ab wheel rollouts. You need to teach them how to control their cores and maintain neutral spines.

*too much lower back arching

6. Fun and Variety Never Did a Woman No Harm

Women like to have fun during their workouts and they appreciate variety. Make them laugh from time to time; you don’t have to act like a drill-sergeant. Conversely, don’t be afraid to lay down the law when necessary. There are so many great exercises and women like learning little tweaks from time to time. Here are some of the main exercises I employ when I train women:

Quad Dominant: full squat, front squat, goblet squat, elevated dumbbell squat between benches, high box squat, low box squat, lever squat, Zercher squat, step up, Bulgarian split squat, walking lunge, reverse lunge, single leg box squat

Horizontal Press: torso-elevated push up, push up, dumbbell incline press, dumbbell bench press, barbell incline press, barbell bench press, close grip bench press

Standing Hip Dominant: conventional deadlift, trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift, rack pull, Romanian deadlift, single leg RDL, good morning, pull through, kettlebell swing

Vertical Pull: close grip lat pulldown, wide grip lat pulldown, negative chin up, chin up, parallel grip pull up

Prone, Supine, or Quadruped Hip Dominant: back extension, single leg back extension, 45 degree hyper, single leg 45 degree hyper, reverse hyper, hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, single leg hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, pendulum quadruped donkey kick, Russian leg curl, glute ham raise, gliding leg curl, slideboard leg curl, stability ball leg curl

Vertical Press: dumbbell seated military press, dumbbell military press, barbell military press, dumbbell push press, barbell push press

Sagittal Plane Core: plank, bodysaw, stability ball rollout, ab wheel rollout, straight leg sit up, hanging leg raise, Turkish get up

Horizontal Pull: one arm row, inverted row, feet elevated inverted row, seated row, band seated row, face pull, chest supported row

Frontal/Transverse Plane Core: side plank, 45 degree side bend, Pallof press, cable hip rotation, cable woodchop, landmine

I throw in the following for variety as well:

Conditioning: complexes, tabatas, airdyne intervals, sled work, slideboard intervals, car pushes, jump rope, burpees, mountain climbers

Power: plyometrics, sprints, agility drills, jump squats, one arm snatches, med ball tosses

You don’t have to do all of this every single session, but try to plan well-balanced programs.

Utilize paired-supersets and you’ll be able to squeeze in more work and density in your sessions.

7. Women Love Athletic and “Manly” Training

Most women don’t know this, but deep-down they love feeling athletic and “hard-core.” Over time they will love it if you get them to be able to perform a chin up or a proper push up (without hips sagging). They love pushing cars around as they never realized that they could do it. They will learn to love deadlifting if you teach them well. Women love getting strong; it empowers them. When they realize that heavy lifting won’t automatically make them overly muscular and that if often causes them to lean out and improve in shape, they’ll be setting records left and right. It’s your job to get them to realize this.

Here’s my friend Joe Sansalone’s girlfriend Neghar Fanooni doing Romanian deadlifts with 1.5 times her bodyweight. Weight training obviously did her body good!

8. Women are Competitive…With Thine Own Selves

Many women do not like competing with men or with other women, but they love competing against themselves. Start off slow and know how to regress and progress exercises. Bump them up slowly but surely and pretty soon they’ll start getting strong. Keep a journal and log every workout. Tell the female client what she did last time she did the exercise and she will try her best to beat it. Often women will beat their records every week for months on end when they first start training.

9. Often Women Won’t Pony Up Any Feedback

Women are often too intimidated to offer feedback. Sometimes they’ll tell you something and you’ll ask them why they didn’t tell you sooner. They’ll reply with, “You never asked.” This is why you need to ask a ton of questions. Before every session ask them if they’re sore anywhere. If their low backs are sore skip the deadlifts. If their adductors are sore don’t go into deep ranges of hip flexion and opt for high box squats and rack pulls. Ask them if the exercise “feels right” and where they feel it working. Ask them if they like their program, ask them if there is anything they’d like to be doing that they haven’t been doing. The placebo effect is well-documented and very effective; if a client believes in the program then they will achieve better results.

10. The Glutes Make a Woman

Women can buy breast implants, but getting a nice butt takes hard work. The glutes get activated best from high-load or high-velocity movement. Research shows that the glutes don’t get activated much from simple activities like standing up from a chair and walking; the body chooses instead to rely on the quads or leave the job for the more economical and elastic-storing hamstrings. Most women will come to you with poor glute activation and development due to the fact that many stop being active after high school. If you can make a woman’s butt look nicer, everyone around her will notice and she’ll start getting compliments left and right. Now she’ll be hooked on fitness for life because she won’t want to lose her nice booty. It sometimes takes time for the glutes to come around; if it took ten years for the glutes to atrophy away and sag they’re not going to come back in one week. If you’re a good trainer, for the most part every client will feel their glutes working very well within two months. Hammer the glutes every single session and they’ll respond best.

Interview With Nia Shanks

Today’s blogpost is an interview with Nia Shanks. I follow a lot of professionals in the fitness industry and it is my personal belief that Nia writes the best training programs out of any female in the industry. She knows how to get people strong, fit, and lookin’ good. I’ll let Nia introduce herself.

1. Thank you very much for conducting this interview Nia! Please introduce yourself to the readers.

I have been a trainer for six years, I graduated from the University of Louisville, I love lifting heavy stuff, and my passion is helping people achieve their body composition and performance goals by providing them with no non-sense training and nutrition information. I also enjoy playing soccer with my dog, snow boarding, rock climbing, and most things outdoors. Oh, and my star sign is Taurus.

How’s that for an introduction?

2. Which individuals in the strength training industry have had the most influence on the way you train and train others?

Wow. There are many so many people I have followed and learned from over the years. I’ll do my best to narrow it down to a handful of people, but my apologies to the individuals I leave out.

Some of the main people I have studied and learned from over the years are Mike Robertson, Tony Gentilcore, Alwyn Cosgrove, Charles Staley, Eric Cressey, Jason Ferruggia, Chad Waterbury, Dan John . . . just to name a few.

I greatly admire each of those individuals for what they have done in this field. Each person has their own unique ideas and training methodologies and I am thankful they share their knowledge so freely. No two people agree 100% on every topic when it comes to training, and I absolutely love that. Too many people get caught up in thinking that only one way is the best way. If some of the greatest minds in this field don’t agree 100%, there is nothing wrong with that. They have simply discovered what techniques they have put to use that create outstanding results.

3. You are deceptively strong. What are your best lifting achievements in the gym?

“Deceptively strong”, huh? I like that!

• Sumo Deadlift – 305 (give me a few weeks and it will be 315, guaranteed) here’s the video =>


• Chinup – 165 (120 bodyweight + 45 pound plate) here’s the video =>


• Bench Press – 150

• Squat (I’ll reluctantly share this one) – 170 The squat is definitely one of my weakest lifts, but I’m working on it.

I got all of these lifts at a bodyweight of 120 pounds. They’ll do for now, but I want more!

4. Many women initiate a workout regimen with common goal in mind; they want to look better. But women gravitate toward many different training styles…Pilates, Yoga, circuit training, low-intensity long duration cardio, strength training, etc. Which do you believe is best for physique enhancement purposes and why?

Strength training with the goal of getting stronger. I’ve seen it work every time.

This wasn’t something I believed when I first starting training the people that just wanted to lose body fat, but it is something I came to believe deeply in a few years ago.

After constantly training myself and other individuals specifically for fat loss, I decided that it was time for a change. My motivation for training started to wane, and the results were stalling when employing the usual fat loss training techniques.

That’s when I decided to stop focusing on training for fat loss all together. My main priority was getting stronger and my training program revolved around that goal.

That journey led me to building my best physique to date, and I even competed in a Southern Powerlifting Federation push/pull meet. I set the world record for my division with a deadlift of 300 and bench press of 145 at the bodyweight of 122.

Not only did my body composition change for the better, but I loved training again, and I was spending less time working out. It was a win-win situation, so I knew it was time to try things out on my clients.

It was the same thing across the board; motivation for training increased greatly and everyone was getting excellent results.

I’ve been saying it for years now and I’ll keep saying it forever: women should train heavy and get stronger. They will get the body composition changes they desire, and they’ll even gain great confidence when they see what they’re truly capable of achieving in the gym.

5. As you know, most women fear lifting heavy as they believe that it will make them too muscular. Have you found this to be the case in your experience?

Absolutely not. In fact, I have found the complete opposite to be true, as I mentioned above. Over the past few years all of my female clients have been training with the purpose of getting stronger even if their main priority is to lose body fat. This obviously means that they lifted progressively heavier weights.

Even though most of my clientele want to lose body fat, we still put the focus on improving performance in the gym and getting stronger.

And just so no one says the whole “I don’t want to get bulky” complaint, people should know that none of my female clients wanted to gain a lot of muscle mass. In fact, one of my clients competed in Mrs. America competitions. She too trained hard and heavy; and she won first place in several competitions and placed Top 10 at Mrs. USA International along with doing incredibly well at other competitions.

If this woman can lift heavy and still look incredibly feminine, I’m confident the vast majority of women can, and should, do the same.

6. Why are most women unsuccessful with their goals?

Most people make up too many damn excuses, and being a trainer I have heard every single one of them. Other than that, people simply don’t want to put in the work. They would rather swallow a pill or pay hundreds of dollars a month on supplements that ‘”guarantee fantastic results”.

If people would stop buying useless supplements and put that money towards whole, natural, unprocessed foods and start training consistently, then they would be miles ahead of everyone else.

It may not sound sexy, but damnit it works every single time. Eat smart and train hard consistently and you will reach your body composition goals.

Finally, one more thing that causes women (and men) to be unsuccessful with their goals is they make things too complicated. They start crazy diets with insane restrictions and seek other advanced nutrition and workout methods that they simply are not ready for.

People need to master the basics of nutrition (eating natural food) and strength training. I wrote about this a while ago on my website which you can be found HERE.

7. Briefly explain what an effective personal trainer has to offer in terms of screening and assessment, proper progressions, program design, corrective exercise, mechanics, motivation, nutritional advice, accountability, etc.

First of all, I still think a great trainer is not someone that can be found at every gym. I’ve been to lot of gyms: small town gyms and large commercial gyms in big cities. I see the same thing at all of them: a bunch of people who call themselves “trainers” but have their clients performing dangerous and/or worthless exercises.

A knowledgeable trainer, however, will put each client through an individual screening. Some trainers and coaches may be more complex in the assessment, but at the very least the trainer should assess the client’s mobility, flexibility, posture, and search for any muscular imbalances.

I could go on and on about what makes a great trainer, but I’ll short hand it. An effective trainer will design a program based on an individual’s wants and needs. Nutritional guidance might also be provided, but hopefully it’s designed with the client’s lifestyle in mind.

My advice to people who want to hire a trainer is to screen them yourself. Just because they have a certification does not mean they know what they’re doing. Ask lots of questions and get references from people they have helped.

8. Where can my readers go if they want to start following you and reading more of your work?

They can check out my blog at www.niashanks.com. Thanks, Bret!