Training for Female Athletes and Clients Part 1: Work Capacity (and body comp)
A couple of the readers have asked for information regarding training considerations for female athletes. So I’ve put together a series of posts coming from a coaches perspective.
This is the first of 3 posts on key areas of focus based on my experience working with female athletes from a variety of sports and levels.
I come from a martial arts background where men and women train together and the girls always go through the same punishment as the boys! My first coach, a guy called Mike Wray, use to tell me that the the girls have to go through the same shit out there on the street as the guys so they need to do that in here too! Not bad advice at all for the world of sport and pretty much sums up my philosophy of training.
For those of you who don’t know, I actually train a fair few female athletes and from a variety of sports. Two of my athletes have just returned from the football world cup (soccer for you US folk) which kind of prompted this series. As well as football players, I train international standard female athletes from rugby, badminton, tennis, netball, athletics, volleyball, martial arts and possibly quite a few more that I can’t think of right now as well as general population and athletes at different levels on the development pathway too! That’s not to blow my own trumpet at all, just to demonstrate the population that I draw on for these posts. But obviously that doesn’t mean that I have all the answers. On the contrary I have just a few points to make.
The first goal to achieve with any athlete male or female in any programme and any sport is one of developing work capacity. Specifically, the ability to keep working for a given time under given conditions, in this case in the gym environment. The ability to work at relative sub maximal intensities is what underpins your training and produces the adaptations you can make in the gym which then further aids your performance or physique goals.
Now this does not apply to all females at all. In fact, at any point in time if you drop by my gym you’ll likely see a number of female athletes training as hard or harder than any of the lads! I would say that in my experience the female athletes tend to buy into the training very quickly and very often surpass their male counterparts in terms of effort, commitment and indeed relative work capacity in their strength and conditioning programmes. There is no reason why it should be any other way! But it does need to be there!
What does this mean in practical terms? A solid resistance training base needs to be developed to improve your training.
The key question is how do you build that work capacity?
I like to use work capacity supersets to start sessions. Here are some examples that I have used recently:
Kettlebell Swings 3 sets of 20 reps
Sled Push and Pull 3 x 3 reps of 5 metres
Push-Up combination- Regular/Hindu/Scapular 3 x 6 each
Med Ball Walking Lunges 3 x 10 each leg
The goal of these is simply to improve the ability to produce work! I use general functional movements but I’m not thinking about sport specific here just literally to enhance capacity.
From there I like to go into a tri-set type session stressing the total body and we will usually do 3-4 tri sets with 3 sets in each.
Here’s an example of this:
Front Squat x 5
Push-Up x 10
Plank Rows x 6 each side
Reverse Lunge x 6 each side
TRX cable row x 12
Anti Rotation Press x 8 each side
Calf Raise x 14
Facepull x 12
Supine Abdominal Hold x 30s
They can complete this session as fast as they can, with minimal rest between sets. The emphasis (you guessed it) is more about consistent work than it is about load/velocity etc.
This kind of session I use intermittently for periods of 2-3 weeks. It stresses the cardiovascular system as well as the neuromuscular system which is a good thing at this point in time. I terms of volume and intensity, I like the individual to be able to get through this kind of session which is 27-36 sets plus work capacity warm-up within the hour. The first few sessions i’m not concerned about load but in week 2 and 3 I like them to progressively overload the movements so it’s not purely about metabolic training, it’s neuromuscular training too. As well as building work capacity this session is also excellent at stripping fat due to the metabolic nature of it, and the post exercise oxygen consumption caused by this kind of metabolic disturbance. This is an added bonus that really produces a good buy in from the athletes when they see the results of the programme.
From there I tend to go into more traditional supersets with a greater focus on load or velocity depending on the training phase. The volume of the session above is much higher than what will typically be prescribed in this phase (generally around 20-25 sets) therefore the intensity the athlete is able to handle is higher. Exactly what the goal is!
This type of session is great for the guys too by the way, it works for anyone looking to improve their functional capacity and strip body fat through increasing the metabolic rate.
Okay that’s it for part 1 of the series, the next part will focus on a key physical factor that needs to be addressed in female athletes programmes so stay tuned!