The Trainer's Table:Breaking Down a Gender Norm in the GYM

The Trainer’s Table:Breaking Down a Gender Norm in the GYM


Over the past three years I have coached hundreds of athletes from all walks of life. During the coaching process, I constantly observe movement and behaviors and try to identify similar patterns that may be present across a similar demographic. I clearly understand that not everyone falls into a specific pattern, but this method proves to have some legitimacy. I constantly observe things such as gait mechanics, breathing patterns, characteristic traits, and other qualities as an informal assessment. I do this to better understand the individuals I work with and to help create an efficient approach to training individuals with similar traits. One pattern that has a strong correlation is:

Males need to decrease the weight used during exercises and improve their form;
Females need to increase the weight or resistance used

This observation is a complex topic that seems to be true across all ages of males and females for all different types of exercises. Again, there are males and females that do not fit this pattern, for them I ask to carry on with their domination.

Take a look at a specific exercise: Split Squat

Kayla, of Falmouth High School, performing 6 split squats with an additional 90 lbs added to her
body. Her form is optimal and she is challenged during the exercise. Kayla has broken the norm that
is seen in females.

Male athletes try to lift heavy on their split squats, which is great until form is completely comprised. I will constantly preach to our athletes that quality of movement takes precedence over quantity. When an athlete is not able to finished specific reps during a set, that weight is too challenging and shows that the athlete hasn’t earned the right to lift that much weight for that many reps.

Female athletes take the opposite approach. They tend to choose a conservative weight and finish the set effortlessly and move on to the next drill. The issue with this is that the athlete hasn’t provided her body with enough strain to drive the adaptation she is trying to achieve. She is capable of completing the drill with optimal form using a heavier weight.

There are many factors that play into this pattern. Some of these factors include social pressure, work ethic, personal image, fear of failure, and so on. While the answer to break this pattern is complex, I put forth a challenge to each gender.

My challenge to males: Before putting big weights on a back squat, front squat, bench press, or deadlift, make sure that your form is optimal. Beginner and intermediate lifters will get stronger with submaximal loading using greater repetitions through a variety of exercises. It’s not impressive or safe to see a one rep max with terrible form. Quality before quantity

My challenge to females: Once your form is proficient, challenge yourself. Don’t let others influence the amount of weight you “should be lifting”. If you can complete the reps without the last four being tougher, bump up the weight. Don’t let other athletes limit your potential by driving you away from bigger weights. Getting “bulky” and getting stronger are two totally different things. Females are strong and capable of using “bigger” weights.

To your health,

Michael Donoghue

(Michael Donoghue, CSCS, FMS, USAW (head strength and conditioning coach and director of performance at Athletic Performance Training). He is in charge of designing all the training programs for professional, collegiate, high school, and youth athletes at APT. He holds a degree from Springfield College in applied exercise science as well as various certifications. For further information he can be reached at [email protected].)

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