The growth of the female sports industry has exploded in the past 10 years. This is seen in the increased participation in high school sports by female athletes and at the college level as well. In 2012 there were more then 200,000 female athletes participating at the college level. This is a huge increase in participation compared to just a few years ago in the early to mid 90’s. This growth trend should only increase with more opportunities and scholarships available for young female athletes.
The weight room has always been primarily thought of as a male’s place, but it should not be looked at that way. Strength training is just as important to the female athlete as it is to the male athlete. A good strength program will increase strength, increase stability, and decrease the chances of injury.
Even though the female athlete needs a strength program just as much as the male, there is some noticeable differentness between the two. For starters – appearance. Females look different than males. It is vital that you can tell the difference between the two.
On the left is a female and on the right is a male. Take notice of the differences.
Other things that need to be taken into consideration are that the majority of females that come into your facility will have no previous weight training experience; they are more prone to joint laxity, and have a larger Q angle. These need to be considered when training and programming for your female athletes.
New Environment Considerations
As I stated above, the majority of female athletes that come into your gym have no previous weight training experience. This is a new environment and can be intimidating. Walking into a warehouse setting with circular metal objects just lying around is not always the most welcoming sight for a middle school or high school girl.
Many of the girls that I have worked with at first seem a little sheepish and come across as not confident in our first meeting. This is all because they are in a whole new surrounding. After a few sessions, they will feel more relaxed and eventually they will think of the gym as their own.
This process takes longer for some then others. If they have friends working out at the same facility this can help speed up the process. Different personalities take different amounts of time. A smile, caring words, a few jokes and knowing their names goes a long way.
Weight Training Considerations
Let’s get some things out of the way right off the bat. One, girls will not bulk up when they workout. Two, girls can do squats, deadlifts, bench and all the other lifts men can do.
Ok, girls can bulk up, if they want to, but for the most part their body is working agents them hormonally. Women have less testosterone, testosterone is a key contributor to muscle growth and without it you will not have big muscles. So unless you are taking testosterone or any other PEDs you should not worry about it. Don’t worry, you can still get your tone on without it.
As for those big bad multi joint lifts. They are just as effective for the development of the female athletes as they are for the male, and should not be held back from them, if they have shown that they are capable of doing them.
Now that those two are out of the way, lets move on to my last two considerations.
The Q Angle and Joint Laxity
A common difference between male and female athletes is that the female, on average, has wider hips. This results in a larger Q angle, the angle in which the femur meets the tibia. This causes instability in the knees and tracking problems. This could be one of the reasons females are more prone to ACL injuries.
Have you ever noticed that a large number of girls can hyper extend their elbows and knees. Females have a tendency to have more joint laxity. Males can also be extremely lax as well. It is not safe to assume that all female athletes are overly lax, but it is something to take into consideration when working with them.
If you combine a larger Q angle with joint laxity the chances of injury will increase. The injury in particular that we want to avoid is ACL injuries.
ACL injuries will likely happen in three situations, landing, change of direction, and deceleration.
The training program should take into account all of these variables. The program should create stability. This will happen with the introduction of strength training, but you may have to direct it at a specific area depending on the athlete. Some laxity may actually be desired in some sports such as throwing or gymnastics, but it should be managed in such a way that we do not inhibit their performance, while decreasing the likely hood of injury.
With ACL injury prevention we must teach proper jumping, and more importantly, landing technique. Watching out for the knees coming in as well as making sure they are landing softly, absorbing the force of impact correctly.
Changing direction can be taught by teaching the athlete to bend at the knees when making quick cuts. Bending the knee takes tension off of the ACL decreasing the likely hood of a tear.
Controlling deceleration comes with having strong hamstrings and gluts. A good program will make sure their posterior chain is getting the proper attention.
When looking at the female athlete, all of these factors should be considered, from how they are treated to how their programs are designed. Without your female athletes feeling comfortable they will never stick around long enough to reap the benefits that a strength program can offer.
What this program will offer is more stability, better landing and cutting technique, and stronger hamstrings and gluts. If all of these are considered, you will have a stronger less prone to injury athlete. This is what we want for all of our athletes regardless of gender.