Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist
When Josh asked me this weekend to write about women’s fitness I asked him, “what is it you want me to write about?” That caused a whole discussion because when he told me, “write about what women REALLY need in their fitness programs” I laughed. For one, women aren’t aliens. We don’t have these dramatically different needs from fitness. We want to be healthy, move well, feel strong, be able to do what we love, and not hurt. These to me, are very human things that we all want, how we go about achieving them really is a whole different issue.
The conversation also caused me to wonder why women would be any different from guys in this respect…Does EVERY guy like the same type of training? Shoot, you can just go through any fitness magazine, social media outlet, and/or conference and see that men, like women, have a whole bunch of different interests when it comes to how we achieve our fitness goals. Last time I check, us women didn’t have a special meeting where we all agree on what we enjoyed doing.
Trust me, THAT is important. We often talk about women’s fitness as what women SHOULD be doing, but to be honest, everything starts with what you LIKE to do! You see, consistency is one of the most important concepts we can encourage with anyone’s fitness. If you HATE doing what you are doing, the chances of you continue to follow any program is pretty darn low. That is one reason I am really proud of what we have done with DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training. You don’t HAVE to do anything specific, the goal is to find what speaks to you about our program and how we can use those concepts to help you to your fitness goals.
Having said that though, I don’t think there are some considerations for women’s fitness that many (sometimes even women) miss in addressing….
Let’s face it, A LOT of women are going to have children. No matter how you deliver, pregnancy is a HUGE stress on our bodies and being pregnant has a big impact on our body not from just an aesthetic view point, but functionally as well. Nine months of having your abdominal wall being stretched causes changes in stability of our spines and overall core. Sadly, after pregnancy most women are not taught how to rehab or make their cores strong again. So many of us then suffer chronic back, shoulder, and knee pain due to a severely weaken core. There are also a lot of women that deal with incontinence because their deeper core muscles have been so impacted. That isn’t fun, doesn’t make you feel good, and far too many times discourages women from doing certain activities.
This all means that for many women, learning how to properly engage their core muscles is key. Whether it is to do heavier lifting, more complex exercises, or having the confidence to do what they want in every day life, real women’s fitness needs to specifically address these issues.
DVRT Master, Amanda Thebe, did a great job of specific DVRT exercise that could help.
Our Body Structure is Different
In general, men are larger than women and they possess more muscle (especially in the upper body). Trying to follow a program based on the wants and needs of men might not only be unproductive for us women, but also won’t address our differences. We see this in the world of athletics where women are up to EIGHT times greater to suffer a non-contact ACL injury as our male counterparts.
Why is this? Many studies have tried to figure this out and yield some interesting ideas.
-Our body structure is a bit different. As women, we are designed for child birth and this means that our hip structure is typically a bit different than men. This could potentially impact not only our hips, but low backs, knees, and lower legs as well. That is why strength training is important again for not just how we look, but how we feel too! Not just any strength training, being specific to address some of these issues.
-Neuromuscular differences. Due to these structural differences, some studies have pointed to neuromuscular and balance training as a means of improving how we function and decreasing the chance for injury. This is why bouncing from machine to machine, or “just getting strong”, isn’t the answer to improving our every day function.
-Hormones. Yes, our hormones are different and while scientists are not positive that our menstrual cycles cause us to be more at risk for injury, the chances are that it does have some impact upon our bodies (outside of the obvious).
Now, I mention these three things because I think knowing we have slight differences is important. At the same time, these aren’t differences we can change, but it may impact how we look at women’s fitness. Renown strength coach, Mike Boyle, once wrote that training female athletes should still follow a good system of training…
You may be thinking, “cool, but I am not an athlete.” I get it, my athlete days are way behind me, but we can use some of these concepts to really help give better direction to how women should be training. How so? Let’s look at a few examples….
Man or woman, we are often told to start an exercise program by stretching, mostly static stretching. However, especially with women this may not be very helpful at all. In over a decade of being a physical therapist, I can almost count on one hand how many women I have met with true flexibility issues. Women tend to be rather flexible, we actually need to focus on activation and control of such flexibility. That means our warm-up should include drills that reinforce good core stability and integrate our hips and shoulders into the movements.
The video above is an example of a BETTER way for women to warm-up or build some foundational strength training.
You will see Coach Boyle also recommending “Power and Stability”. For an athlete this can mean lots of things, but athlete or not, we should be able to build a good foundation of power stability. Yes, that isn’t a typo, I am calling “power stability” as the ability to produce, resist, and control the forces we create during a movement. The workout below is a good example of how we might do this for a women’s fitness program.
Then you see ideas like “change of direction”, “stopping strength”, why are those important if we are just living our busy lives every day and not competing in sports? Last time I checked, our every day movements actually require a great deal of these elements. If we wish to actually build women’s fitness that improves our lives as much as it does our appearance, we have to learn how to develop smarter programs. You can see how easy it can be though to implement these ideas in the DVRT workout below.
As you can see, what makes DVRT such a comprehensive program is our ability to use the concepts the fit our individual needs. What women need isn’t some all new form of training, what we need to do is look at our needs and use women’s fitness programs that actually address our unique differences and our desire for a wide array of goals. It goes back to the old idea of training smarter, not necessarily harder.
I hope that we can continue to empower women to train, but we don’t need to compete or “keep up” with the guys. We have our own mission and goals and should be focused about doing things that make us feel good AND make us better! If you are interested in learning more I hope you will check out my NEW DVRT Women’s Program HERE and use coupon code “vday” to get it for 25% off or get it FREE with any Ultimate Sandbag purchase the coupon code. My hope is that we can inspire more women to take control of their own health, well being, fitness, and confidence.