Female Athletic Training (Part 3)

An interview with John Paul Catanzaro

How to Train Efficiently: Part 3 – Training Female Athletes

grrlAthlete.com: What are some exercises that are efficient for female athletic development?

John Paul: If squats and deadlifts are the kings of lower body development, then dips and chin-ups are the kings of upper body development. Unfortunately, you mention a chin-up to a female and she'll respond with "No way!" The limiting factor is perception - they perceive that they can't do it and sure enough, they won't do it! It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Granted, the average number of chin-ups a female can perform is 0 (zero) but it is definitely quite trainable as is the parallel-bar dip. These are two closed kinetic chain exercises that will contribute significantly to female (and male for that matter) athletic development. There is nothing more impressive, in my opinion, than to witness a female rep out on these exercises with additional loads.

I had the pleasure to meet Al Vermeil a couple of weeks ago. He had some interesting comments regarding female athletic development. The first was that females tend to land more upright than males - they should learn to land at a 30 degree trunk angle to reduce shearing forces on the knee. Women also get more tendonitis due to low eccentric strength so they should concentrate on this component.

In addition, Vermeil mentioned that neurologically, females tend to recruit the quads before the hamstrings. They are inclined to be quad-dominant and are better at front squats than back squats. Thus, women need to train hip extension with pulls, RDL's, and reverse hypers for strength and activation.

There are many excellent athletic strength training programs out there. For instance, Christian Thibaudeau has some neat routines with concentric, eccentric and isometric emphasis while Joe DeFranco has some great stuff based off the Westside system. I frequently employ Poliquin's 3-day split utilizing undulating periodization (i.e. alternating between accumulation and intensification phases) with my athletes. Variable recovery is built in to this scheme and it works exceptionally well.

However, let me offer another aspect that is rarely considered. Women possess about 40% to 60% of the upper body strength of men (relatively speaking, their lower body strength is much closer). So a good approach is to use a 2:1 (upper:lower) ratio in training - in other words, sandwich one lower body between two upper body exercises. Here's an example of a 3 day a week routine.

Day 1 - Mon
A1) Mid-Grip Chin-Ups 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A2) Back Squat 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A3) Close-Grip EZ-Bar Bench Press 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
B1) Seated One-Arm Abducted Cable Row 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B2) Suitcase Deadlift 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B3) Lying Dumbbell Semi-Supinated Press 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
C1) Bent-Over EZ-Bar Supinated Row 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C2) Ab Rollout 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C3) Standing One-Arm Dumbbell Press 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"

Day 2 - Wed
A1) Parallel-Bar Dip 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A2) Sumo-Style Deadlift 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A3) Lean-Back V-Bar Sternum Pulldowns 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
B1) Incline Bench Press 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B2) Saxon Bend 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B3) Standing Cuban Press 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
C1) Reverse Cable Woodchops 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C2) Barbell Back Step-Ups 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C3) Swiss Ball Push-Ups 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"

Day 3 - Fri
A1) Bent-Over Pronated Row 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A2) Bulgarian Dumbbell Split Squat 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
A3) Swiss Ball California Press 5 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 90"
B1) Horizontal Wide-Grip Pull-Ups 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B2) One-Legged Romanian Deadlift 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
B3) Standing Military Press 4 x 4-6 @ 32X0, 75"
C1) Standing Semi-Stiff-Arm Pulldowns 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C2) Upper Russian Twist 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"
C3) One-Arm Dumbbell Cobra 3 x 8-10 @ 20X0, 60"

Let's examine this program for a second. This is a conjugate system that trains various motor qualities simultaneously - it covers all three methods of maximal (the "A" exercises), dynamic (the "B" exercises) and repeated (the "C" exercises) efforts that are necessary to build strength according to Vladimir Zatsiorsky. For personal trainers, this is a good approach to take with female clients who wish to strengthen their upper body but are concerned that their thighs may get bigger.

If we take Day 1, for example, you'll notice some interesting points:

- All exercises can be performed in a simple weight room - no special equipment is necessary
- The sequence is such that only one piece of apparatus is used in any tri-set
- Your athlete does not have to be skilled or proficient in Olympic weightlifting
- There is an even volume of pushing and pulling movements for the upper body
- The body is hit in multiple planes - there's greater emphasis on sagittal, of course, but stability is required in the frontal plane during the suitcase deadlift and the standing one-arm db press, and in the transverse plane during the seated one-arm cable row
- Different grips and stances are used throughout
- The plyometric effect is dissipated somewhat during the "B" exercises with the 2 second pause yet greater during the "C" exercises to train different strength qualities
- All concentric actions are performed in an explosive manner - the weight may not move explosively particularly during the maximal effort "A" exercises, but the intent should always be fast (cue "speed")

If your athlete is capable, use some Olympic lifts (in fact, females are easier to coach the Olympic movements since they are not interested in "big arms") ... or substitute the snatch podium deadlift, reverse hypers, glute-ham-gastroc raises, lunges, etc. for lower body exercises ... perhaps use chains, eccentric hooks, or bands (actually the bands are a useful tool if your athlete has difficulty performing chin-ups or dips) ... maybe you're not a fan of the Swiss ball whatsoever, so dump it (or pierce it if you like!) Again, many options are available.

And one last thing: Sport specific means on the field. Train the quality of strength in the weight room.

About The Author

John Paul Catanzaro is a CSEP Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. John Paul has authored two books, The Elite Trainer (2011) and Mass Explosion (2013), and has released two DVDs, Stretching for Strengthening (2003) and Warm-Up to Strength Training (2005), which have sold copies worldwide, been featured in several magazines, and have been endorsed by many leading experts. In 2013, John Paul released two new webinars, Strength Training Parameters and Program Design and Body Composition Strategies, providing the latest cutting-edge information to fitness professionals. For additional information, visit his website at www.CatanzaroGroup.com or call 905-780-9908.

[This article originally appeared in grrlAthlete.com Newsletter Issue 37.]