The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make
With Their Training Programs
Over the last several years I’ve interacted with thousands of women – at the gym I co-founded, through the internet, and through my online coaching programs – and you know what I’ve found? Most women who are seeking training advice just want to look better and feel better, and not have to live in the gym.
So why is this so hard for them to accomplish? Why can’t they get the results they want when they are willing to work so hard?
Simple. Most of them are making one or more of these five mistakes.
Mistake #1: Choosing the wrong training modality.
If left to their own devices, women often gravitate towards cardio-heavy activities like running or kickboxing, and shy away from pure strength training. While there is nothing wrong with doing cardio, (especially if you enjoy it), there are numerous benefits to strength training for women.
Not only will strength training help you improve your posture and increase your bone density, but you’ll add muscle mass, which is metabolically expensive (read: burns more calories), making it easier for you to lose body fat. Not to mention, getting stronger is incredible for boosting your self-confidence.
Mistake #2: Not following a well-designed program.
As I mentioned above, strength training is critical for women. But you know what?
It’s not enough. A proper training program has balance.
I say it all the time: you can’t just run, you can’t just stretch, you can’t just lift – you have to have a combination of several things for a well-rounded training program. So what does a solid training program consist of?
- Breathing – I like to incorporate breathing with a hard exhale at the beginning of the workout to help get the “core firing” and teach clients to blow out all of their air and get their ribs down. I also like to include silent, nasal breathing at the end of the workout to help clients calm down and switch to a more parasympathetic rest-and-digest state to help jump-start recovery.
- Soft Tissue Work – I usually use a foam roller for soft tissue work, but you can use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, stick, PVC pipe, tiger tail, Theracane, or whatever you’d like. Spending a few minutes before each training session doing soft tissue work can increase blood flow to the area, send a signal to the brain to relax that muscle a bit, and give you a few minutes to mentally prepare yourself to get into “training mode.
- Dynamic Warm-Up – This is generally a series of 6-12 exercises designed to prepare you for your workout. For most people, it includes some basic hip and thoracic mobility drills, some glute activation drills, and some core stability exercises. These exercise can go a long way in improving your overall movement quality.
- Strength Training – The training routine will vary based on the training age and ability level of the trainee, but it will include variations of the following movement patterns: squat, hinge, push, and pull, along with resisting rotation, extension, and lateral flexion with your core. It will also include single-leg and split-stance work.
- Energy Systems Training (aka “cardio”) – The amount and type of energy systems training that should be included in a program is very dependent on goals, and amount of time available to train. I like using a mix of both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate intensity cardio.
While many fitness professional demonize moderate intensity cardio, I actually like including a couple of sessions a week to build and maintain a solid aerobic base which will help clients recover quicker between exercises within a workout, and between workouts so they can approach each session fresh and ready to train. That being said, if a client has limited time to train, I usually limit these sessions to an hour a week or less.
If your program is missing any one of these critical components, you’re going to be missing out on maximum results as well.
Mistake #3: Not lifting heavy enough.
Back in 2002 or 2003 – before I knew anything about strength training – I’d go to the gym and spend 60 minutes on the treadmill, and then walk over to the free weights and grab 5-10 lb. dumbbells and go to town.
I would do a little of this (lateral raises) and then a little of that (biceps curls) and then I’d try to slyly copy what someone was doing that looked really cool: Arnold Presses! Yes! I needed Arnold Presses in my life!
And, it’s safe to say that I got just about nowhere. My body didn’t change, and I didn’t notice any increases in my strength levels whatsoever. But…but…but…I was lifting weights! And I was consistent! Why didn’t I see results?
Because I wasn’t lifting heavy enough.
Keep in mind that “heavy enough” is all relative. If you are a beginner to strength training, using just your own body weight will be plenty “heavy” in the beginning, and as you get stronger you can work on adding external load to your training program.
You simply need to make sure that you’re always challenging yourself so that your body has to consistently adapt to keep up with the increasing demands you are placing on it. This is how you make progress in strength, performance, and body composition.
Mistake #4: Not resting long enough in between exercises.
Almost every time a new client receives their first training program from me, I get the same question:
Client: “What do I do during my rest periods?”
Me: “You rest.”
While there is undoubtedly a time and a place to do consecutive strength training movements back-to-back with minimal rest in between sets, during your pure strength program is generally not it – at least not with the bigger movements, anyway.
Taking time to rest appropriately between exercises allows your muscles to recover almost fully, so that you can perform quality reps of each exercise with the heaviest load your body can handle for the given set and rep recommendation.
For bigger compound movements that are placed at the beginning of your workout, you want more rest (generally 2 – 4 minutes). In contrast, you can typically get away with 30–90 seconds between sets of accessory movements, especially if they are paired with other exercises.
Mistake #5. Not doing a thorough warm-up.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see not just women, but everyone, make in the gym. Most people walk in, go right to the machine or free weights that they plan on using, pick up their working weight, and get after it. If they’re really “in-the-know,” they might walk on the treadmill for five minutes to warm-up. Yikes.
I already gave you a little information of what a good dynamic warm-up consists of above, but let me give you some of the benefits. Not only does it increase blood flow to muscles, increase your core temperature and get your body prepared for your workout – but it’s fantastic for improving body awareness and increase your mind-muscle connection. This can help re-teach your body how to perform certain movement patterns using the correct muscle groups and allow for more effective and safe workouts.
There you have it. The five biggest mistakes women make when it comes to their training programs – and how they can be fixed.
You know what’s even better than being told how to fix them, though? A program available that addresses them all for you!
About the Author
Molly Galbraith is co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, a movement dedicated to helping women improve their physical strength, mental strength, and strength of character through strength training. She is also co-founder J&M Strength and Conditioning, a private studio gym in Lexington, Kentucky. No stranger to the gym herself, Molly has competed in figure and dabbled in powerlifting; her best lifts include a 275-lb. squat, a 165-lb. bench press, and a 341-lb. deadlift.