In a previous article, I discussed the overwhelming benefits of strength training for female high school athletes and proposed special considerations coaches and athletes must be aware of in order to fully optimize performance from a strength and conditioning standpoint.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that girls on average train less and participate less frequently in high school strength training programs than do boys. It would be naive to think that high school girls avoid organized strength training purely because they fear bulking up. On the contrary, other psycho-social factors have been suggested both in literature and anecdotally that may preclude females from participating in strength training. Specifically, the fear of intimidation categorically comes up as one of the most accepted areas of concern for female athletes.
The following tips will help female high school athletes shatter preconceived notions of intimidation, so that they too can reap the full benefits of organized strength training.
Set Clear Defined Goals and Find Your Purpose by Starting with "Why?"
In his critically acclaimed work Start with Why, author Simon Sinek describes the true power of this three-letter word. At STACK Velocity Norwood, our coaches ask our athletes all the time: Why do you train? Typical answers include "to get stronger and faster." However, we challenge our athletes to dig deeper. For example, why do they want to get faster? We challenge these athletes to instead Think Big! In doing so, we task our athletes with visualizing what being faster actually means to them. For instance, how does the athlete see himself or herself getting off the line quicker? How do they see themselves dunking a basketball? If endurance is their goal, we ask them to picture themselves finishing team sprints 20 yards ahead of their peers.
The fact is that when athletes train with a clearly defined purpose, and visualize success through changes in their ability, it becomes even easier to tie strength training to their purpose. In other words, we identify strength training as the vehicle for attaining an athlete's goals, and as a result, the weight room becomes much more accessible. Strength training becomes an "enabler of greatness," where the rewards outweigh the risks of intimidation or embarrassment. By relating strength training to his or her "why?" an athlete can take the first step in replacing negative emotional associations like intimidation with the weight room, and replace them with positive associations of greatness and achievement. Emotions are a powerful motivator, and having the weight room evoke a sense of accomplishment and achievement goes a long way in making strength training more accessible to female athletes.
Understand the Power of the "One Thing" — Strength Training
Understanding another concept by a critically acclaimed author, making strength training an athlete's "One Thing" is one of the best pieces of advice any serious young female athlete can follow. The premise of One Thing, by Gary Keller, is that to optimize performance and get the best results, an athlete should focus on the "one thing they can do so that by doing it, they get the best results possible, with everything else becoming either easier or unnecessary in the process." In my earlier works, I applied Keller's principle to sports performance by identifying strength development as "the one thing" for optimizing performance potential. Following this line of logic, strength training, by natural extension, can be regarded as the "one thing" necessary to attain athletic success.
To illustrate, after working with baseball athletes ages 10-18 three times per week for a six-month period at STACK Velocity, their speed and agility scores went up by as much as 8% from strength training alone! Like a car engine, strength training creates bigger athletic "engines," and as a result, speed, agility and endurance levels all go up! By understanding the incredible benefits of strength training, female athletes can better appreciate how much time and effort strength training can ultimately save them in attaining their goals. By making strength training an athlete's "one thing," and getting the athlete to fully understand all the benefits strength training ultimately affords them, the positives continue to clearly outweigh the negatives. The athlete's "one thing" becomes the "How" in order to successfully achieve their "Why."
RELATED: How Female Athletes Can Gain Muscle
Get Access to a Professional S&C Coach to Teach you Weightlifting Basics
According to esteemed strength coach Charles Poliquin (1997), strength training is a lot like "learning a foreign language." Imagine visiting a foreign city where you don't know the language and culture. It's easy to imagine the feelings of anxiousness, apprehension and self-consciousness that would grip even the most naturally confident people. As individuals, we tend to like familiarity and routine and to generally fear the unknown. Weight training is no different, in this case for a lot of high school females. By having a certified S&C coach serve in a capacity similar to a language tutor, an athlete can get the guidance and expertise necessary to learn the fundamental movement patterns of weight training, as well as safe and effective training practices. Once movements like squatting, hinging and chopping are introduced and subsequently mastered, an athlete will effectively become "fluent" in the language of strength training!
To illustrate the power of this concept, applying the commonly accepted Pareto or 80/20 principle—which states that "80% of effects come from 20% of causes"—an experienced strength coach could argue that 80% of exercises commonly prescribed come from approximately 20% of strength training movements. Therefore, by learning a few basic movements, a female athlete can unlock an entire library of exercise sequences. In short, competence breeds confidence. An S&C coach can help a female competitor get the confidence she needs to succeed and to feel that she belongs in the weight room.
Have a Training Plan and a Singular Focus
We all know the adage "failing to plan is planning to fail." I could not agree more in an S&C context! Even the most experienced athletes can fall victim to roaming around the weight room like cattle in an open pasture, without a predefined plan. By knowing in advance the exercises and (in most cases) the loads an athlete will use for each of them, the athlete has all the tools necessary to improve strength and achieve great results in the weight room. Here at STACK Velocity Norwood, we not only program the exercises, we also program the weights, lifting tempos and rest periods for each exercise—to provide maximum direction and clarity for our athletes. We even sum these numbers up to provide an approximate time frame for athletes, estimating how long their sessions will take them to execute. Simply put, a comprehensive training plan gives athletes the direction and focus they need to achieve great results in the most effective time and manner. With a well-laid out training plan, one that removes all the guesswork, athletes simply don't have the time or ability to wander aimlessly or feel self-conscious. On the contrary, their confidence and ability become further enhanced, as they are able to maximize their training experience each time they step in the weight room.
In closing, by having predetermined goals that tie into their "Why" and their "One Thing," combined with clear instruction in the form of coaching and a structured training plan, female high school athletes can enter the weight room with great confidence instead of forgoing it altogether and succumbing to perceived psychological barriers. Looking at the similar performance demands imposed upon both male and female high school athletes, and considering the unique differences and training considerations between the genders, the need to strength train takes on even greater importance for high school females. The fact that research studies continue to point to the paradox of high school females being at greater risk of injury like ACL tears, yet on average participating less in organized strength training programs, implies that parents and athletes need to understand the necessity of strength training. In addition, coaches need to do their part in instilling confidence in their athletes to make strength training accessible, engaging and enjoyable. To this end, structured strength training programs, when combined with a motivating and enjoyable training environment, will go a long way in raising participation significantly, so that all high athletes can truly reap the benefits of strength training.
- Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. Austin, TX: Bard, 2012. Print
- Poliquin, Charles. The Poliquin Principles: Successful Methods for Strength and Mass Development. Napa, CA: Dayton Writers Group, 1997. Print.
- Reynolds, Monica L., Lynda B. Ransdell, Shelley M. Lucas, Linda M. Petlichkoff, and Yong Gao. "An Examination of Current Practices and Gender Differences in Strength and Conditioning in a Sample of Varsity High School Athletic Programs." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26.1 (2012): 174-83. Web.
- Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Portfolio, 2009. Print.