Training girls and female athletes is not the same as training males. Most coaches use the same approaches, training techniques and periodization for both male and female athletes.
While the goals and objectives might be similar for both sexes, such as peak performance, better results, winning the game or the competition etc.; there are some differences and specific issues that we have to consider when training female athletes.
Strength and conditioning training for females is a considerably new trend and still not yet fully researched and applied, in most sports. The reasons for the low priority being given to strength and conditioning training for females are firstly the historical influence that women should not acquire strength, as this was the preserve of men. Secondly the lack of sufficient knowledge of the female physique and its capacities and the lack of female coaches to explore these limits have also been serious handicaps.
Historical Effects on Strength and Conditioning Techniques for Women
Although sport in the twenty-first century seems to be free of most discriminatory issues of the past, it is important for coaches to know more about the history of the female involvement in sport, the history of competitive performances by females, the role and social position of women in society and finally the physiological, mental and emotional differences, as compared to men.
From a historical perspective, women and men used to share separate spheres in sport and sporting events. Woman participation in sport started much later and has been questioned and undiscovered until the 1960s -70s. In this time, many more women found opportunities to participate in sport and got involved in various spheres. Incrementally, women's involvement in sports progressed from high-class social sporting events to more general involvement, under the supervision of educational institutions.
The revolution in female sport history was influenced mainly by women such as physical educators, single athletes and first female coaches. With women overcoming the challenges to their participation and involvement in sports, the woman's place in society changed and was recognized. Sport as to be an important part of everyone's life, with a focus on the joy of participation (Cohen, 2001). Women's world records in nearly all sporting events are proof that elite female athletes give excellent physical performances (Cohen, 2001). This is a complete rebuttal of arguments made in previous times, when the capacity of women to compete in sporting activities was held in serious doubt.
Debunking Women Strength and Conditioning Myths
Despite the recent sporting successes by women, common myths about their abilities, appearances and role in society are still being entertained. One of these myths is the belief that women involved in streng th and conditioning sports will develop muscles and lose their femininity. Others take advantage of female athletes by persistently trying to create a negative image of them, including biased media coverage of their sexuality.
Factors Effecting Strength and Conditioning Techniques for Women
The increased performance level of the female athletes can not only be explained by external factors like performance enhancing substances, and the advancements in technology and science. One vital factor is the role of the coach in eliciting superior performances. It is important for the coach to clarify concepts, set goals and objectives and plan long-term and short-term training schedules. Other factors to consider are cultural, religious, social and ethnic/racial differences.
Physical and Psychological Factors
Other very important issue is the physical and psychological features of the female athletes. In the absence of in-depth any knowledge of the above factors and a special approach of dealing with the daily routines of the female athletes, the desired results will not be achieved and accomplished.
Some of the differences between male and female athletes are of a physiological nature. Coaches should consider differences in anthropometrical factors, strength factors, body composition factors, hormonal factors, bone formation factors and the varied physiological responses to resistance exercise. In respect of the above differences, some strategies for training female athletes should include a gradual increase in the resistance load, constant exercise and training without breaks, monthly periodization, injury prevention strategies (such as stretching, rehabilitation, adequate recovery and rest time etc.) and emphasizing the development of the upper body (which is weaker in case of women athletes).
There are another set of differences between the genders that operate on a psychological level, but which can be of equal importance to coaches. With regard to values, men are generally drawn towards the aggressive, power driven undertones of sporting activities. Women on the other hand, normally look to sport to fulfill their emotional needs and goals, by self-realization and the winning accolades. Coaches must recognize this difference between males and females, and coach women accordingly. Another psychological feature of women is their susceptibility to media (mis)representation of the image of sporting women. This has been known to cause eating disorders and even low self-esteem among women athletes and a good coach will pre-empt such disastrous outcomes through a holistic strategy including a well-designed individualized program of nutrition, exercise and supplementation.
The level social acceptance of male and female athletes is also different, in favor of males. This of course varies internationally. In several countries, there are still prohibitions on public participation in certain sports. For instances, women in most Islamic countries are not permitted to participate in competitive sporting activities, with a few exceptions. Saudi Arabia and Iran stand out as to examples where strict codes regarding women's attire and role in society, preclude them for actively participating in sport. Certain fitness and sport related facilities have indeed been made available to women even in the strictest of societies but only for the purposes of recreation and leisure, and not for competitive activities.
On a social level, coaches should recognize and respect the females' role in society and design programs that do not compromise the basic long term mental, physical and emotional future of the athlete. This is more important for women that for men, because of the differences highlighted in the foregoing paragraphs. Female athletes who find themselves pushed beyond their natural inclinations by over-enthusiastic coaches, may consider dropping out of the sport altogether. This can be avoided by exploring the athletes' needs, wants, fitness capabilities and life goals.
Selection of Training Approaches
The selection of training approaches and communication influence in individual perspectives is important to how a coach can motivate and set up values and directions for young female athletes and encourage their further participation in sports, professional and other development etc.
New Millennium for Women's Strength and Conditioning Training
In the dawn of the new millennium the goal is quite clear. Women must be encouraged to opt for strength training, so as to be better competitors in all spheres of spots. The spillover benefits to society will be the emergence of a stronger and healthier future generation of citizens. In order to achieve this, society needs more research and development to be done on female athletes, and a committed lot of female coaches must emerge, who will then take up the task of applying the knowledge from science, to the female athletes.
Cohen, Greta L., (2001), Women in Sport: Issues and Controversies, Second Edition, AAHPERD Publications, USA
About the Author
Mariya Mova is an internationally known fitness professional, fitness model, and well sought after personal trainer. As an international figure and fitness model Mova has appeared in numerous commercial ad campaigns. More importantly, Mova is just not a pretty face. Mova graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor in Sports Science and obtained a graduate degree in Sports Science,and Sports Management and owns and Mova Fitness; a successful fitness and training company.