3 Steps to Getting Your Girl to Train
Every guy wants a sexy, confident, in-shape woman on his arm. If you want to help your girlfriend or wife effectively change her body but don't know where to start, then look no further.
Step one is knowing what you're up against. Virtually everything ever written in mainstream media about exercising "for women" sticks them in the cardio room with ankle weights, ready to pump-n-tone.
This can lead to considerable conflict for your lady, especially on day one when you usher her towards the scary squat rack and start adding weight. So since we're dealing with women, let's start with these "emotional" considerations.
1. Make a plan and be supportive
Good support is a blend of the practical and emotional. At first it will be hard for your gal to commit to training and create the habit, so set her up for long term success by helping take care of the practical considerations.
She'll need a plan to make it a reality time-wise, schedule-wise, and money-wise. Make your support as visceral as possible and reduce the number of "excuses" available.
The nice thing is, by doing this you'll also be letting her know you care about her and her happiness and what taking care of her body will do for her. Both bases of support will be covered.
- Sit down with her and find the time to work out. Schedule it in and keep that time sacred. Time is the biggest excuse – don't let her use it.
- Buy her a gym membership, a new gym bag, or a gift certificate for some workout clothes. It's part of the investment; investment enhances commitment.
- Go with her to the gym and lift together, or suggest ways to find a lifting partner. This is important especially in the beginning when she doesn't know what she's doing.
- Tell her to start working out, but not help with a plan.
- Leave her to figure out form for the lifts and how to structure her workouts.
- Get impatient with what she doesn't know. Teach her.
The aim is to make this a lifestyle change. The gym is already a part of your life – you have a gym bag, you dedicate time before or after work, and you reap the benefits.
Make it a part of her life too. Having someone alongside supporting us makes us all warm and fuzzy inside, and makes you look like a big, bad knight in shining armor.
2. Give her some external motivation so she can build her internal motivation
There are two types of motivation to consider. Controlled or external motivation comes from external sources. This kind of motivation is best for jump-starting the process.
On the other hand, autonomous or internal motivation comes from personal conviction, the "I do it for me" kind of motivation. That's the kind we're aiming for in the long run, but it takes time to develop.
The best way is to add the intrinsic stuff as she progresses, to give her something to work for by using "reward" strategies.
Rewards don't necessarily mean something you buy her; it can be reminders of accomplishment, the promise of hotter sex, telling her how incredible she is going to look, or how jealous her girlfriends will be.
Not everyone can be motivated in exactly the same ways, but we're not all that different.
So what exactly motivates a woman?
- You thinking she's hot and desirable.
- Avoiding the shame (no matter how unspoken) of an obviously unhealthy and unattractive body.
- The empowerment that comes from looking and feeling good. Everything seems easier and more possible when you think you look good.
- Ego-involvements. If she sees other women like her that can do it and look awesome, why not her?
- "Do it for me." Reminders of how much you love her attitude when she looks and feels good, how hot her body can be, and a bit of a "do it for me" strategy can work wonders.
Just the act of exercise (not even a certain amount) has an impact on body-image confidence, and the link between the two is well established by research. With increased confidence comes a whole boatload of other good "side-effects." But to get those benefits, she has to start.
- Remind her that accomplishing a workout feels great. Praise her for getting through the workouts, and doing what she set out to do.
- Help her set numerical goals like squatting her own body weight, or doing a pull-up.
- Be a partner. She's not in it alone, you're in it together.
- Compare her to someone else. Stay away from comparisons, even "positive" ones.
- Constantly comment on other girls' bodies, even if you're doing it with good "motivational" intentions.
- Talk about how she used to look. Keep the focus on where she's going and what she's doing now.
3. Emphasize Weight Training
This will have huge overall benefits, especially if she's skinny fat. Getting women to weight train properly while ignoring all the misinformation is a big step. So, she's got the time scheduled and you've convinced her not to be scared of the weights, what's next?
- Make sure your gym has the right weight equipment or invest in home equipment. Women don't need anything "special." Barbells and dumbbells are where it's at.
- Teach her proper form for the squat, deadlift, and bench/press. Show her how to do the assistance lifts.
- Give her a program to follow, like the ones outlined below. Explain why weight training will benefit her. Sculpting her body (what she thinks of as "toning") with weights will do more for her than hours of cardio.
Depending on how well you can satisfy her concerns, compel her to do a bit of research. Women who weight train, put some thought into diet, and are consistent, have the best body composition. Many women are shocked to hear this.
Remember, the average female thinks that hour-long boot camps, treadmill sessions, and machine circuits with high reps are the way to go.
- Leave her stranded near the dumbbells with vague instructions. Not knowing how to do something and the fear of looking like a beginner will dampen her enthusiasm to start, or even kill it completely.
- Confuse her with too many ideas about advanced training techniques. She needs to get the basics down: big compound moves, progressive overload, and consistency.
- Show her pics of super hot "normal" girls who look good, train hard, and have a life.
All women can start with the basic lifts (or easier variations of them), and work and learn from there. What's important in the beginning is spending enough time under tension to recruit more muscle fibers, and practicing the lifts to get the motor patterns down.
Sticking with big, compound movements and throwing in assistance work along with some HIIT circuits or sprints will yield the best results. Build her strength base to get her neuromuscular system going and stimulate growth before you fiddle with complicated programming or start getting into "cycles" and "splits."
Before we get to the programs, give her some basic knowledge. This may sound like info most anyone would know, but many women will be complete newbies to the rules and norms of the weight room. Teach her:
- How much the different bars weigh, and how to track the weight (i.e., you include the weight of the bar in the total, what sets and reps are, etc.).
- How to load and remove plates properly and easily. What the different bars are called (barbell, EZ curl bar, trap bar, etc.).
- Basic terminology, such as what incline, decline, supinated, and pronated mean.
- Emphasize strength goals as a way to determine progress, not soreness and how much she sweated; a common trap that can kill gains.
Below are three programs to try, depending on how many days a week she can train and her knowledge level.
Stick to slightly higher rep ranges in the beginning, even for the bigger compound movements. She won't be lifting heavy enough to benefit from anything fewer than 5 reps anyway. The key here is practicing the movements and getting in enough reps to stimulate her neuromuscular system and induce growth.
The focus should be on strength first. Only after a strength base is built can training be manipulated to suit more specific personal goals. You can't sculpt muscle if you don't have any to work with.
To that end, focus on increasing strength through progressive overload to develop a base that will benefit whatever type of training style she ends up liking best, and any body parts she wants to focus on changing even more later on.
Finishing off with some short metabolic style workouts 1-2 times a week like Tabata, HITT, or intervals will get her sweating a bit and make her feel like she "worked more" (one of the reasons women love spin classes and cardio boot camps).
2 or 3 Days a Week – Super Basic Whole Body
- 5 sets of 5-8 reps with as challenging a weight as possible. Start with 8 reps.
- Reps can be higher if she needs more time to get the movement down.
- Keep rest to 1-2 minutes.
|A||Squat to a box||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|B||Bench Press||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|A||Trap Bar Deadlift||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|B||Rack Pull||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|C||Chin or Inverted Row||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|D||Leg Raise||5||1-2 min.|
|A||Goblet Squat||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|B||Rear Lunge||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|C||Overhead Dumbbell/Barbell Press||5||5-8||1-2 min.|
|D||Side Plank||5||30-90 sec.||1-2 min.|
Program Mon/Wed/Fri – Starting Strength Style
- 5 sets of 5-8 reps using the same weight across the working sets (3 warm-up sets, 5 working sets), except for deadlifts where you progressively add weight, so only the last set is the heaviest.
- If she can't do pull-ups, start with inverted rows and/or assisted chin-ups with a resistance band.
|B||Bench Press or Press (Alternating)||5||5-8|
|B||Press or Bench Press (Alternating)||5||5-8|
|B||Bench Press or Press (Alternating)||5||5-8|
Program Upper/Lower Split – PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training) Style
- For power days, 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps. For hypertrophy days, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps.
- Ab work is 15-20 reps or 30-90 second planks.
Start at the higher rep/set range for the big moves (which will require lower weight). To progress in the assistant lifts, start at the lower rep range, have her work up to the top rep range with the same weight, and then drop the reps and up the weight.
Monday – Upper Power
|B||Chins or Inverted Row||3-5||5-8|
|E||Planks and/or |
|3-5||30-90 sec. |
Tuesday – Lower Power
|D||Back Lunge or Bulgarian Split Squat||3-5||5-8|
Thursday – Upper Hypertrophy
|G||Leg Raises and/or |
Friday – Lower Hypertrophy
|A||Front or Goblet Squat||3-4||8-15|
|B||Trap Bar or Kettlebell Deadlift||3-4||8-15|
|D||Kettlebell Swings||100 for time|
|Pyramid 10-1 and reverse, 20 seconds rest in between sets|
|E||Short Sprints||8 rounds|
| Tabata Treadmill Sprints – 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest or |
Hill Sprints, walk down
- Keep her on the same program for at least 8-12 weeks before changing things around too much. Give it enough time to work.
- Start at the higher end of the reps/sets, gradually moving to the lower end as her strength increases and the weight becomes heavy enough for her to benefit from lower reps. Get in enough time under tension. Eight reps is a good starting place for the big lifts.
- Keep her away from cardio, especially on lifting days. If she has to be "weaned" off of excessive cardio, let her finish every workout with a short, intense circuit and ab work.
- This intense circuit can include treadmill sprints, stair sprints, 100 kettlebell swings for time, tire flips for reps, sled pulls for time, bodyweight circuits for reps.
- Something short, hard, and fast will facilitate weight loss, muscle gain, and give her the "high" of hard work without impeding progress too much. Or let her do low-intensity steady state type cardio on rest days. Just keep the intensity low and under an hour. Walks are great.
- Get her a notebook or an app to track her workouts. This is very important for goal setting.
- Don't increase the weight every workout until she has proper form down. Instead, increase the weight every week. If she's having a hard time getting form down, keep the weight light, bump up the reps to 10-12, and let her practice.
- Connect her with resources to learn more and continue her journey. Do not send her to women's magazines to learn how to train.
- Connecting her with solid information will be important for building that internal motivation discussed earlier. Get her reading, connecting, and following the same trainers, coaches, and authors as you.
- There's a wealth of good information out there that she can benefit from just like you do. Encourage her to become part of the "culture." Women who lift well are still in the minority, but we're out there!
As her interest and progress grows, she'll no longer need as much support from you to get her workout in. She'll have her own reasons to keep at it and the passion will be sparked.
A great body is hers to get – and yours to enjoy!
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Joy Victoria is a strength & conditioning coach at St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury, VT. Besides training her athletes she is a competitive powerlifter, and most recently won her division in the USAPL Massachusetts State Powerlifting Championship of 2012. She can be found writing about lifting and dieting on her blog www.fitnessbaddies.com