General Physical Preparedness for the Female Athlete

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Female athletes are bombarded with misinformation about their training, nutrition and bodies, by their coaches, parents, and the media. High school and college female athletes are the largest demographic that we train here at Juggernaut. I know, kinda surprising with our name right? These girls come to us with an array of weak points and imbalances. In very few instances have we had a female athlete arrive who was ready to get under the bar on day one. So how do you get a young female athlete ready to move weights and improve her speed and power?

Assessing Weaknesses

  • Posterior Chain Strength/Activation: This is the most common and problematic issue that I see in young female athletes. When you see a girl squatting, jumping or running and her knees are collapsing in towards each other, she has poor strength in her posterior chain and needs to activate her glutes. The high incidents of knee injuries in female athletes can largely be attributed to a lack of posterior chain strength.
  • Upper Back Strength: To be able to correctly perform almost any barbell lift, upper back strength is needed. We deal with many swimmers and volleyball players who have a history of shoulder injuries, many of which could have been prevented with increased upper back strength and scapular activation. If you have an athlete whose shoulders roll forward or that lacks the ability to pinch your fingers between their shoulder blades while performing an exercise like YTWLs or band pull-aparts, it is likely that they lack adequate upper back strength.
  • Joint Mobility: Sufficient mobility is necessary to get into athletic positions on the field of play and in the weight room. Many female athletes, while they may possesses tremendous flexibility, lack the ankle and hip mobility to achieve proper depth in squats and unilateral work. This mobility must be improved before an athlete can begin properly training with external resistance.
  • Lack of Intensity: Now this one may offend some female athletes, but in many cases, especially with younger athletes who lack a training history like I often work with, a needed intensity towards training is lacking. What many of our younger female athletes perceive to be their all-out effort and what I expect of their maximal effort is not the same thing (or even in the same ballpark in some cases). I’m not talking about yelling and screaming here, I’m referring to an ability to keep straining when something becomes difficult and uncomfortable.

Solving the Problems

  • Posterior Chain Strength: Including glute activation exercises in the warm-up of your athletes is the first step toward getting their posterior chain involved in training. X-Band Walks and Glute Bridges are two simple ways to activate the posterior chain. It’s important that when dealing with weak and inexperienced athletes, proper exercises are selected. Exercises that will allow the athlete to strengthen the needed areas while putting them at the lowest risk possible from technical shortcomings are your best choices. Reverse Hypers, 45 degree back extensions, band good mornings, swiss ball hamstring curls and upright sled walks are all excellent and low risk ways to bring up a young female athlete’s posterior chain strength.

The second piece to solving the problem of collapsing knees that faces many young female athletes is to teach them proper jumping and landing technique.

Weight distributed through whole foot, hips pushed back, flat back, head up and hands cocked at hips.

  • Upper Back Strength: Similar to developing the posterior chain, the first step in upper back training must be activation. To activate the scapula there are many good options, I prefer to use YTWLs and low trap extensions.

Emphasize that the athlete squeezes their shoulder blades down and together, as opposed to shrugging or flexing their traps, when retracting their shoulder blades.

Once the athlete has gained proper scapular mobility, they can start developing upper back strength through the use of band pull-aparts, face pulls and body rows. As an athlete’s strength progresses on body rows, they should move from doing them with bent legs, to straight legs, to having their feet on a box. Upper back strength development can be achieved while the athlete is simultaneously training other muscle groups. Have an athlete peform a band pullapart hold while doing exercises such as back extensions, band good mornings or sled drags.

It is easy to add extra upper back work to other exercises

  • Joint Mobility: Mobility work is probably already a key part of your athlete’s dynamic warmup. If it isn’t pick up Magnificent Mobility and/or The Parisi Warmup Method and see what its all about. A good, basic warm-up for your athletes would look as follows…

A)   General Warm-up: Jog/Skip or Jump Rope, Squats, Lunges in Various Directions

B)   Self Myofacial Release and Moblity Work: Foam Roll, Lacrosse Ball, Hip Mobility

C)   Dynamic Mobility

D)   Muscular Activation: YTWLs, Glute Bridges, Band Walks, Planks

E)   CNS Activation: Pogo Jumps, Wideouts

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  • Lack of Intensity: The best way to address this that I have found is to time everything. Perform maximum reps of an exercise in a given time, multiple rounds of a circuit in a certain time, or a set number of reps or circuit as fast as possible. Athletes want to compete, whether it is against themselves, their teammates/training partners or the clock. Be mindful that technique is not sacrificed in the name of speed.
  • Nutrition: Many of the female athletes I come across have terrible diets, they don’t eat well or enough. This compounds the fact that women naturally have less muscle mass than men. You can’t flex bone. Helping your female athletes get their nutrition game on point will go a long way to helping them add some muscle mass to their frame, bring up their weakpoints and get them ready to SFW or at least MSW (move some weight).

Getting Under the Bar

If you don’t own a copy of Starting Strength, get one…NOW! Rip does a great job of teaching the lifts in there.

Here is a quick rundown of the progression we use to teach the squat…

1)   Bodyweight

2)   Wall Squats to box

3)   Box Squats w/ Kettlebell-emphasize pulling the handle of the KB apart to maintain upper back tightness

4)   Box Squats w/ Empty Bar

5)   Box Squats

And the Deadlift…

1)   Deadlift standing on bands

2)   Deadlift with single kettlebell between feet

3)   Trap Bar Deadlift

4)   Straight bar deadlift

Female athletes need the weightroom to build strength, speed, power and protect themselves from injuries. Give them the foundation they need to be successful by creating a GPP block of training that will address their specific weakpoints and imbalances, while teaching them proper technique and preparing them to get under the bar and get to work.

Give your female athletes the necessary foundation to get strong and stay healthy.

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