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Girlfriend Wants to Start Training

Well, my girlfriend finally decided that she would like to start strength training rather than doing the whole treadmill/elliptical thing. I am fairly experienced as far as lifting goes (>5 years), but I have never put together a program for a woman. Obviously, I know nutrition is a big part of it. She isn’t overweight or anything, so her goal is to put on some muscle.

Common sense tells me to get her started on something like starting strength just to get her form down on the big movements and make some solid strength gains before moving into anything more advanced. If anyone has any input on programs that would be more effective or work better for women, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!

From working out with my gf for years I have not noticed any significant difference between men and women in response to strength training. We both got great results from Stronglifts 5x5, Leangains, Starting strength etc. As with any new lifters just focus on form and take it slow. Last thing you want is to tweak something.

There are some great articles on here about training for women. I would search those, but something to keep in mind as her training progresses is that the physique goals of men and women are different. Women typically don’t want huge pecs and traps, but more defined arms and shoulders. Women need to isolate on glutes more so doing some glute specific work would be handy as well. But seriously, I have found a ton of great articles here about programming for women and different needs so just search the articles.

Up front: you’ve already gotten some great advice, and these articles are better resources than my anecdotal experience:

Now that’s out of the way, my anecdotal experience:

My girlfriend, also a runner/yoga enthusiast, has started doing kettlebell workouts with some gusto. She had virtually zero strength training experience to speak of beforehand; she basically started doing KB workouts along with me once in awhile and grew to like them so much that she does them on her own 2-3 times per week to supplement her running-and-yoga (note: we’re long-distance and see each other every other weekend).

I can’t demonstrate some shocking before-and-after or brag about getting her to stage-condition leanness, so I won’t. I’ll just say that she has gotten a bit tighter, dropped about 5 pounds (not that she was big to begin with, either) and become noticeably stronger. When we started, the 20-pound kettlebell was plenty and the thought of even picking up the 45 that I had scared her. Now she’s been working with a 35-pounder for most movements and has been swinging a 45 for decent reps, something she never expected a few months ago.

This might not easily translate to you, depending on your training style and all, but a few things I learned that were important to her:

  • She likes things to move fast. She gets bored with resting between sets. KB movements work very well for this, but this can easily be extended into any program with supersets or circuits.

  • She likes higher reps. Lifting a weight 3 times just has no appeal for her. Again, KB movements like swings and goblet squats naturally lend themselves to 10+ repetition sets, but this can also be programmed in many ways.

  • She doesn’t like lifting “heavy” unless it’s kind of disguised…I think at first she was totally against anything resembling traditional barbell or dumbbell training because she thought a) it would make her bulky and b) it wouldn’t get her to burn enough calories or break a good sweat (she had done some Jillian Michaels DVD workouts and one thing Jillian says is something like “you don’t have TIME to do just a bicep curl” to justify the use of those awful lunge-curl-press movements with 5-pound dumbbells). But, once she started lifting the KB’s in a circuit-training style and started to like the “strength” work, she started deadlifting the heaviest one I had at the time (which is now up to an 88) as part of our circuits when we’re working out together.

Your GF might be different. I just share this to relay things that I’ve noticed, and give you an idea what to look for in your GF’s desires for a lifting program. Don’t look at the specifics, but this might give you an idea of what “themes” she might want emphasized. Like jmarsh said, women generally want a little different build than men, and that might require a different approach, whether that’s for physical or mental reasons. The best program is not just one that gets results, but also one that she’ll enjoy doing and stick to. If you teach her the heavy compounds and she just feels like that’s going to make her bulky, it might not take.

So my advice is…think up a few general directions (barbell/compound-lift based program, bodybuilding-style program with some isolation work, and if you’re open to it or think she might prefer it, a kettlebell/circuit style program), explain each idea in layman’s terms, and see what appeals to her. You could also look up some routines of successful women’s figure competitors and see if their testimonial will help get over any fears of lifting heavy translating into “bulkiness” for her.

*Edited to add: Now I’m really cheesed off that I spent all this time typing a reply to a months-old thread that got bumped today. Grr. Thanks, jmarsh.

Actually, you didnt waste your time, that is an excellent response with advice anyone could use. Thanks for the write up.

[quote]idaho wrote:
Actually, you didnt waste your time, that is an excellent response with advice anyone could use. Thanks for the write up.[/quote]

Ha, thanks. Like I said, it’s an N=1 experience, not so much a scientific “this is the best way to train females” as much as “this was my experience with my GF, and it might help someone else in the same boat.”