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The Weight Room for Women Athletes

By Brett Klika

Getting stronger is an important part of a speed and athletic performance program for every athlete, male or female. Success in sports is a matter of skill execution and force production. If you produce the right amount of force, at the right time, in the right direction, with the proper movement skills, you are going to have a high rate of success at what you are trying to do. Odds are, if you can create and control more force during sports skills than your opponent, you are going to defeat them. This rule stands whether you are a man or a woman. If two humans kick a soccer ball, the one that can create the most force through the ball is going to kick it the farthest and hardest, regardless of the sex of the kicker. Physics is one of the most non-sexist sciences.

Research has demonstrated that proper resistance training can aid in increasing force production during game skills such as running, jumping, throwing, etc. This same research suggests that if you want to produce a lot of force in an athletic event, you need to produce it in the weight room as well. This means moving challenging weight correctly! Again, this stands for men and women.

I often tell our female athletes the easiest way for them be a head above the competition is to get stronger. Not only will this make them play better, they will have less instance of injury. I ask our high school female teams how many of their male athlete friends lift weights. Nearly every hand goes up. I then ask them how many of their female athlete friends do. Few, if any, hands are raised. So let me get this straight: Weight training is something that has been proven to improve performance and prevent injury. In addition, almost none of the competition is doing it, yet coaches are still apprehensive? I guess you wouldn’t want to make it “unfair” for the other teams? Going through the injury process makes an athlete mentally stronger? My palms are up, shoulders shrugged.

The problem is, no matter how much “good” information exists in regards to weight training and female athletes, there is an abundance of “bad” information, including apprehensive tendencies towards using the weight room. Women athletes are afraid of “getting big”. The fact is, barring a few former East German Olympic swimmers, women do not produce any significant amount of testosterone. Your ability to increase muscle mass is directly related to your ability to create and utilize testosterone. If you don’t have enough, you can’t create any significant amount of muscle. Muscle mass gains in women generally are very slow and extremely small in magnitude when compared to male counterparts. Even in males, who produce significant testosterone, quality muscle mass gains come in the ballpark of about a pound or two a month. Some women do produce more significant amounts of testosterone, and they will respond differently to weight training. These cases, however, are the exception, not the rule. Remember, food is the number one thing that will make you bigger or smaller, so before you give up the clean-and-jerk, give up the In-N-Out.

As I have observed working with thousands of female and male athletes in my 10 year career, the major differences between the true weight room needs for males and females have less to do with physiology, and more to do with psychology and sociology. Through history we have created societal stereotypes and “roles” for men and women; men displaying physical prowess, women being “wrought with bothersome emotion”. In the later part of the 20th century, as women were allowed more opportunities to compete in athletics, spectacular accomplishments by females started to shift this paradigm. Athletic scholarships became available, professional teams and leagues emerged, and an industry was born. As female athletics became more competitive, coaches couldn’t help but acknowledge that the same traits that made male athletes successful such as speed, power, aggressiveness, leadership, etc., were also the prime factors for success in women’s athletics. However, many coaches were, and still are, afraid to break the previous paradigms of lowered expectations. They were, and still are, afraid to reinforce “male” traits with females. The fact of the matter is that factors of successful athleticism have nothing to do with “male” or “female”. They are universal to all athletes and all sports. Competition is competition, regardless if you are a man or a woman. Women have proven they can do it at a high level, so it’s time to raise our expectations.

Don’t get me wrong. Male and female athletes are different in many ways. Anatomical differences can lead to performance concerns as well as injury prevalence. These need to be addressed in a program. From my experiences with coaching and marriage, I’ve learned that men and women are different animals when it comes to how you must communicate with them. A common problem with females in strength and conditioning programs is that coaches don’t communicate or connect with them effectively. Coaches may need to modify and adapt to get athletes to “buy into” their program. For example, I have yet to review any research or anecdotal evidence that state that cleans, squats, bench, and deadlifts are the only way an athlete can get stronger. If male or female athletes don’t respond well to a program or exercises, the coach should change the program or exercise, but not their expectations for performance and progression. In this way, athletes feel their coach is “in tune” with their needs. This builds trust, yielding a greater all-around effort.

If you are a female athlete, or if you work with female athletes, take advantage of others’ ignorance and misinformation. Include intense, progressive resistance training in your athletic performance program to dominate the competition. We are very proud of our female athletes at Fitness Quest 10 as they strive for athletic greatness, proving it’s time to raise our expectations!

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting, or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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