by Wil Fleming
Female athletes are one of my favorite “subsets” of athletes I get to work with. The reasons are plenty but in no particular order:
- They are typically less tied to the egomaniacal pursuit of more weight.
- They have usually less experience with “bad” training.
- They are typically better movers at a young age compared to males at the same age.
Most importantly is the recipe for a young female’s success is quite simple, keep them moving well, and get them strong. I first learned this as a collegiate athlete, where the females that came to the track team would all have exceptional talent, and had incredible accomplishments (most were all-state, or state champion athletes), but many had never been in the weight room before. Once exposed to some high quality strength training their performances exploded! It was like adding gas to a match.
This recipe does not hold just for high level collegiate athletes, it holds for the middle school volleyball player, and high school basketball player too. Strength is the great equalizer in female athletics.
With any young athlete, nearly everything they do can help them add strength. That is why so many disparate programs can be seen at the high school level, and so many of them work. Young athletes are very pliable to the demands you give them, and adaptation can occur to nearly anything.
The key though to adding more strength, more quickly, is to teach your young athletes, and especially females big compound movements early and often.
The most important among these compound movements is the squat.
First and foremost, squatting should be simple. Do not over complicate and make a basic movement pattern a high tension high threshold movement. Do not over coach this (this goes for all athletes).
- Feet Flat
- Stand up straight (means no anterior tilt, and no rib flare)
- Hips first
- Knees over small toe on the way out
- Push the knees out on the way up.
Every person’s squat will look different, but remember if it doesn’t look athletic it probably isn’t. Every squat though, from an individual person should look very similar, goblet, to front, to back should all look very close to the same. Try not to coach this as a “lift” but as a “movement”.
The caveat for coaching females is that a great deal of them will likely have a valgus collapse on the way up. In most instances this isn’t something you need to “coach them out of,” instead make them aware of it and then help them train their way out of it.
Training their way out of it means more work on glute development, and more single leg work. Awareness and strength will eventually make this a non-issue.
The bigger concern when it comes to injury prevention is valgus collapse on the way down. While this is rare, if this occurs the athlete is not yet ready for squatting the current load and should spend more time on single leg work and go down in load.
For female athletes the progression will be exactly the same as for any athlete.
- Goblet Squat or Bearhug Squat
- Racked KB Squat
- Front Squat
- Back Squat
The cool thing about this progression is based on bodyweight alone most female athletes will immediately see a large return in strength even while doing goblet and bearhug squats.
Check out this video to see an example:
Programming Squatting for Females
Squatting is certainly an important movement, and will deliver an enormous return to the athlete, but is only one part of a complete program. Athletes should squat 1-2x per week with a variation in the placement of load. The coach should take care to balance the demands of squatting with an equal or greater amount of posterior chain work (hamstrings and glutes especially). While a full depth squat will certainly help the athletes develop in the posterior chain, a squat is not a panacea to all that female or any athletes need.
I have found good success with using an alternating linear type of periodization with female athletes, where in 3 week blocks are dedicated to reps of 8-10, 5-6, 6-8, 3-5 respectively. Each individual block can focus on one or multiple types of squatting movements.
Return on investment
Females that are coached to squat the right way will see an enormous improvement in performance markers like 10 yard sprint, standing long jump, and vertical jump.
With proper mechanics the squat can also assist in preventing non-contact knee injuries by strengthening the major muscle groups around the knee.