Strong For a Girl
I’m sure this will offend some of the well-meaning, well-respected college strength & conditioning coaches on this site – rest assured this isn’t directed at any of you! Actually, I guess this is less of an article than it is actually a voicing (typing) of frustrations. So even if it never shows up on the site at least one person had to read it and share even if only momentarily in my frustrations!
We’ve all heard it said at some point in our lives, most of you have probably even uttered the profanity in the title of this article. While I think that fewer and fewer people actually verbalize “strong for a girl” anymore (the phrase sends chills down my spine), it seems at times the phrase is still being embodied in the programming and expectations for female athletes.
For the better part of the last 11 years I have worked mostly with female athletes. Everything from basketball to squash, field hockey to softball. But for the last 7 years, my “niche” and passion has been women’s lacrosse. My athletes’ successes have in large part been due to the incredible resources and access to the minds of the great people on this site – or as I tell my athletes and their parents If I have been able to see further than others, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. So thank you for being my “giants”! To say I love my job is an understatement. My main professional goal is to be thought of as the “Mike Boyle of Women’s Lacrosse”! Now as much fun as my job is, once my girls hit the collegiate ranks… the fun pretty much ends. Girls that in the summer can:
– RFESS 175 for 8
– Single leg squat BW plus 60lbs
– Hang clean 125 for 3
– Perform 5 chins with 25 lbs
– Perform 8 inverted rows with a 40lb vest
– Run sub 55 second 300 yd shuttles
And they do this all while having no joint issues and feeling great. Unfortunately time and time again they come back to us in shambles. They go back to school and…
– No more single leg training (backsquats and barbell deadlifts instead, as well as calve raises & seated leg curls – apparently those exercises still exist in a college weightroom)
– No horizontal pulling (no seriously, in some programs I’ve seen I mean NONE!)
– No chopping/lifting movements and no anti-rotation/anti-extension work (400-800 crunches a week is the preferred tool often times)
– Hang cleans for “reps” and never more than 55lbs
– No chin ups or pull-ups – but they are encouraged to use the chin assist machine for 15 reps.
– In fact everything seems to be rather high reps!
Apparently, they don’t want to “bulk up”. Even if you’re not a fan of single leg training, how do YOU feel after 5 months without doing a pull-up, inverted row, chop, lift, Pallof Press, roll-out, etc.??? Well I can tell you how my girls feel: their backs hurt, their knees hurt, they have hamstring strains, and they lose unbelievable amounts of strength. They figuratively, and literally, limp to the end of the season. Sounds like fun right? I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but I assure you I train girls from several of the top 20 teams in the country (including a couple in the top 5) and there is little difference between their programming.
Now I (and all of you I’m certain) am no fan of this type of program in its design, its movement choices, etc. But the biggest issue I have: the expectations. I won’t speculate as to the “philosophy” behind this type of program, but I believe it’s safe to say that they don’t have very high expectations for their athletes. As Coach Boyle had said in an ACL reduction seminar a couple years ago in Winchester, MA: the expectations for strength and power for female athletes is appaulingly low. I couldn’t agree more. I have an 8 year-old daughter and one of the best things about what I get to do is show her that girls can be incredibly strong, phenomonally explosive, insanely athletic, and dominate on the field. She knows I don’t baby them, she knows that I and they believe the things they can do are limitless, and in turn she will start to realize that she can do the same. I don’t know, maybe it’s different for coaches that don’t have daughters. Fortunately, I have an 8 year-old daughter – and several teenagers and 20 year-olds that I think of like daughters. So coaches, next time you prescribe a chin assist to an athlete (who just happens to be a girl) maybe instead ask them “How many chin ups can you do?” Or even”how much extra weight do you need?”. Drop the assist, raise the bar, and raise your expectations. You see it’s not just our job to get them strong, it’s our job to help them realize how much stronger they can be.