This is part 2 of the 8 things you need to know to train women. Click through the following link if you missed part

5. Urinary incontinence is very common.  Be wary of too much bouncing during pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and for older women. It may not be bad, but a simple set of pogo jumps can leave a woman with a touch of leakage. I guarantee you that if this happens, they will not look forward to the exercise, or to coming back to see  you. What to do? Well for starters, avoid things like pogo jumps for “older” women (I’m talking 45 plus here), pregnant women and those who have recently had babies. Beyond that, if a woman who is normally up for anything tells you she really hates an exercise, and it’s a plyometric type of drill, then it may be because she pees a bit every time she does it. Not a nice feeling!  Do her a favour and drop the exercise. If by chance she actually mentions it, then get her to see her doctor about it. It may be an issue of retraining pelvic floor muscles, but it may also be a sign of something more serious.

6. Lack of muscle. A lot of women grew up without playing any sports. Thankfully this is changing (in 1971, 1 in 27 girls played sports; in 2001 it was up to 1 in 2.5.3 Yes!), but for many women who are 30 and older, there is not much history of physical activity. This likely means they probably have very little muscle. You get to help them build muscle for the first time ever. This is exciting and important, but it also brings with it a need for altered expectations. While most men who come in your door will be able to drop down and give you 10 pushups the first time they see you, most women will not. This is partly because women are physiologically disadvantaged for pushups (and pullups) 4, but it’s also for lack of a base of muscle. Absolutely get your women clients doing pushups! Just don’t expect 25 pushups from them on day 1 – 99% of your women clients will not be able to do this. Instead of setting them up for failure and bad form, set them up at the appropriate progression or regression and set them up to succeed and build strength.

Equipment purchases can help here as well. I mentioned in part 1, that I bought a 5kg olympic bar for Custom Strength. I also bought a set of 10 and 25 lb bumper plates that have the same diameter as a standard 45 lb plate. This means my client can deadlift with proper form starting at 32 pounds, instead of the 135 lbs you would need with a standard 45 lb bar and 45 lb plates. This makes the deadlift, which I believe to be a fantastic exercise, a viable exercise for so many women who would otherwise never get to do it, or who would have to do it with either a bar that is too heavy, or one that is too low to the ground. If you don’t have this setup, you can also use boxes or pins on a power rack to set the bar at a proper height. But when I had a 76 year old client say with a big smile that she felt like she was lifting like the big boys, I knew the bumper plates had been a great purchase.

7. Self-perception.  Yelling and negativity is not the way to motivate women. There may be an exception or two to this rule, but not many. We just don’t respond positively to yelling. I would argue that it isn’t effective for most men either, but there seem to be some men who respond to it. Women? Not so much.

I don’t know why this is, but I do know there is a self-esteem gap between men and women that starts young. Here are a few facts that struck me:

  • ” While 13% of Canadian girls (ages 10-14) are comfortable calling themselves ‘beautiful’, this number slides to 6% for girls ages 15-17 and to only 3% for women (ages 18-64)” [3]
  • “Nearly half (47%) of Canadian girls between the ages of 10 and 17 have avoided social activities like going to the beach, participating in physical activities, going to school or giving an opinion because they feel badly about the way they look. “[3]
  • “the percentage of girls who claim to be confident declines from 76% of girls 10-14 to only 56% of girls 15-17. [1]
  • “Many girls ages 11–17 say they do not play sports because they do not feel skilled or competent (40%) or because they do not think their bodies look good (23%). “[4]

I personally became very aware of this when I used to coach the Ottawa junior (under 18) ultimate team. It was a co-ed team, and the difference in self-perception between many of the boys and the girls was alarming. When I spoke with some of the top girls trying out, I was shocked when they told me they didn’t think they would make the team. I was equally shocked when some of the worst boys at tryouts approached us after, looking for an explanation of why they didn’t make the team. The difference in self-perception blew me away.

I think this self-esteem gap is one of the reasons that we still see such a minority of women executives in the corporate world. There may be systemic inequality, but I believe a big portion of the problem is that most women don’t ask for what they want and deserve. I don’t have stats or studies to back that up – it’s just a theory. But it is one based on having been the only woman out of 20 senior managers sitting around a boardroom table; and having been the only woman of over 100 entrepreneurs pitching to an investment group. I only bring this up to say that confidence is a big, big problem for many, many women; potentially in all facets of their lives.

As a trainer, you can be a significant contributor to the self-confidence and self-perception of your women clients. If you chose negativity, then you can be sure your clients will remain among the 97% of adult women who think they are not beautiful. Chose positivity, you can make them feel better, help them accomplish their fitness goals, and you may just help them develop the confidence to improve other  facets of their lives.

8. High heels and barefoot training. Barefoot training is becoming very popular for good reason. I fully support barefoot or minimalist footwear training, but if this is an approach you use, you must use caution when introducing it to clients who spend a lot of time in heels. Your client who wear high heels most of the time, will likely have shortened achilles tendons, and poor ankle mobility. Jumping immediately into barefoot training could actually lead to overuse injury in these women. I introduce barefoot work with my clients gradually. For women who wear heels often, I don’t actually introduce it at all until phase 2 of their program (3-4 weeks in). The first few weeks, they get some ankle mobility and calf stretching, as well as some single leg work to improve proprioception and balance, but all while wearing their gym shoes. Even this is an adaptation for some. In phase 2, I have them do their warmup in socks. This allows gradual adaptation. I encourage sticking with this for a couple of months while their body adapts and they get mentally accustomed to being without shoes – for some women this is a very new feeling! From here I will move to socks or minimalist shoes for the entire workout for some clients, whereas others will continue to use shoes for the remainder of the workout.

Special Bonus Tip:  Tampons and hair elastics. This is a very inexpensive special bonus you can provide for your female clients – and if they need them, they will be incredibly grateful.

There’s no worse feeling that realizing you just got your period and you have no tampons or pads. Having an emergency supply at your facility could seriously make someone’s day. One box will last months and months, so it’s not a big expense. Just don’t get the scented ones – they are like a beacon for dogs – clearly there were no women on the product development team for scented tampons. Also make sure there is a garbage can in the bathroom. If we have to change a tampon or pad when we use the gym, there will likely be a need for disposal. If you are grossed out by reading this, then give yourself a slap: It’s natural; it’s normal; it’s part of the whole process of life.

If your client has long hair, forgetting a hair elastic will be a distraction and a discomfort. Help a girl out. A package of hair elastics is cheap: I bought some at Giant Tiger for $2.97 and it has lasted 4 months and counting.

Did I miss anything? If so, let me know via the comments section.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.



[1] Physiological differences between men and women and the impact on pushup performance is discussed in this article:

[2] Women’s Sports Foundation, Women’s Sports and Physical Activity Facts and Statistics, 2007.

[3] Dove’s “The Real Truth about Beauty” research, which is based on two international surveys of 1200 girls and 6400 women from around the world

[4] The Girl Scout Research Institute, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006)



  1. Thanks for the note Maria. I’m also glad your mom isn’t getting yelled at! Very cool that she is working with a trainer.

  2. Elsbeth,

    As someone that trains 80+ women per week, I found this to be brilliant.

    I am sharing this with my clients this week and I am looking in to 5KG olympic bar you mentioned.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Wonderful article! My 72 year old mom just started working with a trainer and I am so glad her trainer does not yell at her! And kudos for the bonus tip!

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