I began a career in strength coaching Olympic and professional athletes over 37 years ago. It wasn’t too long afterward that I also entered the fitness industry to instruct non-competitors as it was evident plenty of exciting new health and fitness trends were unfolding in the mainstream.
Back in the good ole days, I remember when fitness training centers segregated men from women dedicating alternate days for each sex, while Sundays were split in half; men in the morning and women in the afternoon. Much of that reasoning was financial – facility costs offered a much cheaper investment with one locker room and a couple of showers. The other reason was that men and women, so they believed, had totally different needs. This ‘specificity of needs’ lead to the invention and manufacturing of female-specific equipment; like the now popular ‘adductor machine’ many men wouldn’t ever consider using. However, as the mainstream caught the fitness bug, health centers around the country knew they were turning away potential member revenues due to their obsolete operational strategies.
This wasn’t the case in many sports training facilities. Let’s call this populace the hardcore or ‘competitor’ group. Sports like track and field, gymnastics, figure and speed skating, and volleyball, to name a few, have teams for men and teams for women who often (strength) trained in the same facility, at the same times and with the exact same exercises, drills and equipment.
Historically, it’s fair to say that men constructed much of the foundation for exercise development and technique that was fueled with the ambition, and often necessity, to strengthen of the human musculature. Perhaps the origin can be traced to a man’s genetic legacy as the strength-Gods were all men — Hercules, Apollo, Zeus, and Adonis, to name a few. The women who crept into the male domain, especially the weight rooms, received their education on basic-to-advanced level strength training and bodybuilding. It wasn’t too long that women commanded special techniques (and equipment) that would prevent, or undo, the unfeminine muscular hypertrophy that shortly followed.
As we’re often blamed, many men become creatures of habit and resist change. But as soon as leotards were invented no guy in his right mind would volunteer to police thong-clad females out of the gym. In fact, allowing women to train with men raised the (ego) bar to another level, which became, and still is, a great motivator.
‘Showing off’ is a terrific incentive to pump out more reps and manhandle heavier resistances. It’s also fair to claim that during co-ed training sessions stimulate upswings in naturally occurring androgenic-anabolic hormones, like testosterone, in both sexes. Perhaps Rocky’s trainer, Mick, was mistaken when he kept screaming at his prize fighter that “women weaken legs”.
The co-ed fitness revolution was officially in full momentum by the mid-80s. This phenomenon gathered scores of non-competitors, weekend warriors, and ‘females’, into one setting all motivated to achieve self-betterment, sexier and more athletic-looking bodies, and an improved quality of life.
In my opinion, women have not only spiced up the world of fitness they’ve also made it infinitely more creative and diverse. Unlike men – who basically work on their strengths, women have always approached fitness and body shaping with their ‘weaknesses’ as a priority. Women also enjoy dancing more than most men. So when women started to combine exercise with dance motions many men, especially the ones you’d label ‘gym rat’, wrote that off as a silly fad that would shortly die out. The skeptics were all wrong. Dance-fitness, and a plethora of other female-inspired exercises and routines, as we now know, has successfully evolved into high standard fitness sciences.
That said, men have learned a great deal from the alien invasion of women in our gyms. This especially applies to balancing out ones’ training, working on one’s weaknesses as a priority, and, no doubt, expanding our ranges of options for exercise and routines.
In addition to the already mentioned advantages, and much to everyone’s surprise, many solutions were becoming available for both the prevention and remedy to the chronic condition known as the ‘plateau effect’; AKA ‘hitting the wall’, AKA the ‘sticking point’. This was the result, and much of the credit to the female occupants in our gyms who turned things completely upside sown, and all while wearing thong-clad leotards. Who’d ever think it?
When results from training become sluggish, stagnant, or decline; i.e., the plateau effect, the prudent approach is to break old ‘stuck’ habits by challenging new techniques and strategies to provide the body, and the brain, with different patterns of actions; i.e., mind-muscle coordination or psycho-muscular facilitation. With the new energy and influence from the females, guys, even the macho ones, would cart their buttocks onto yoga mats, aerobic dance floors, and Pilates studios.
I must also add that women have taught men how to have fun during training replacing or, at least, redefining, the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality by showing men how to have a good time in the gym as opposed to training like Rocky for each and every workout.
Numerous studies suggest that regularity in routines inevitably leads to imbalances, boredom, abandonment and even injury. Confusing a muscle and/or muscle group by applying new techniques by literally mixing things up stimulates new brain-nerve-muscle pathways of communication and the excitation of the homeostatic metabolic response mechanism that’s vital for recovery and consistent improvement.
Aside from their obvious physical, hormonal and sexual differences, men and women have (basically) the same muscular and skeletal anatomy. The main difference is women have a wider pelvis for child bearing, a Mother Nature design. Along with a wider pelvis come wider hips yielding an expanded angle of the femur bone starting at the ball-n-socket hip joint and traveling down the leg into the knee joint. This is known as the “Q-angle”; Q representing quadriceps, which are the four large muscles that rest on the top and sides of the longest and heaviest bones in the body, the femurs.
Understanding this anatomical fact, women are advised to focus a percentage of their conditioning to training all sides of their abdomen, mid-to-lower back, buttocks, hips, and legs. Lacking adequate strength and integrity, the pelvis and ball-n-socket hip joint inevitably break down for a high percentage of maturing females, something (I believe is) preventable.
Ironically, the entire region surrounding the pelvis also seems to befall the area where women collect most of their body fat. There’s a direct correlation between areas of the body that collect higher percentages of fat to weak underlying muscles, coupled, of course, with poor eating habits.
For men, need I say, they deal with love-handles, but there’s nothing lovely about them. The (main) underlying muscles for the love-handles are the obliques. These muscles are anatomical residents that surround the entire circumference of the core region of the body. The only skeletal support, or boney structures, in this region are the small vertebra of the thoracic and lumbar spinal column. Look at any laboratory skeleton and you’ll observe skeletal absence in this region of the body; and good reason why it’s often referred to as the body cavity or abdominal cavity; cavity meaning empty of bone. With a significant structural support void in our midsections, men, and women, must condition all sides of their midsections, or the area completely surrounding the spine on a horizontal plane and encompasses the entire upper ridge of the pelvis upward to the rib cage on a vertical plane.
If we compartmentalize the muscular anatomy in the midsection, the abs comprise (approximately) 20% – 25% of the core area of the body. So if one is striving to develop great symmetry in their midsection a 360º approach is essential. Put another way, the intelligent method to midsection training is to emphasize ‘all’ sides of this region; i.e., the abdominals, obliques, serratus, intercostals and lumbar erector tissues.
And the winner is . . .
Now that the ‘him’ vs. ‘her’ mindset is well behind us we can eagerly look ahead to even greater developments in the sports and fitness industries that inevitably result from a ‘working together’ campaign. Although men have passed many torches to women, especially from inside our weight rooms and gyms, it was the females who influenced an explosive expansion in the world of fitness that has paved the way into today’s enormous health and body consciousness phenomena.
Leotards or not, females are welcome to train at my gym anytime!
Best of Health & Success!
John Abdo is an Olympic Strength & Conditioning Coach, Award-Winning inventor of fitness equipment like The AB-DOer® and Inductee into the National Health & Fitness Hall of Fame. For more information please email John at: firstname.lastname@example.org.