Written by Jade McKee (Clean Health Online Master Coach)
A new client has come to work with you. Her goal is to compete, but she has heard some ‘horror stories’ – as she puts it, that are making her second-guess her decision. As a coach, how do you respond to this? As there are myths floating around to do with training the female physique athlete, we’ve had a look into 5 common ones for you, and here they are – BUSTED.
MYTH: You need to starve yourself to step on stage
FACT: You need to eat to fuel your bodyIf you are not eating enough – you are doing it wrong!
One of the main goals of a competition prep is to maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible while you are in a caloric deficit. This cannot be achieved if your client’s nutrition plan is not properly planned and calculated!
It is recommended that your client doesn’t rush in to starting a prep, as choosing to prep over a short length of time MAY result in low calories come show day. An increased length of time will help decrease the chance of having to reduce calories quite so low. It will also allow for refeeds or diet breaks to be incorporated into this time, to help mitigate any negative metabolic adaptations that may occur.
Ideally when starting a prep your caloric intake should be at maintenance, or in a surplus. This will allow plenty of room to move when it comes to manipulating calories in a deficit. Protein targets need to be hit all the way through the prep, that are calculated specifically to optimize muscle protein synthesis and lean mass retention. Fats will also be set at a specific target to optimise hormonal health. Which leads on to Myth #2…
MYTH: You will lose your cycle when you prep
FACT: A good coach will take all precautions in prep to prevent this from happening
What will need to be taken into account? First – starting prep with an optimal caloric intake. Same as in Myth #1 – you want the client to be AT LEAST at maintenance when starting a prep. A higher starting point will generally mean a higher finishing point come show day, with less of a negative impact on hormonal function.
Next- prepping over a longer period of time. A longer prep means a less aggressive deficit. Less aggressive deficits are less stressful on the body, again – encouraging optimal hormone function.
Finally- fats. Fats should stay at or above the recommended minimum for hormonal health. If they do need to drop below this level, it should only be for an extremely short period of time – if at all.
MYTH: You should train with high reps so you don’t get too big and bulky!
FACT: You can still build muscle training with high reps
It’s a common misconception that by performing high reps, an individual won’t be promoting muscle hypertrophy. Studies have show that in order to promote hypertrophy, the last 5 reps in a set where you are working to failure will be the reps that provide the stimulus for growth (1). This means your client CAN grow muscle when performing high reps! This doesn’t mean that they should avoid high reps to avoid becoming ‘bulky’ though. The ‘bulky’ part – that’s not muscle, that’s extra body fat!
MYTH: If you train heavy you will look like a man
FACT: This is impossible due to hormones
Even if they are to train heavy, women simply don’t have the hormones needed to become big and muscular like men. This myth likely arose from the early bodybuilding days of the 70s and 80s, when the women competing in the bodybuilding divisions used exogenous hormones in order to gain their size. Fortunately – it’s not something that will occur naturally!
MYTH: You need to train differently to a man
FACT: The areas you focus on may be specific to the division you are entering
In terms of improving strength and hypertrophy, there is currently no evidence that men and women should be training differently. When it comes to competing though – the division your client will be entering may influence how you structure their training split.
For example, if your client competes in the bikini division, their training may have a strong focus around glute and shoulder specific training. Whereas a figure competitor may have their training structured to promote more back, arm, and quad development.
We hope this clears up some of the common misconceptions around training the female physique athlete. Remember that if something doesn’t sound right – it’s probably not. Encourage your clients to ask questions, research and educate themselves on the topic before they come to their own conclusions!
To learn how to effectively coach the winning physique, enrol into Dr Layne Norton’s Training the Physique Athlete online course! Click here to enrol now.
- Contreras, B & Cordoza, G. 2019. The Glute Lab. The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training. Victory Belt Publishing.
- Dr Layne Norton. (2020) Training The Physique Athlete. Clean Health Fitness Institute.