Article written by Shannon Khoury
I understand that people tend to flame on about CrossFit on teh webz, but here is the thing: no other program has had a bigger effect on influencing women to get under a bar. None. That is all. Study after study has shown the efficacy and health benefits of strength training for women. If a program has influenced women to be stronger and healthier, it is my belief that it can be considered to be a success.
Now, don’t get me wrong, “successful” does not suggest “flawless.” What works for some will not always work for all. Injuries may occur, especially if we are dealing with a person who has previously been injured. We could spend forever debating the ins and outs of periodization and programming and how CrossFit tends to run against the grain regarding both of those principles. Whatever. That isn’t why I am here. Just let ask me this, ladies – how many of you were introduced to Strongwoman and/or powerlifting through CrossFit? Are you raising your hand? Me too. Let’s talk
Individual programming is important, and often, falling into a one-size-fits-all training modality can be a pitfall for many, including myself. For example, I have extremely flat feet. This creates a unique set of challenges and physical compensations that affect my training and which need to be addressed in order to keep me injury-free while keeping the progress rolling. Unfortunately, these are issues that will not be addressed when following a program that has been written in a book or a whiteboard.
There are, however, some specific physical challenges that we ladies tend to face as we start to get more serious about our lifting. I want to tune you in to three exercises that have been prescribed to me by my lifting coach. The exercises I am including require minimal or no equipment and are easy to learn and execute. Mix in one or all of these things into your daily routine, whether before your WOD or otherwise, and I know that you will be pleased by the results.
One thing that is noticeably absent from things such as CrossFit and many “Big 4” lifting plans is direct glute work. Having strong, active glutes aids in everything from sprinting, to the powerful hip extension in snatches, to putting the brakes on a Russian Kettlebell Swing. Especially for us ladies, the structure of our bodies does not exactly lend itself to having active glutes. In fact, we are pretty quad-dominant. Add in a pair of flat feet, like me, and you might as well have an “off” switch on your ass.
Don’t fret, though. Stronger, more powerfully contracting and active glutes are just an air hump away. Mix these in either as part of your warm up, as some dynamic work in between squats and deadlifts, or as a part of your mobility/active rest routine. Just remember to tilt your pelvis upward towards your belly button to keep your core nice and tight. You will know that you are doing things right when it starts to feel like your ass is going to catch on fire.
Pull-aparts. DiFranco pull-aparts, lat pull-downs, 1-arm rows; the possibilities are endless. Especially in CrossFit and Strongwoman, keeping our shoulders healthy and our back tight and stable during overhead work is crucial for staying injury-free. Unfortunately, both sports tend to put the cart before the horse, and for many people (including myself – I suffered from a pinched brachial plexus) getting hurt becomes part of the game. You should not have to walk around covered in kinesio tape like a mummy – just take care of yourself. These various pulls only require a light band and either your body or something to anchor it to. A cool side effect of mixing in any of these variations between sets is that it cues you to stay active and tight during your squat and deadlift set-ups. Pick one or two that work best for you and focus on form and maintaining a powerful isometric contraction at the top of each rep.
Ladies, we are all totally badass and nothing can hold us back – that is, unless we ignore developing our natural lack of pulling strength. No worries! Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and let’s get to work. Unlike the glute bridges and band pulls, I suggest working this in as an accessory at the end of almost all of your routines (within reason – although if you are working out 6-7 days a week, I think we need to have a talk). A weak back can affect everything from our bar placement in the squat to remaining engaged through heavy deadlifts. Thankfully, if performed correctly, working on our pulling strength benefits most from frequency and volume. My favorite variations lately have been heavy 1-arm rows while facing a bench in a hip hinge and also barbell rows. The 1-arm variations also lend themselves to developing some solid core stability and barbell rows can help engage the muscle fibers of our low traps, an area that is grossly underutilized in most people (especially women). I try and do either 3-4 times a week for 3-4 sets of 8.
Overall, worry less about what program you are doing and worry more about what you are doing for your program. Work hard, stay consistent, make progress, and eat ALL the things. Try some of these exercises and enjoy the physical and neurological benefits that they can bring to your success with the iron.
Shannon Khoury is an intern/coach-in-training at Five x 3 Training in Baltimore, Maryland. Their gym has a focus on powerlifting, strongwoman, and functional/rehabilitative strength. She sits for her CSCS exam in December and plans on pursuing graduate studies in exercise science. Shannon is proud to write for an LGBT-friendly strength community and one day she hopes to be as strong and badass as Streaky.