Getting Girls To Train – 5

Learning How To Fail

There will be a point in a girl’s training when something will go wrong. This isn’t unique to females, but it’s more significant to them when it happens. When a guy fails a weight or busts his ass squatting, he’s embarrassed and ashamed, but typically more pissed off. He’ll mutter, “God damn it,” scrape himself off the floor, re-rack the weight, and try it again. He’s pissed, yet has a hint of competitiveness. This could be from playing sports in high school or a heightened relative aggression due to an evolutionary development that results in at least ten times the amount of testosterone. Either way, when girls who are new to training fail, they can get upset and will even cry.

It doesn’t always have to occur after an embarrassing ass-busting that results in everyone in the gym staring. Instead, it can occur with experienced girls who miss a much desired PR. Sorry if you’re a tough-guy girl who feels the need to respond to every discrepancy that isn’t aimed at you, but most girls will cry at least once in the gym.

This can be awkward or difficult, because most guys won’t know what to do (and will often just want to go make a sandwich). Yet it’s relevant, because focusing on “today” is erroneous when training is actually a process. Anybody who broods excessively over a shitty workout just ends up being a pain in the ass. You’re allowed to brood if you bomb out at a meet, but not if you miss a rep off of your work set. Failing is supposed to be a part of training. It needs to happen. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t get any better.

Even Pudgy Stockton failed at some point, though not in this photo

When someone fails or messes up in lifting — but specifically talking about girls here — and they are visibly upset about it, the first thing I do is explain what went wrong, and what we have to do to fix it. Things are not hopeless in the gym. Mechanics are easy to observe and easy to fix; we aren’t dealing with unknowable factors like shifts in gravity or constantly mutating bodies. I will diagnose what caused the failure — whether it’s inadequate recovery (sleep/food/stress/etc.) or a technical error — and explain how we are going to improve that thing. If it’s technical and there are still more sets, then I whittle this down to an easy cue (usually reiterating something we’ve been focusing on). If it occurred on the last set, then I might have a repeat of fewer reps at the weight, back off the weight and practice the cue, or if the person is smoked move on and worry about it next workout (but make a note in the log).

The second thing I’ll stress is that this error, this failure, shouldn’t effect the rest of the workout or mindset in general. I’ll point out, “There isn’t anything we can do about it now, we know why it happened, and we know how to prevent it in the future.” If the lifter needs a few minutes to be pissy about it, I’ll give them that time, but then I’ll ask them forget about it. At nationals this year, Chris missed his third squat — something that I felt he really took pride in because of the progress he made on the lift in the last year (he has squatted 644 in competition). Chris really takes failures hard and was brooding, and this was the quote I used in the post recapping that meet:

“I know you’re pissed and upset about squat, but we still have the rest of the meet. It’s time to step up and be a competitor — we can worry about that shit later, but let’s put all our focus into getting good reps on the bench and deadlift. Go take a walk and let it go on the walk. When you come back, let’s fucking have fun and compete.”

Chris was pissed for a couple more minutes, took a short walk, came back focused, PR’d on bench, hit a really funny posing routine in the warm-up room, and then he summoned the demons for a PR deadlift of 666 pounds — the devil’s number — on his third attempt.

This may not be necessary in a training session, but if I need to, I’ll set a short-term parameter for the lifter to be pissed, and then we’ll wipe the slate clean and focus on what’s ahead instead of brooding on the past.

Lastly, I will put things in perspective. This is typically only needed with women because they have trouble with failure (they get really pissed and upset). I will show them the big picture and detail how far they have progressed. Women typically lift in the moment and are concerned with progress from their relative position and often ignore the fact that they are lifting twice as much weight (for reps) as they could when they started. This is usually combined with a “well done” speech and giving them a verbal pat-on-the-back for how far they’ve come. In all honesty, I think i’s impressive when a girl who couldn’t squat 90 pounds is now squatting 180 for reps. I think that’s really cool and something that 99% of women in the world are unable to do. I’ll usually point out that nobody in the building is capable of such a feat (typically true in a public fitness gym).

Failure is a regular part of lifting. It helps us learn how to improve physically, but it’s a marker of psychological success that can’t be emulated until it happens. It helps us diagnose the problem and fix it, but it helps us grow stronger mentally by not letting it get in the way of a training session, a meet, or progress. Failure also gives us a moment to sit on the mountain of success we’ve built, look down the trail we’ve traveled, and say, “Damn, I have come a long way.”

43 thoughts on “Getting Girls To Train – 5

  1. I’m going to add something that is true for me and every other female I’ve trained with. Crying easily is simply a product of having more estrogen. I have a lot of trans friends and I’ve seen this change both ways.

    Dudes you need to realize that tears do not mean the same thing to a woman as they do to you. some of us cry at the drop of a hat. It is not a big deal. Usually the best thing to do is give her space to recover and ignore it. It is hugely embarrassing to burst into tears in front of other people as an adult woman. Give her the space to recover the same way you would for a pissed off dude and let it go.

    Trust me.

  2. Good timing on this, as I failed a big lift just this morning when I missed a 185 squat. I didn’t cry but it absolutely pissed me off and disappointed me. My coach told me what I did wrong, and you can bet I’ll make sure the same mistake doesn’t happen again.

  3. Yeah, I’d like to echo Whiskeyjack’s comment and add to it a little bit. As Justin notes, not all women respond to failure this way (I usually throw shit). But when I have cried in front of dudes (at work, totally embarrassing), they usually have no idea how to react. But it might be helpful for dudes to know that this is just how some women respond when they’re super frustrated with themselves. It’s just the equivalent of throwing down your weights and acting pissy for a few minutes. Nothing special about it. Best to just be cool about it, because nobody wants to be The Girl That Cried at the Gym.

  4. Yay for crying! Ok, really, yay for talking about crying. The only time I cried at a gym (so far) was at the Starting Strength seminar of all places. I had aggrevated a recent injury, was in pain, frustrated with the lift we were working on and generally over-tired/worked/mentally exhausted/etc. Juli from WFAC was coaching me at the time and I just excused myself to get some water / walk it out. Juli came over and said ‘are you crying from pain or are you upset?’ I said ‘a little of both’. She just said ‘you’re doing a great job, relax and come back when you’re ready’. I shook it off and finished the day. She handled it perfectly and I was really thankful to her for it.

    Also +1 for whiskeyjack’s comments. The first one at least :)

  5. Justin, how do you deal with persistent stalling/failing on TM? (All lifts, but mostly squat) The ebook mentions manipulating VD but that isn’t working for me. The options I see are:

    1) Reset ID back 10% like in SS
    2) Take a deload or week off?
    3) Just deal with the slowed progress and accept a failure every 2nd or 3rd week?
    4) Something I haven’t thought of?

    I believe my diet is not the problem. Thanks dude!

    What is your VD and ID at? How long have you been on your current set up?


  6. I get bummed out when I don’t hit numbers I would like. Then I realize that my strength training will be a lifelong pursuit and I’m really in no hurry.

    Today was an anti-fail for me, I’ll call it my PR monday.

    got my full 3×5 press @120# PR
    felt so good I did 2 more reps @130, also PR

    got a legit 3x5x170# on the
    squat too. But once again, I have to C&J the weight to my back, do my 5 reps, and get it off of me without dying.

    Justin, I’m doing your V2.0 program as best I can, but do not have a squat rack. I was thinking I would do 170 once a week, and the other day I would work on 3×10 of a more manageable (safer) weight. Do you think this would be a good idea until either a) I get a squat rack off of craigslist, or b) the school fitness center opens up in the Spring. I guess squatting 135# every week is better than nothing.

    Can you build a rack? If not, just front squat instead. Make sure you do RDLs regularly, especially if front or high bar squatting.


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  8. Thanks for the reply Justin, my squat VD is 264# and ID is at 341 – I only got 3 reps last week, was going for 5, hopefully will get the 5 this friday

  9. I’ve seen the last couple posts about getting girls to train and thought about commenting, but after seeing the last post, I had to say something. As a girl that has been CrossFiting/lifting for the last year and a half, I want to ask, “Who the fuck has cried after failing a lift?! Are you fucking serious?!” Yes, women tend to be more timid about attacking lifts and, thus, PRs. But most of us are not emotionally fragile nitwits. If I miss a lift, I get mad, try to refocus myself and attack the shit out of it the next time. To make a blanket statement like, “Lastly, I will put things in perspective. This is typically only needed with women because they have trouble with failure (they get really pissed and upset)” is misogynistic and ridiculously simplistic. Only women have difficulty with failure? I’ve seen so many guys go lighter than me on workouts, in the name of saving face and not failing.

    I don’t mean to be an asshole. I love the website and am a regular reader. I just think it’s a little condescending to think that a man knows the best way to get girls to train. Why not have a woman write this series instead?

    Look, I’m not going to explain to everyone one of you women that it isn’t always about YOU. I’ve coached a lot of women, and even the good lifters — the ones who are mechanically efficient and have been training for a while — will get upset about missing a PR or something. It isn’t all about you, and I’m not just drawing off of the experience of coaching one fucking female. I’m young, but I’ve done this for a while.

    Women, please remember the god damn big picture.


  10. “In b4 fake Spar and real TBone.” Fucking rolling. I can’t believe I didn’t read this post. But, Renee is right. I’ve cried in the gym more than once, and usually the whole world knows when it happens.

  11. As a lady who has been known to cry (just a little) on occasion after failing in a number of athletic contexts, I appreciated the post Justin. Fact is, it happens to lots of women (and some dudes) and is not that big of a deal or a sign of being an “emotionally fragile nitwit.” And as the post pointed out, the most important issue for a trainee or trainer is figuring out a good strategy for fixing the problem and not letting the failure ruin the rest of the workout/day/whatever.

    Thanks for the comment. It’s also important to note that guys won’t necessarily cry, but they will act all broody and moody if they miss lifts. The same principles apply to everyone.


  12. I will admit, I watched the facebook rant and had to come on here to see what all of the hype was about.

    I have been lifting for a LONG time and let me tell you, I have shed some tears on that barbell dammit. Some days, you just can’t help it and the flood gates open. I will say that most of the time, after a good cry (I’ll go away in a room or something so no one sees it and then come back), I can kick the living snot out of the weights. An extra boost of adrenaline, IMO. I will say that I have never seen a man do that. So maybe +1 for women in that area!

    Justin, I think you should stay calm because most of us love your posts and we thank you for caring about us. Please keep posting about females and please keep the big booty pictures to a maximum! I like the woman in the last few posts. Strong and sensual. Thanks!

  13. Justin, thanks for the reply.
    I just re-read your RDL post from a while back, and we’re going to need to see some Shanna .gifs, you know, for clarity. I’ll be adding them in on tuesdays, most likely. Also might sub in front squats once a week as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I’m going to be scouring garage sales for a squat rack, and if that fails, I may just have to get some lumber.

  14. In my experience women seem to take lifting more personally (or at least visibly so). Instead of a missed lift being just a missed lift, a woman is more likely to turn it into a referendum on her self-worth: she’s not working hard enough, she sucks at lifting, she’s too mentally weak, she’s just plain a weak person who will always be weak and this missed lift is symbolic of the failure that is her in the weight room. It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

    You’ll also get a lot more overthinking. If you get into a conversation with a woman about a missed lift you’re way more likely to hear a long serious of theories on all of the ways she sucks and what went wrong and everything she feels weak in and needs to work on. You talk to a guy, he’ll most likely be the one saying “Eh, it happens” or give one, maybe two reasons. And often those reasons are lifestyle (“not enough sleep”, “drank too much beer”) rather than an admission of particular muscular or form weaknesses. And if he missed it because he’s a headcase, good luck getting him to even consider that issue.

    Because of the overthinking, I actually prefer to dwell less on “This is what went wrong”, except for maybe a very simple cue. I find breaking down everything that went wrong will only mess with an overthinking lifter’s head more. I tend to put more emphasis on treating the missed lift as not a very big deal–something that happens all the time and reminding the lifter that there will be many, many other lift attempts in their future. Missed lifts are a totally normal, expected part of lifting and are simply ways to identify weaknesses rather than proof of anything about the lifter themselves.

    The flipside of women thinking poorly of themselves is they also take advice better and struggle ten times harder than many guys. They assume that they’re weak, so they work hard as hell to address whatever issue. Guys seem to be more reluctant to admit weakness, so if you point out he’s got pansy triceps or his squat form blows chunks he’ll give you a long list of reasons why he doesn’t need your advice and it’ll take a month before he actually sucks it up and starts focusing on what’s wrong.

    My perspective, anyway.

  15. @khimiya: “Instead of a missed lift being just a missed lift, a woman is more likely to turn it into a referendum on her self-worth: she’s not working hard enough, she sucks at lifting, she’s too mentally weak, she’s just plain a weak person who will always be weak and this missed lift is symbolic of the failure that is her in the weight room. It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.”

    This is actually one of the most pathetic posts I have ever read here. If you really do coach women, you should stop now.

  16. You do realize I’m not saying those things are true, right? That I’m trying to express the mindset of a lifter who sees a missed lift as proof that they have no worth as an athlete rather than a missed lift as simply a missed lift?

    That kind of mindset is not limited to women nor do all women have it, but I see it more often in women then men.

  17. Long time lurcher,and first comment.
    These getting girls to train posts are great.

    That rant video you posted about the 1-2 crazy girls commenting was the best video I’ve watched in a long time. That is all.

  18. @khimiya – My point is, you’re not in someone’s brain to know what they’re actually thinking. I know plenty of people who have said, “I suck at lifting” when they get mad about missing a lift, but it’s not some grand statement about their self worth.

    I agree with both of you, but it isn’t a relevant enough comment to make on the site. Some people — male or female — may let something small affect their self esteem or self efficacy. It’s not common enough to even discuss it though, so let’s end the convo.


  19. Let’s try reading my comment again, and practice our comprehension:

    “I’m trying to express the mindset of a lifter who sees a missed lift as proof that they have no worth as an athlete rather than a missed lift as simply a missed lift?”

    In no way have I said that:
    – singular expressions of frustration are ALWAYS indicative of attaching lifting to self-worth
    – women ALWAYS attach lifting to self-worth

    I said they were MORE LIKELY to attach it to their self-worth. Yes, I have seen women overthink and miss lifts they should have made because of overthinking and self-doubt far more than I have seen men. As I addressed in my original comment.

    Nor was that comment addressed to you yourself specifically, commenter TBone, so I fail to see why you are taking it as a personal attack?

  20. Also, before I get labeled as a terrible woman-hater please also note the part of my comment that addresses that because women tend to be more humble athletes they’re more likely to train harder then men.

  21. @khimiya – I am not taking it as a personal attack at all. And, I did read your statement, and I don’t think your a terrible woman-hater. I’m just reading the first paragraph that you wrote, and as a coach, I don’t think you can infer what someone’s self-worth is based on what you see in the gym. “she’s not working hard enough, she sucks at lifting, she’s too mentally weak, she’s just plain a weak person who will always be weak and this missed lift is symbolic of the failure that is her in the weight room.” That’s the part that I’m commenting on. I think that part is ridiculous, not just from personal experience.

    Oh, dudes, see my previous comment on the comment, but this is a dead issue. End of convo.


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