Beauty in Strength: How to Coach Women to Build Confidence & Muscles


With the relatively recent explosion of CrossFit, the CrossFit Games, and Reebok’s sponsorship of the sport, women are flocking to CrossFit and becoming equally, if not more, addicted as the men. CrossFit is creating a whole Nu Era of girl power as women are stepping up and laying it all out in the gym. We’re now seeing women who want to look less like a rail thin model, and more like a professional female athlete. Women today want muscles…they want beauty in strength.


We couldn’t be prouder of this newfound attitude and the goals that women are aspiring to achieve.  But not all women that walk through the CrossFit doors immediately start crushing PR’s and making their goals a reality. Oftentimes there’s a lot more holding your female members back than you might think. We’d like to discuss coaching women and any unique challenges coaches may face in relating to and motivating women in the gym.  We also want to highlight the differences between men and women so coaches can absorb this knowledge and better utilize it in the gym to get more out of their female members.

Now for our disclaimer, obviously all women are different and we cannot fairly throw them all into one category. With that said, this post is talking about the coaching the average female crossfitter, not a top level or professional female athlete. Sure, it’s awesome when you, as a coach, have the opportunity to coach, shape and mold some serious competitors. It’s really amazing to be a part of that. But that’s not why we’re all here.  We didn’t start start crossfitting or coaching with the end goal of only working with the best, rather we wanted to be an ambassador and spread the word about crossfit, helping the regular people out there reach their goals and get in the best shape of their lives. This is especially so for women.

Their needs aren’t any less important than the men’s. This is something coaches need to remember.  To quote a catalyst athletics blogpost from this past November titled, “How to Coach Women,” Matt Foreman says, “Women need to be respected equally as athletes, I firmly believe this. But that also means they need to be pushed equally, with the same discipline and expectations you would have for male athletes. You’re not doing a female athlete any favors by treating her like a little princess. That’s what you’re supposed to do on a prom date, not in the gym. When you’re in the gym, it’s gotta be about hard work and intensity.”

We agree with this whole-heartedly. But how do you get your female members to unleash the beast within? The answer is to understand how they think and what they need from their coaches.  If coaches can start offering a different level of support to their female members, they might be able to spark a whole new level of fire breathers.

To better understand women in the gym, let’s take a look at why they were hesitant to join Crossfit in first place.  In the early days of crossfit, it appealed primarily to rough, tough men and was the choice of training for the military, law enforcement officers, and other extreme personalities. Aside from worrying about looking bulky, which still seems to be a common misconception today, what kept women away was intimidation. They thought they couldn’t perform the workouts or the movements.

We must remember, before crossfit exploded and took girl power by storm, what did the average girl do in the gym?  Perhaps they ran on the treadmill, spent time on the elliptical, lifted 5lb dumbbells, and casually sat down on the average piece of gym equipment that isolated their muscle groups. And sure this doesn’t encompass all girls…there are plenty of women who participated in more rigorous fitness routines, but most women probably didn’t do anything close to crossfit.

It is this reason that women might be more challenged at first; they’ve never been taught how to do lift weight, let alone perform Olympic lifts. They didn’t spend time in the weight room with their buddies trying to one up one another in a match of who had more testosterone and bigger balls. Women rallied together with their friends for support and played the buddy system at the gym and generally didn’t push too hard for fear of disapproval or coming off too manly.

Most women have never been conditioned to the idea of working out as men do. This is something that really needs to change in society and we think crossfit is making tremendous leaps and bounds in this arena as women are taking the sport of fitness seriously. But once you get women through the door, for many, the intimidation doesn’t go away right off the bat.

Working out in a crossfit gym with a bunch of conditioned athletes and seriously powerful men and women can be intimidating.  Most women worry too much about how they’ll look or become embarrassed by their weaknesses and end up going through the motions, not challenging themselves and pushing their training further. Unfortunately, in many gyms, this is where the cycle stays. It takes a truly devoted coach to recognize this and step up to empower and challenge their female athletes to be the people they wanted to be when they signed on the dotted line.

In the world of crossfit coaching, sometimes men are still from Mars and women are still from Venus, so coach appropriately! In all seriousness, there may be fundamental differences in how we coach and tackle motivation in male and female athletes.  To dive into this further, we enlisted help from the renowned book and #1 New York Times Bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray, Ph.D. to further analyze the differences between men and women.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is a relationship self help book. But the reason it’s helped millions of people to date is the very simple, no nonsense, and comical way the author relates men and women to aliens living on different planets. It says, “Not only do men and women communicate differently, but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently. They almost seem to be from different planets, speaking different languages and needing different nourishment.”

When we understand this, we can tap into the best ways to approach both genders and get across information. This is especially so when trying to teach and condition individuals for fitness, a topic that is already laden with insecurities, doubts and fears for women.

According to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, men primarily are focused on achieving results and are fulfilled through success and accomplishment. Women are more focused on supporting, helping and nurturing and are fulfilled through sharing and relating.

When it comes to the gym, most men will work to achieve the results they want. They won’t over analyze and think too much about things.  They’ll just do what they came there to do; there is little thinking, and more doing. Men are logical creatures.

Women on the other hand are emotional creatures. They will let their own heads get in the way. They will worry about how they look or what others think and they will most likely be too hard on themselves.  They will likely over analyze most things and spend more time thinking instead of doing.

When coaching women, you need to remember 5 main points:

·      They need to feel like you, as their coach, care and have faith in them

·      They need you to be understanding of their needs and feelings

·      They want to be respected equally as the men

·      They want their needs validated

·      They need reassurance and support to help motivate

To really drive these points home, let’s look at some examples in the gym:

If a female athlete doesn’t push as hard as she ought to, don’t assume she’s not as interested in CrossFit and spend your time refining other members who seem to want it more. She may be staying in her own comfort zone and hiding under her own insecurities and needs the right coach to bring out her best. Girls that aren’t interested in CrossFit won’t sign up and actually go to class. You may just have a case of a female who has yet to realize her full potential and needs a confidence boost.

If you find yourself coaching and critiquing a female and it’s obvious it’s not clicking, please don’t give up. This scenario usually plays out when you don’t know what else to say so you muster up a fake smile and say the word, “betterrrr” as you walk away to someone else more promising. Remember, this woman may have never lifted weights in her life and perfecting Olympic lifts is something that is going to take time, patience, and a good eye.  Please take the time to work with this athlete and breakdown the movements and dissect them step-by-step.  Do whatever it takes to help her succeed and feel less like she’s the only one not getting it.

If you consistently pass over a female athlete and don’t spend much time getting to know her, her goals, and pushing her for the better, she will notice. This is women were talking about! And as a woman, she might take it the wrong way and feel worse about herself for not being someone the coach wants to spend time on, and might be more hesitant to ask for help next time.

Please take a vested interest in your female members. Find out their goals. But more importantly, find out what’s holding them back if they haven’t reached them.

Women need reassurance and feedback.  Make sure to tell them what a great job their doing, and show them how they are so much stronger mentally and physically than they think they are.  Once you put your time, energy, and faith into your female athletes, you will see a new and improved level of confidence all around which will set them up to start busting their ass in each and every WOD.

You as a coach have the ability to improve upon their health and fitness but you can be so much more. You can help women to unlock their true potential and power. There is nothing more rewarding than helping females, who are under so much pressure from today’s media and society, to gain confidence and feel beauty in strength.

You’re female members will respect you for this. They’ll be eternally grateful that you were able to have faith in them and they will return the favor.  One of the best traits about women is their need for communication, sharing and cultivating relationships. They will be your voice and one of your strongest advocates, helping to passionately spread the good word about crossfit and your box to potential new members.

With the right coaching, crossfit community and support system, you can help to unleash this inner girl power amongst all your female athletes. Challenge the voices in their head that told them, “they’re just a girl” and “they can’t do this.” Watch the transformation as a new woman emerges, there will be nothing they can’t accomplish.