There are all sorts of misconceptions about how men and women “should” be training, and what they are and aren’t capable of.
Truthfully, while there are obvious differences between men and women that have to be accounted for when it comes to training, most of those differences are opportunities for improvement, rather than being hindrances.
On this episode, we’ve got Al and Grace Kavadlo co-hosting, to talk with Ryan about the differences they’ve seen with their male and female training clients, and their own training differences as two top names in the calisthenics world.
Here’s a little snippet of their discussion:
“For the men, I would say embrace the bridge, and for the women I would say work towards that one pull-up, man, and get those pushup reps in.”
- (00:30) Who is Grace Kavadlo, and how did she get started with Calisthenics?
- (04:00) The Kavadlos see the different strengths between men and women as a challenge to better their training.
- (11:20) It doesn’t matter if you are a man or women, in the end it all comes down to your goals.
- (16:35) There are many sides to training and they should be balanced. Grace has gotten very strong and in 2016 she hopes to get back to her flexible self.
- (23:31) Advice for a man or women just getting back into movement and training.
Al and Grace Kavadlo are separately, and together, two of the leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics.
Grace (Menendez) Kavadlo is a personal trainer, PCC Team Leader, group fitness instructor, fitness model, and blogger. She is certified in Progressive Calisthenics (PCC), Hardstyle Kettlebells (HKC), Yoga (CYT) and Massage Therapy (CMT).
Al is the author of four books, including Stretching Your Boundaries and Pushing The Limits!, and is also known for his work in the popular Convict Conditioning book series. As the lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC), Al gets to bring his unique coaching style to fitness trainers and enthusiasts around the globe.
Ryan: Hey, everybody. Welcome to this episode of the show. On this episode, it’s my pleasure to have the Kavadlo’s on the show. Grace and Al, how are you guys doing?
Al: Hey, there.
Grace: Hey, how are you?
Ryan: I’m good, I’m good. Today, actually, we’ve got Grace on. The reason why is we’re going to be talking about some of the differences between men and women when we’re training. First off, for those of you who don’t know much about Grace, Grace, can you just give us a little quick intro about yourself?
Grace: Absolutely. I’m a personal trainer and group fitness instructor here in New York City. Basically, I specialize in calisthenics. That’s my favorite. I took Al’s PCC certification and became completely obsessed with bodyweight training. Big fan of the GMB brand, as well, man. Thank you for those tutorials, they are amazing.
Ryan: Thank you. How about … Can I ask you a big, big favor? If you could squeeze a little closer to Al so we can get you in frame there, thank you so much.
Grace: No problem.
Ryan: Today’s topic, over the next 20, 30 minutes, we’re going to be talking about some of the differences between men and women in training. Just right off the bat, I think it’s really cool that the two of you are training together. My wife, love her to death, but we don’t really exercise together, that’s not our thing. We do enjoy snowboarding together, but we don’t work out together. That was just kind of our thing in order to make sure that our marriage was …
Al: That was a good decision, actually.
Grace: It is true.
Ryan: Yeah. I want to know a little bit about that, as far as you guys, when you’re working out, do you, the majority of the time, are you working out together? Do you separate things off? I’d really like to hear a little bit more about how you guys do things.
Al: I feel like a lot of the time that the best workouts that we have together kind of happen somewhat spontaneously, not, “Okay, Tuesday at 4:00, we’re going to do this workout,” but we’re just in the living room and just, Grace will start messing around with, “Oh, I saw this move on this YouTube thing, let me try it.” I’m like, “That’s cool, let me try it,” and then before I know it we’re just going on and trying a whole lot of stuff. Sometimes when we try to go into it, I feel like we’re too much of a plan, then we start arguing about, “No, I want to do this thing, I want to do that thing,” so we just have to treat it like playtime.
Grace: It’s true, and then we branch off and do our own thing. I guess we do a mix of both. We do a little bit of … We focus on, “We’re going to do a bit of these exercises.” “Great”. Then we’ll be like, “Coach me on this one,” so we hold each other accountable, and whatnot. It helps, having some other pair of eyes on your forearm, and sometimes I get better and he tells me. So much critique on my form, but, you know. Most of the time, it’s good.
Al: Grace was a lot more open to my coaching before she was my wife.
Grace: It’s true.
Al: t’s funny how that happens.
Ryan: I’ve heard a lot about … Yeah. That’s a lot. Being in Japan, a big thing with the language, of course, there’s a language difference, and a big thing … It’s kind of like this unspoken rule, of sorts, I guess, that if you marry a Japanese person, then you don’t really become their language instructor. You kind of make sure that it’s not that.
Al: What if you were their language instructor first, then?
Ryan: You know what, that’s a difficult one, I guess. I guess you have to draw that line, but it is good to see the two of you being able to do this, and some of the … I’m going to come back that you said kind of play, and not have it so structured that it kind of drives you crazy, but along those lines, what are some of the things that you do like to practice together? Obviously, calisthenics and things like that, but let’s say maybe there is a particular move, Al, that you’re working on, and then maybe, Grace, like you said, you help him out. How does that work? Can you guys spot each other, or … When you’re doing things like that? Little more in-depth is what I’m asking, because as we go into our chat today, some of the differences between men and women … There might be some major ones, but I don’t think that there’s a particular thing that a woman can’t do that only men can kind of do, and I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts regarding particular skills that you might work on, Al, that, Grace maybe you’re interested in doing, as well.
Al: I feel like what you’re saying, the two things kind of go together, because obviously men and women do have somewhat different abilities and certain things that might be more better tailored to their natural body type, or what have you. A lot of the stuff that Grace and I work on together tends to be stuff where the playing field is kind of even. Grace is really, really strong in her upper body, but I’m stronger than her in the upper body, and if … Because I’m a dude, and I have [inaudible 00:04:58] and stuff, so sometimes if we’re doing pullup workouts together, she’ll get frustrated because she can’t keep up with me, but when we do something like back bridges, or hand stands, or squats, and then it’s like, we’re pretty even on those things, so those are probably the things that we train together the most, I think.
Grace: It’s true. Even just today, he was like, he set up a challenge. He’s all of a sudden really into working back bends and back bridges, and whatnot, so he did it, and I was like … I’ve been kind of neglecting my own practice, too. With that, I feel like the stronger I got in my upper body, I lost a little bit of flexibility, and so he just kind of like, “I’ve decided to work on our bridges,” and I was like, “All right, me too. I’m in.” It’s very motivating.
Al: It goes back to the conversation you and I were having last week, Ryan, about working those basics, and continuing to refine them. People out there might be surprised, like, “Al thinks he needs to work on his bridges? Bridge looks pretty good.” It’s like, no, I’ve got to really get it perfectly. That’s my new obsession, is my bridge has to be next level.
Ryan: That’s cool, just listening, because, Grace, I know, because you’ve got a fantastic bridge, I’ve seen pictures and things, so that’s cool, because, Al, that’s a good motivational tool for you, to do that, and likewise switching it up. Let’s go back and talk a little bit about those, some of the differences, and how you mentioned, obviously, we’ve got a little bit more testosterone than the females, am I right, but what are some other major differences that you see that … I don’t want to say that would necessarily hold a person back, because I don’t want to make it a negative, because I think there are certain things where women are better. A good example: rock climbing. One of my favorite rock climbers … I’m going old-school, here … Lynn Hill. Lynn Hill, this is way back, late 80s, early 90s, she was amazing, and she credited her climbing to the fact that she didn’t quite have, obviously, the similar build as the men, she’s a very small lady, and so she was focused more on using her legs better in order to help her climb, and things like that, and so if we can talk a little bit about the two of you when you’re working out, some of, maybe, the things that you see, the major differences when working similar skills, and how you need to maybe make some adjustments and change things up in order to make it work better for the both of you.
Al: One thing that I find is, with the handstand stuff, something I’ve been working on a lot, and part of why I want to do so much more bridge work is you know if you want to get a really straight handstand your shoulders have to be really, really open, a lot more than I think people realize. I know for me, as a guy, that’s a challenge, whereas I don’t think that’s as much of a concern for a lot of women when they do handstands. I know it’s not as much of a concern for Grace. Conversely, I can hold it for longer, I can do handstand pushups. She’s pretty good at handstand pushups, too, but the strength for women, sometimes, on that, can be more of a challenge. Also, Grace has much better mobility in her hips and her hamstrings. She can get up into it easier, I have to do a bent-arm press or kind of kick explosively, and that’s the other thing that’s still kind of lingering out there for me to one day conquer, is that straight-on press to ham stand.
Grace: Oh man.
Ryan: Basically, really just from what you said there, generally, is looking at flexibility compared to strength, and so this is something that I do find with a lot of my students, as well, a couple of the G&B trainers out there, I’m just like, “I wish I had that flexibility” kind of thing. Do you find this as well, Grace, when you, not just you, but when you’re working with your clients and your students, and things like that, looking at the women compared to the men, is this a general thing that you find?
Grace: Absolutely. The women, there’s women that I have that find themselves, they’re there for weight loss, or working on mat, but then it’s like, they’ll do a bridge and they’ll just pop right into it like nothing, and I’m like, “Girl, do you know what you just did? That’s amazing.” To them, it’s like something they’ve been able to do forever. Then, contrast I have with a man doing that, who’s deadlifting big amount of weight, and we’re squatting and doing everything, but he finds the bridge to be a big challenge, like that … I guess all the muscle in the front is a little bit inhibiting for a guy.
Al: More pulling your back the other way.
Grace: Exactly. Just naturally flexible, women are, and they’re stronger in their legs, they’re super strong in their squats. Pistol squats are a challenge, though, for everybody, I feel, across the board, but I find I’ve been able to teach it successfully to women faster than I have to a man, for some reason.
Al: I think something that you said, too, is kind of interesting, the psychology of it. She mentioned a lot of these women can do a bridge, and they don’t think it’s a big deal, and they don’t want to play it up, whereas sometimes a guy will get a PR and just, “I just did this thing, I’m so awesome.”
Ryan: It’s true.
Al: I think you tend to see more modesty from female clients, and sometimes it’s almost detrimental because … We were talking about this before: sometimes women don’t think they can do things, like, “Okay, we’re going to work on a pushup,” like, “Really, a pushup? Isn’t that a guy’s exercise? Can I do that? Little old me?” It’s like, “Yeah, little old you, you can do that. Absolutely.”
Ryan: That’s a really good point, and I think … Actually, it kind of leads into the next question that I had, at looking at some of the goals, maybe, and again, I’m not trying to say that guys and gals should have different goals, but I think simply the fact that a lot of women think that they can’t do a particular, or they maybe shouldn’t be doing something actually changes the way that they look and perceive particular goals, and so what … When you’re working … Going back to some of your clients, Grace, when you’re working with them, I’m interested to hear what some of their goals are, and I’m sure in your case that you’re helping to change their mindset, and letting them know that they can do anything out there. I’m interested to hear when you have people who come in, what are some of the general kind of ideas and goals that they’re having?
Grace: I work in a big box gym, and a lot of my clients are working professionals, so they don’t really have, per se, a specific fitness goal yet, so when I do the initial assessment, it will be like, “I want to lose weight here, I want to tone up,” not much talk about what builds muscle or get my first pistol squat. As I work with them, I try to draw them out, but I know automatically, off the bat, most women, every woman needs a prescription of pushups and pullups, some variations of either movement, because that tends to be … I don’t want to say weak link, but a less strong link in the chain, and I feel like once they start to dial up that upper body matching the lower body strength, I feel like they become more balanced. Every woman should be able to do several pushups; every woman should be able to do at least one pullup. That’s a big game-changer. Big game-changer, so …
Al: I think a lot of the time, too, when you take a female who comes into it with a little bit of a meek attitude, and you get them to the point where they can do a pullup, it’s really empowering, and you start to see that confidence taking over in other parts of their lives. It’s unfortunate, a lot of times in our culture … It’s less and less the case now, moving into 2016, but women are often put in a situation where they feel like they can’t be the dominant person, they can’t speak up, and when they get to have that experience in the gym, where it’s like, “All right, I can,” or in the park, if you’re not training in the gym, “I can do this thing, I am a powerful person.” It can sometimes have a very deep interchange, as well as the outward manifestation of their arms looking better, getting more toned.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s all about looking good naked, right?
Grace: That’s right, what else?
Al: The more confident you are with that, that helps you look better naked, too.
Ryan: That’s absolutely right. This is really good, and of course, all of the three of us, it’s preaching to the choir right here, but why are we dong this? It isn’t just so we can do more pullups, or something like that, it’s having that, like we like to talk about in G&b, that physical autonomy in being able to not own your body, but get a better understanding of it so you can do the stuff, whatever you want, whether it be to exercise more, if that’s really what you want to do, or to go out and enjoy surfing, or whatever. It really doesn’t matter. I think this is really good. As far as looking at women and the men, what would you say, though, is, besides testosterone and things like that, the biggest difference as far as getting women to exercise? There’s a lot of guys, and they’ll go and they’re like, “I need to go to the gym,” and that kind of thing, which I’m not into, but I don’t see a lot of women doing that. They’re like …
Al: I feel like it’s less about getting women to exercise, and more about getting them to embrace strength training.
Al: I think a lot of women who job or take a spin class, or just do little pink dumbbells, but to really embrace real, true strength training is what’s missing from a lot of females. I think, actually, there’s probably more women in most gyms than men, they’re just not in the strength training areas.
Ryan: That makes sense. I could totally see that. It’s the case over here in Japan, as well. Sometimes I’ll go to the gym, and whether it be me teaching a class, or something like that, and that’s what it is. You’re right, it’s not over in the strength area, using the weights, or whatever, it’s mainly doing the classes and things, and I don’t think that’s wrong; I just think it’s interesting that it’s a lot different. I’ll typically be the guy who wants to go to the classes because I’ve never done that kind of stuff, and I’m always looking to try new stuff, but that’s me.
Al: I have taken a class. I know. Grace and I have both taught fitness classes.
Ryan: That’s right, that’s right.
Grace: Do they have Zumba in Japan?
Ryan: Zumba’s big right now, it really is.
Grace: Is it?
Ryan: It’s funny, because there’s a lot of people who will rip on Zumba and stuff like that, and I’m like, “I think it’s great. If it gets somebody off the couch, if it gets them moving, if they enjoy it, do it.”
Al: I think it’s a great way to do some strength training, right?
Ryan: Exactly, right. Exactly.
Al: Maybe after the Zumba class a trainer will approach them and say, “Hey, can you do a pushup? You want to try?”
Grace: It’s a nice way to supplement their training if they already are doing strength training. All my clients, I encourage them like, “Oh, can I do this class?” I’m like, “Yeah, go do jogging pilates, or whatever it is you want to do. Do it.” I think any way to move, like you were saying, is just so important, to get them accustomed to the fact that it’s not a hobby, it’s a habit.
Ryan: That’s good. It’s something like the other … You get to do it. You’ve got this body, you get to do it. Let’s see how you can be better at being in your body. I want to know, it’s 2016 now. What about you? Where do you want to go? What is your vision for women in training, Grace? That’s what I want to know.
Grace: For all women in general?
Ryan: Yeah, sure. Yourself, let’s hear about yourself. What are some of the things, like now, as we’re in this new year, what do you want to do with it? Where do you want to go with it?
Grace: I guess I found a lot of yang in my training. I went that whole strength training route, I’m like, yeah, I’m able to do one-armed pushup, yeah, I got my pullup numbers up, but now I’m trying to reel it back and use the female aspect of it, that yin, that flexibility, because I’m seeing these girls that are doing pole dancing … I don’t want to do pole dancing specifically, but they’re doing human flags, and they’re just super flexible, and I need to kind of go back and use my natural flexibility that’s … Starts to kind of combine it with my strength training, just to make it completely more well-rounded, and I guess for most girls I just want them to be doing more strength. I guess more women have to go the other way, they have to do more strength training, for sure, and I think calisthenics and bodyweight training is a gateway to that. It’s like an intermediate between not having to lift a ton of weight, and just use your own bodyweight to express movement, and be graceful, and get stronger.
Al: It’s funny to hear you say that, because we were just talking before about how most women need to do the opposite, but Grace was that person years ago, and then just said, “I’m going to get really, really strong,” and now she’s kind of turned into a dude, a little bit, where she’s really, really strong and she needs to …
Grace: Yeah, losing a lot of my flexibility.
Al: Needs to get her flexibility back.
Ryan: That’s good, and actually, it just reminded me of, talking about cycles, and looking at whether it be in nature or anything, it’s focusing on that one thing, and in order to get better at it, and then going back and focusing on the next thing that you need. It’s that balance, finding that balance, and this is something I’m talking about all the time with people, because like Al and I talked about the other day, everybody wants to do … I want to get my planks in, my one-armed chinup, and then I also want to do them at the same time.
Al: And run a marathon …
Ryan: Exactly. It’s like, “Okay, good luck with that.” Finding that balance, and I really like that, and your great example of the anti-chick, if you will, where it’s mainly the women right now are like, “I need to get strong, I need to get this particular thing,” where now you’re finding that you’re going back, and I think what’s really cool, and, once again, something Al and I did talk about, was going, whenever you’re going back to the basics, you’re not dropping down to go to the basics, but you’re moving back up. As you come into the basics, you’re rediscovering these basics on a new level. For you, though, what I would like to know is, what are your basics? I think for us, pretty much all the basics are similar, but what are some of your go-to moves that you enjoy doing?
Al: You don’t hear our dog barking in the background?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s perfectly fine.
Al: Just open the door, because, yes, it’s distracting us a little bit. That’s the danger of both of us being in the room with the door closed at the same time. We’ll let him in with us. Sorry about that.
Ryan: No worries, no worries.
Al: Just ask us that question again?
Ryan: Sure, no problem. Want to squeeze in a bit? All right: My question for you, then, is what is really your go-to movements? Obviously, everybody is going to have some different things, and I’m kind of veering away from the basics, because looking at the basics, I think some of the basics should be similar to everyone, but as far as you, when you go back to your flexibility work, or maybe you go and just want to work on something that day, enjoy it, work on your strength, what are some of your go-to moves?
Al: I think a couple of the moves that we do a lot, just for mobility throughout the day, are just two of the most basic moves from yoga: the up dog and the down dog. You get your whole front, your chain, and your whole back chain, and you can really target, if you want to do that down dog and focus on your hamstrings, you can really put it in your hamstrings. If you want to put it in your calves, put it in your calves, if you want to put it in your shoulders, put it in your shoulders. The up dog, same thing: you can get your neck, you can get your chest, you get your abs, you get your hip flexors, you get your quads. You really don’t have to, like I said, you don’t have to get too complicated. Those two basic stretches, which most people will do in their first day of yoga, those are things, we’ve both had those in our repertoire for a long time, and I still feel like a beginner when I do a down dog, and it’s the first one of the day, and I’m cold, my calves are tight, and I’m trying to walk it out.
Grace: Those are good ones. What else?
Al: Twist holds are always good. Always putting, those, and the bridge, of course. We were talking about that earlier. That’s one that I’ve … I didn’t really start doing a lot of bridge work until later on in my training. Pullups and pushups I did as a kid, pistols I started doing in my early 20s, but I never really took bridging seriously until my 30s, and of course by that point I was pretty tight already, so I feel like I have a long road to undo that, and to really try to catch up to some of the other skills, so anything that can help the bridge is definitely something that we’re going to keep working out, something that I’m going to keep working on.
Grace: Yeah. The squat is always good, hanging out in a squat. Those are pretty much our basic mobility stretches.
Ryan: This is good. I’m going to wrap it up, here, but I’m going to throw a couple questions at you. What’s the secret, as a couple, to keep working out together?
Al: You have to like it. I think it’s really a delicate thing, because you can’t pressure the other person. There are some mornings where I’m like … I’m more of a morning person than Grace. She needs to have her coffee; I wake up, I’m like, “Let’s train, let’s do this,” all over the place, and I’ve learned to back off or just … “How are you doing? You had your coffee? Okay, now let’s go train, let’s do our thing.” I have to try to not be too much of an aggressor with this sort of thing, and just sort of like, “You want to?” Like I said before, the workouts that we have that are the best are just very casual, and just, “I saw this thing, I want to try this,” and before you know it it’s a training session, not a pre-planned one.
Grace: Yeah, yeah. We discuss some of the moves beforehand, like, “Let’s see what you’re working on.” If we have similar goals, our essential moves that we’re working on, then we try to coach each other through them, and again, I have to get better at taking his criticisms, because I know he’s got a lot of knowledge, but sometimes I’m like, “I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear it, I just want to move, you know?”
Al: I’ll tell you what: sometimes she’ll be watching one of your videos and be like, “I got this really great pointer from Ryan.” I was like, “I gave you that same cue.”
Grace: I don’t even hear it. I don’t even hear it when he said it. I’m like, “I don’t remember. I know Ryan said it for sure.”
Ryan: That is hilarious: selective listening. I love it.
Grace: It’s true.
Ryan: That is so awesome. I apologize, Al. I hope it’s not a strain on your …
Al: No, I’m glad that it’s you. There’s other people who annoy me, but if it’s you, I’m like, “Listen to Ryan, he’s a good coach.”
Grace: He is. Seriously.
Ryan: That cracks me up. I love it, I love it. I completely forgot my next question, I was leading into this. Here we go: Looking at men and women, I’m going to ask you this, Al, and then Grace, this is one for you. What is your advice for a guy, and what is your advice for a gal if you’re just getting back into movement, exercise, whatever you want to do, where do you think you should start, and what should, mentally, your approach, what should it be? Al, you and I kind of talked about this the other day, but would love to hear your ideas about this as well.
Al: We’ve been talking a lot about the differences, but my advice would really be the same to both people in the beginning, which is just focus on squats, pushups, pullups, being consistent. What do you think?
Grace: For the men, I would say embrace the bridge, and for the women I would say work towards that one pullup, man, and get those pushup reps in. Those were big game-changers for me, and they do make you get abs, man. I hate when girls are like, “What exercise can I do to do my abs?” I’m like, “Pushup, pullup. Let’s go do it.” Definitely that.
Al: I feel like when Grace and I train people, a lot of the time we give them targeted, specific ab work just to appease them …
Grace: It’s true.
Al: We know they’re working their abs doing these other movements, but it’s like, “You want to feel the burn right here, we’re going to give you that. Fine, here it is.”
Ryan: That’s good, I love it. I love it. Thank you so much, guys, for being on, and it would be great to have you guys on again another time.
Al: It was a pleasure.
Ryan: Thank you. Looking forward to talk again, and keep having fun. That’s what it’s about, right?
Grace: Yeah. Thank you, Ryan, for having us, man.
Ryan: Thank you so much. All right, listeners: until next time, stay cool.
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