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I think this is Part 6 of our Female Fitness Myth Podcast, but I have long ago lost count!! In this installment, we bust the idea that there’s only one way to breath during weight lifting, that because the menstrual cycle doesn’t affect performance it doesn’t affect training, and that women aren’t as strong/fast as men…

That because the menstrual cycle has no bearing on performance it doesn’t impact training…

I’ve got news for all the personal trainers that are confused about what we do. What we do in our session is NOT performance. What we do it training. Performance is the Olympics, or the World Champs, or Sunday afternoon’s golf meet – performance is the competition, the measure of how effective your training is.

Our clients do not “perform” in each and every session, and as such, when a research paper concludes that the menstrual cycle has no impact on performance, that is not the same as saying it has no impact on training capacity.

Most trainers throw the “cycle doesn’t affect performance” out there as “proof” that they don’t need to cycle their training protocols to sync with their female client’s menstrual cycle, but there’s plenty of research that shows a woman’s body is different during each phase. While not syncing your training may not harm her, or her performance, it’s probably not getting the best from her either.

Here’s an example. Women are less sensitive to insulin in their luteal phase, this is because Oestrogen increases our insulin sensitivity, while progesterone decreases it1. When someone is less sensitive to insulin, it means their blood sugar gets higher before the body reacts to insulin secreted to lower the blood sugar. This is a naturally occurring, optimal set of circumstances to sub-maximal endurance training, which in turn will lower blood sugar.

If you’re a trainer, and not a once-a-year performance coach, then you’ll be adjusting your intensities, volume, and training protocols in week to week, session to session anyway – you might as well lower the intensity and increase the volume of her training in the phase where she’s optimally set up for it.

There’s only one “proper” way of cuing and technique for any exercise

For this one I need to tell you a story. I’ve started working at a gym, and I’m working someone else’s program for the first time in my life! Taylor and I coach different breath patterns for lifting, and she pulled me aside early on in my journey at Precision, asking for an explanation about our seemingly contradictory cues.

She coaches a breath hold for heavy weights, where I cue an exhale. Neither are wrong; it’s actually all about priorities. A Valsalva breath only holds pressure and stability through the core if the core is functional2.

With 80% of women experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction is that a safe assumption?? In addition, the pelvic floor (ie. The deep core) is an expiratory muscle group, meaning it naturally lifts on an exhale. Holding the breath in an inspiratory pattern (ie. Breathing IN and holding) is counter-intuitive for the pelvic floor muscles, placing extra stress on them. This, in and of itself isn’t necessarily “bad” or “wrong”, but it’s a problem if she’s heavy lifting, under excessive strain, and her pelvic floor muscle group cannot meet the challenge3.

The valsalva breath also increases blood pressure. With heart disease and blood pressure disorders affecting so many peri to post menopausal women, is it a safe coaching method?

Furthermore, there’s no difference in power output or thoracic stability between a valsalva breath or a forced exhale; so if you’re training women, and heart health, managing blood pressure, and managing intra abdominal pressure is therefor a priority, then the forced exhale is the way to go4 5.

With our differing clients populations and differing priorities, it makes sense that Taylor and I would cue differently; she’s focused on training men and women to lift healthily and as heavy as she can. I am focused on rehabilitating a bunch of women from back and pelvic dysfunctions towards heavy(er) lifting in a safe and healthy way. For me, this means i’m managing intra-abdominal pressure, not adding to it, because I already know there’s a proverbial “hole” in their core “bucket”, I don’t want to push down through it.

So before you troll another trainer on social media, consider that your populations, priorities, and products may be different, and your way may not be the best way for all people.

That “holding in a wee” is pelvic floor exercise. Why we don’t like that cue AND why that is NOT pelvic floor exercise

What we need to think about when we are training our clients is what we are training is what we are training. That might sound obvious, but if you train someone to stop the flow of wee, then that’s what you’re training. There are two problems with this:

  1. We don’t want to stop a wee when we’re weeing. That’s dysfunctional.
  2. Stopping a wee is only one part of a five-layer, 14 distinct-muscle group. The pelvic floor also supports the internal organs, stabilises the pelvis, is involved in breathing, halts a fart, and heaps more!

So kudos to you for thinking about, talking about, and incorporating pelvic floor training in to your sessions, but don’t use this cue – or if you do, make sure they know it’s a cue and not to do it in real life, and incorporate other cues to target the posterior pelvic floor and other functions of the pelvic floor group.

Personally, I like me a visualisation that co-ordinates the whole group of muscles: 80’s drawstring bags, elephant trunks, elevators – whatever works for my client. Then I get them sitting, standing, and moving as soon as possible, all incorporating the pelvic floor, but never, ever, stopping the flow of wee.

That Women are Weaker, Slower, and “less able” than all men.

Legitimately not true. Like everything, there’s a spectrum. Perhaps 10% of all men are stronger than all women, and 10% of all women are weaker than all men, but the remaining 80% overlap6, and the individual’s ability will depend on things like:

  • how often they train
  • how well they fuel
  • sleep hygiene
  • hydration
  • training history
  • mindset
  • the gender gap in research and coach’s education on women7

In endurance events, the gap between men and women narrows the longer the event is, with men outperforming women in things like weight lifting by around 30%, this drops to 5% in swimming or running, and narrows again in marathon and ultramarathon8. Women will actually beat men in an ultra-ultramarathon9!

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. Women are better at lots of things – mobility, flexibility, endurance10 – but our “standards” of health and fitness are male-based, so we look like less. If we judged someone’s health on their ability touch toes their toes, all of a sudden it’s women that are healthier. If we judged their weight lifting capabilities based on the range of movement, rather than the actual weight, women would win that as well. And, if we factored relativity – ie, the size of the women versus the weight lifted, height jumped, speed ran – we’d even the numbers even more.

Women are also able to get stronger, more quickly than their male counterparts, and handle higher volumes of exercise than men without the same fatigue, and shorter rest times11. This means they’ll be able to perform more sets at high RM’s with less rest than their male counterparts, and gain higher relative strength results.

So I want you to be aware of your bias when you’re training women. Educate yourself on their bodies so that you give them the best chance possible, and don’t accept that they’ll lift less, jump less, go a shorter distance just because that is what you’ve been taught.

Catch up on the Female Fitness Myths we’ve busted to date, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 here! Or listen to our Female Fitness Myths Podcast here!



1Kumagai S, Holmäng A, Björntorp P. The effects of oestrogen and progesterone on insulin sensitivity in female rats. Acta Physiol Scand. 1993;149(1):91-97

2Hackett DA, Chow CM. The Valsalva maneuver: its effect on intra-abdominal pressure and safety issues during resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):2338-45. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827de07d. PMID: 23222073.

3Talasz, Helena & Kremser, Christian & Talasz, Heribert & Kofler, Markus & Rudisch, Ansgar. (2022). Breathing, (S)Training and the Pelvic Floor—A Basic Concept. Healthcare. 10. 1035. 10.3390/healthcare10061035.

4Ikeda ER, Borg A, Brown D, Malouf J, Showers KM, Li S. The valsalva maneuver revisited: the influence of voluntary breathing on isometric muscle strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):127-32. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eb256. PMID: 19050647; PMCID: PMC2883611.

5Blazek D, Stastny P, Maszczyk A, Krawczyk M, Matykiewicz P, Petr M. Systematic review of intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressures initiated by the Valsalva manoeuvre during high-intensity resistance exercises. Biol Sport. 2019 Dec;36(4):373-386. doi: 10.5114/biolsport.2019.88759. Epub 2019 Oct 17. PMID: 31938009; PMCID: PMC6945051. 6These are not real statistics!!

7Carveth, Jessy (2024) How the Gender Gap in Research is Preventing Female Runners from Reaching Their Full Potentiol, retrieved 6th May 2024 from

8Thibault V, Guillaume M, Berthelot G, Helou NE, Schaal K, Quinquis L, Nassif H, Tafflet M, Escolano S, Hermine O, Toussaint JF. Women and Men in Sport Performance: The Gender Gap has not Evolved since 1983. J Sports Sci Med. 2010 Jun 1;9(2):214-23. PMID: 24149688; PMCID: PMC3761733.

9Scholz H, Sousa CV, Baumgartner S, Rosemann T, Knechtle B. Changes in Sex Difference in Time-Limited Ultra-Cycling Races from 6 Hours to 24 Hours. Medicina (Kaunas). 2021 Sep 1;57(9):923. doi: 10.3390/medicina57090923. PMID: 34577846; PMCID: PMC8469116.

10Tiller NB, Elliott-Sale KJ, Knechtle B, Wilson PB, Roberts JD, Millet GY. Do Sex Differences in Physiology Confer a Female Advantage in Ultra-Endurance Sport? Sports Med. 2021 May;51(5):895-915. doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01417-2. Epub 2021 Jan 27. PMID: 33502701. 
11Nuckols, Greg (2024) Strength Training for Women: Setting the Record Straight, retrieved 10th May 2024 from