I see a lot of physique competitors post their workouts and listen to physique coaches discuss programming for their female clients. However, there’s always one common missing link that no one seems to be talking about. Before we get into it, let’s define physique-based goals for the majority of female competitors or female clients with aesthetic goals.
The aim is to create the illusion of an hourglass shape for aesthetic clients. You can typically accomplish this by concentrating hypertrophy training in the deltoids, lats, glutes, and thighs. I see a ton of glute and shoulder training in female physique programs. As a direct result, this style of training is then funneled down to general population clients working to create a similar look.
Here is where I think we as coaches can do better – we need to stop ignoring upper body presses for our female physique clients. Programming endless lateral raise variations will only take your athlete so far. By including more press work at different angles, you can develop a better-defined shoulder and simultaneously ensure her shoulders are both strong and healthy.
Consider this – to have a strong pull (lat pulldowns and row variations), she needs to also have a strong press. The stronger the pec major, pec minor, triceps, and deltoids, the better she can decelerate her upper body pulls. This will then allow for a longer and more controlled time under tension for the lats, rear delts, and scap retractors, positively impacting musculature in the back. She will also need to have reasonably strong triceps and shoulders for her lower body pulls (such as RDLs, deadlifts) as well as strong and mobile enough shoulders to support barbell squats and traditional hack squats.
If your client experiences discomfort while flat pressing due to breast implants, you can have her press at different incline angles or use dumbbells and multi-grip bars instead of a straight bar. The incline press will bias the clavicular fibers of the pec major, the pec minor, and the anterior deltoid, which will result in a well-rounded shoulder look. It’s up to you as the coach to ask which movements feel uncomfortable and whether the implant is above or below the muscle to optimize your program for her as an individual.
Lastly, skipping presses is eliminating a major movement pattern of the shoulder joint. We need to consider the not only short-term outcomes of our programs but also the long-term consequences. Healthy shoulders are happy shoulders, and we want to keep them that way as long as we possibly can.
Not programming upper body presses to avoid too much muscle growth in the triceps and chest is a disservice to your female athletes. Presses not only contribute to a more complete look, but they also will help advance her pull exercises and ultimately keep her shoulders healthy.
In Health, Lauren ShullB.S., NASM CPT