Training Tips for Chicks – #2 Stronger Not Bigger

Written by: Carolyn Parker

Here it is the awaited next installment, as promised I’ll add a few more basic movements and begin a discussion of the positive effects of strength conditioning and how to get stronger without getting bigger.

But first, let’s discuss the tools you will gain the most benefit from using during your strength training. Two types: #1 your own body #2 external objects that are unstable (i.e. not a machine that will stabilize and control the movement of the weight for you).

GSquatWe are all mountain athletes, climbers, skiers, runners, cyclists…. all of these sports require us to move our bodies over land, up cliffs, you name it…it’s moving the body. Therefore, to be more efficient we: a) want to increase our strength to weight ratio and b) gain fitness that applies to experiencing our sport in what can often be an unpredictable environment.

Let’s discuss a) strength to weight ratio. The first thing that pops into most peoples minds is: I need to loose weight. Well, not necessarily, but if you do then that would be the first step. However, the process of getting stronger will likely create that outcome. and b) external object control is a profound and genuine test of fitness. Control of an object while it is being swung or thrown, or pressed or pulled, creates a unique force on our body.  The heavier the mass that can be manipulated (properly), the stronger and more effective the athlete will be at managing their own weight or possibly the weight of a pack, an ice tool, climbing gear, a bicycle, in addition to their own body weight. So let’s talk strength!

First, I must stress that all strength training should be done after an athlete has a good solid foundation, is injury free, and be done under the supervision of a trusted professional if the athlete lacks the knowledge of the proper form for lifts and body weight movements.

So, Chicks: after you’ve done your wall squats, shoulder openers, cuban press (see Chicks Training Tip #1) try a few goblet squats and push ups for warm up.

The Goblet Squat: this is a squat done with a KB held at your chest. I prefer to cup the bell of the KB in my palms to take stress off my thumbs. There are a number of methods for holding the KB. The important aspect of the position of the weight is that it is above your center of gravity creating a greater challenge on the back/core/posterior chain when squatting. Your goal is to not allow the weight to round your shoulders or pull you forward, squat to quads parallel and try to mimic the alignment you learned during the wall squat. Do 3 sets of 6

Push ups: Yes the good ol’ push up. The number one exercise avoided by most women, because either they can’t do them or they feel they are not good at them. From this point forward, if that is your mind set I want you to discard those silly notions and begin to understand that you only have to make up your mind that you can do them, then start training properly and you will.  And, that applies to all strength and sport, find your weaknesses, face them and overcome them by practice and hard effort.

Lay on the floor, place your hands next to your chest, slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Elbows point back, activate your core, back, glutes, legs and get ready to push. Perform your push-ups on your knees, or lower on your toes and push on your knees if knees is too easy but toes is still too hard or on your toes, with perfect form and ROM no matter what. Be patient, do them properly and you will gain strength.  Do 2 sets of  5 (warm up).

Now to the meat of the matter: how does one gain strength without mass. Gaining muscle mass is called muscle hypertrophy. Simply stated, most gym routines that people are familiar with suggest things like working muscle groups and body areas, focusing on 3-4 sets of 10 – 12 reps. This old formula is from the days of Body Building and not Athletic Training. Body building is designed to do just that build and shape the body. This is not what you want, mountain athletes want to gain strength with as little mass gain as possible and lean down. Utilizing body weight movements and external object’s.

Let’s discuss just one facet of this goal. Strength. Once the athlete understands the lift, the movement, the skill to be performed and the athlete is properly warmed up. We want to focus on a total rep count for that movement of (12 – 25reps) this can be done in sets and reps as such: 5 x 5, 5 x 3, 8 x 3, 6 x 2. The goal is to find a body weight movement, and external object movement or lift that requires a high muscle output from the athlete where finishing this low number of reps causes near failure (but not failure) on the last rep or two. Failure is that of strength or form, do not let your form go!

Next time you are training try this: I’m going to pick a movement that is often a challenge for women (if this is not a challenge for you, try adding weight to your pull up to effect the same challenge). Instead of doing your pull ups as 3 x 10 using assistance (for example) try to do 2 or 3 without assistance or reduce the assistance so you can barely do 4 or 5. Then complete 6 x 3, or 5 x 5 with at least a minute of rest between sets. If you are fit and have a good work capacity you can do sit ups, step ups, something in between sets as long as your heart rate recovers (before your next set of pull ups) and you are not overly taxing the upper body.

You can use this approach for all strength and power based movements.

We are just scratching the surface of strength training. There are many many elements to cover, frequency of workouts, what type of workout to do when, strength vs. power, what is power endurance. I will begin to cover these topics in the Chicks training newsletters and for more detailed information regarding programming of this nature you can contact me at or

Signing off for now,
Carolyn Parker
Athlete Representative For:

1 reply
  1. Kris Machnick
    Kris Machnick says:

    I have a passion for ice climbing. I will be doing several programs with chicks with picks this winter. I have read your training tips for rock climbing and I am incorporating it into my training schedule.
    I would like to know if you have specific training recommendations for ice climbing.


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