Strength Building for Female

_Katia2023_

New Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2021
Messages
3
Hello everyone, I'm a current high school sophomore and I'm deadset on being appointed to attend the USMA. I feel as though I'm solid with academic and leadership requirements, as I have maintained a 4.0 GPA up until now in high school. I have also served as my freshman class president and founded my own club, which is all about inspiring leadership and activism in others. However, that being said, I have also had a lot of trouble gaining strength. I come from a competitive rhythmic gymnastics and ballet background, which hasn't trained me for much strength and USMA workout standards. I am 5'9 and weigh 126 pounds, any tips on how I should build up strength? (I am also starting jiujitsu this month to strengthen the competitive sports area of my application)
 

prospective2019

USMA 2023
Joined
Nov 25, 2017
Messages
436
Hey! This is a problem a lot of female applicants and cadets have. Firstly, based on your background, I'd hazard a guess that you already have quite a bit of muscular endurance which is a big aspect of fitness here. I was a lot skinnier and shorter than you when I was a sophomore in high school and now I can deadlift more than a good amount of men here.

The best way to start, in my opinion, is to focus on the "big three" lifts first. That includes back squat, deadlift (Army uses a hex bar), and bench press. Have an experienced friend or trainer show you the correct form for these exercises--do not just go into it yourself or you could very seriously injure yourself. Go through those 3-4 times a week, around four sets of four reps at close to your max weight, supplementing with some pushups/pullups/leg tucks/light running that the Army loves so much and you will build strength fast.

There are other things to think about like calorie surpluses, how much cardio to do, adding other weight training exercises, etc. Those can come later though. Weightlifting can be daunting to get into. Don't be phased by not seeing a lot of women lifting in the gym. Pretty much all female cadets that I know do it at least a little bit.

Feel free to ask any questions or shoot me a PM. I enjoy lifting a lot and can give you more detailed advice.
 

Don't Give Up the Ship

BGO Affliliate & USNA 2023 Dad
Joined
Jun 21, 2018
Messages
317
Hello everyone, I'm a current high school sophomore and I'm deadset on being appointed to attend the USMA. I feel as though I'm solid with academic and leadership requirements, as I have maintained a 4.0 GPA up until now in high school. I have also served as my freshman class president and founded my own club, which is all about inspiring leadership and activism in others. However, that being said, I have also had a lot of trouble gaining strength. I come from a competitive rhythmic gymnastics and ballet background, which hasn't trained me for much strength and USMA workout standards. I am 5'9 and weigh 126 pounds, any tips on how I should build up strength? (I am also starting jiujitsu this month to strengthen the competitive sports area of my application)
You are commended for working on this early in your game plan. I will let other speak to your questions. Good luck.
 

MidCakePa

Member
Joined
May 22, 2018
Messages
2,787
Great advice from @prospective2019. When it comes to building strength, there simply is no substitute for resistance training. Focus on strength-building weights and sets. That means moderate weight, moderate reps. High weight, low reps builds muscle mass. Low weight, high reps builds muscle endurance. You want overall functional strength.

As a gymnast, seriously consider CrossFit. It offers resistance, stamina and mobility in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) with quite a bit of gymnastic aspects. The group aspect is also key. I believe it’s one of the very best, quickest and most-balanced ways to improve your overall fitness.

And don’t be intimidated by the imagery. My CF gym has mostly women members, from 18 to 68 (no joke). DD is a mid who has enjoyed her occasional CF sessions with me and at the Yard. And all SAs have strong CF communities of both male and female.
 

Hoppy

Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2021
Messages
43
Hello everyone, I'm a current high school sophomore and I'm deadset on being appointed to attend the USMA. I feel as though I'm solid with academic and leadership requirements, as I have maintained a 4.0 GPA up until now in high school. I have also served as my freshman class president and founded my own club, which is all about inspiring leadership and activism in others. However, that being said, I have also had a lot of trouble gaining strength. I come from a competitive rhythmic gymnastics and ballet background, which hasn't trained me for much strength and USMA workout standards. I am 5'9 and weigh 126 pounds, any tips on how I should build up strength? (I am also starting jiujitsu this month to strengthen the competitive sports area of my application)
I bought this book by stew smith about improving cfa scores but it will also get you in great shape as well. I recommend it, its pretty cheap and worthwhile.
 

jl123

5-Year Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2016
Messages
1,461
If you don't have access to CrossFit or weights, resistance bands are an excellent, inexpensive alternative.
 

JasonM

Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2021
Messages
14
With my son just accepting for C/O 25, I'm still somewhat new to the CFA over the past 12 months. I've seen females take it, and I can say watching the hardest for them was the dead hang (if you could do pull ups go for it) and push ups. The basketball throw probably a little difficult as well. Thing 1....you can do this, 100%. My daughter is a HS FR Cheerleader and working on strength as a base, so I've been pushing her. I played Football and coached a great deal, so strength advice I feel good providing.

The post that says Cross Fit.....yes, yes and yes. Find a Cross Fit gym, and get neck deep. When your core is strong...so many other things come along. Prospective2019 gave good advice as well. Jiu Jitsu is excellent as well, but combatives aren't a part of getting an offer of admissions per se. Thing 2...you can do this, 100%. Not sure where you're located, but in Texas I've had girls in Wrestling b/c it's girls brackets here which I think is way more fair for beginner females if you will. Jumping straight into wrestling in states where it's all genders, and they've got 10 years experience is tough. Jiu Jitsu will teach you a lot, and a flexible gymnast isn't a bad foundation, ha. Rolling with someone that can spin out of everything would be annoying.

Thing 3....you can do this, 100%.
My last set of recommendations, take the CFA honestly with friends as a practice. Being able to do these individually is 1 thing, in sequence does take a toll.
Basketball throw....get someone to stand farther than the distance, and THROW TO THEM. Having that visual to throw to helps. Just practice this.
Hang or pull ups....do them. Every day, get a bar that hangs on your closet opening. Any time you walk in that room, by that room, toward that room, go in and hit as many. Just 1...okay. Keep getting 1. Then get 2 and on. Every...single....day....all the time.
Then Cross Fit and Jiu Jitsu, and running. 2 miles every other day, then mix it up, go 2 miles in intervals either time or distance (so 30 seconds hard run 30 brisk walk and on and on) or 1/2 hard lap, 1/4 lap walk, 1/2 hard lap. Intervals builds lung capacity and the up and down Hear Rate builds cardio. Just straight jogging isn't as good as full go, brisk walk, full go etc.

I don't sugarcoat things, testosterone is an advantage, that's way it's illegal in sports....but you can overcome that. If all is accurate in your post, you have an excellent file. Now just put in the work, and there's literally no way you won't have a passing CFA. Only you know if you'll put in the work.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
Messages
23
Hey! This is a problem a lot of female applicants and cadets have. Firstly, based on your background, I'd hazard a guess that you already have quite a bit of muscular endurance which is a big aspect of fitness here. I was a lot skinnier and shorter than you when I was a sophomore in high school and now I can deadlift more than a good amount of men here.

The best way to start, in my opinion, is to focus on the "big three" lifts first. That includes back squat, deadlift (Army uses a hex bar), and bench press. Have an experienced friend or trainer show you the correct form for these exercises--do not just go into it yourself or you could very seriously injure yourself. Go through those 3-4 times a week, around four sets of four reps at close to your max weight, supplementing with some pushups/pullups/leg tucks/light running that the Army loves so much and you will build strength fast.

There are other things to think about like calorie surpluses, how much cardio to do, adding other weight training exercises, etc. Those can come later though. Weightlifting can be daunting to get into. Don't be phased by not seeing a lot of women lifting in the gym. Pretty much all female cadets that I know do it at least a little bit.

Feel free to ask any questions or shoot me a PM. I enjoy lifting a lot and can give you more detailed advice.
This might be an odd question but for when admissions score the CFA, do they prefer many reps with average/eh form or perfect form with not as many reps (for push-ups and pull-ups)?
 
Joined
Nov 12, 2020
Messages
88
This might be an odd question but for when admissions score the CFA, do they prefer many reps with average/eh form or perfect form with not as many reps (for push-ups and pull-ups)?
You have to submit videos of both showing your form. My DS is a 2025 applicant. I believe females have option to do flexed arm hang instead of pullups but not sure of the details. Search "CFA" on this forum and also on youtube.
 

A1Janitor

Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2018
Messages
2,163
My son ran cross country to get in shape ... and added cross fit in 9th grade at 5:30 in morning (outside basketball season).

He did very well on his CFA.

For the younger students looking at SAs - I would recommend starting a program sooner rather than later.
 

JasonM

Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2021
Messages
14
This might be an odd question but for when admissions score the CFA, do they prefer many reps with average/eh form or perfect form with not as many reps (for push-ups and pull-ups)?
I've spent a lot of time clarifying this, and my understanding is this:
1. All components are completed in sequence and they expect the tester is honest, and that you complete the task, timing is accurate etc.
2. Two of the items are videoed by someone the candidate brings. Pull Ups (or bent arm hang for females if they choose) and push ups.
3. Admissions counts a push up or pull up based on their requirements that you can see in the CFA testing information on the West Point website.
What I mean by this, there is no credit for kind of. It's either a qualified repetition or it is not.

When you work out or prepare for the CFA is no different than being an athlete that works out. If you cheat, you only cheat yourself, period end of story. When you do push ups, do them to full bent arm 90 degrees like the instructions state. Pull ups, dead hang, no kipping (swinging legs) and get up, chin over the bar and jaw parallel to the ground.

If you cannot do these....start working toward it. Eat right, create a plan, execute on the plan. There are very, very few people that cannot, given 12 months time, put a plan together and get to this. It may be easier or harder on some, but everyone can. Work out separately on core and etc like many have stated.....then every couple of weeks on Saturday morning, have a parent or friend run you through it and document the scores. Do them correctly, be honest, and that's the only way to truly identify, evaluate, and overcome any obstacles you may have.

You can absolutely do it if you stay true and put in the work.
 

tweety_bird

Member
Joined
Apr 12, 2020
Messages
85
That's awesome! I have a ballet background and I went through the same thing. I was SO weak in my upper body in the beginning, but was able to max the push-ups and get a pull up in about 8 months by doing weight training about 4x/week and working on push-ups and pull-ups almost every day. I also ran 5-6 days week and joined the cross country team to improve my running.

The other people above gave great advice, but the one thing I want to mention is to not let anyone dismiss your participation in rhythmic gymnastics and ballet. Originally I thought I would be at a disadvantage for not doing "traditional sports", but it was actually what made me a unique and solid candidate.

I can't speak as much for rhythmic gymnastics (although I have some friends who do it and I know it's crazy hard), but ballet takes A LOT of physical and interpersonal skills. When you perform in groups, you have to work together to make sure everyone knows the choreography, is doing it at the same time, and that everyone is in the right costume. You have to stay in formation, and you can't have an individualistic mindset.

You also learn to develop a really thick skin and filter the pointless criticism from the constructive. For better or worse, I think most high school coaches would be fired if they treated people the same way that ballet teachers did. After having teachers tell me that I look like spongebob, are fat and lazy, or that I can’t dance so many times, I no longer measure my self-worth off of what other people say.

You learn to persevere through pain. These activities are year-round, so you never get a big break from training. I remember when some teachers would stand right next to my foot when my leg was up during adagio, and I wouldn’t dare give up and lower it to let it hit their face.

Performing teaches you to work with what you have and complete a task even in tough situations. I know people who have performed when they had the stomach flu (or broken bones, etc.), smiling and dancing 110% on stage and then exiting into the the wings to throw up before running on again. You learn how to control your nerves and give it your all because in live performances, there are no redos.

Physically, you really learn how to tune into your body and the awareness you have really helps when beginning other types of movement such as weight training.

Good luck on your application! You have plenty of time to become a beast by the time you take the CFA! 😉
 
Joined
Nov 20, 2020
Messages
15
Hey! This is a problem a lot of female applicants and cadets have. Firstly, based on your background, I'd hazard a guess that you already have quite a bit of muscular endurance which is a big aspect of fitness here. I was a lot skinnier and shorter than you when I was a sophomore in high school and now I can deadlift more than a good amount of men here.

The best way to start, in my opinion, is to focus on the "big three" lifts first. That includes back squat, deadlift (Army uses a hex bar), and bench press. Have an experienced friend or trainer show you the correct form for these exercises--do not just go into it yourself or you could very seriously injure yourself. Go through those 3-4 times a week, around four sets of four reps at close to your max weight, supplementing with some pushups/pullups/leg tucks/light running that the Army loves so much and you will build strength fast.

There are other things to think about like calorie surpluses, how much cardio to do, adding other weight training exercises, etc. Those can come later though. Weightlifting can be daunting to get into. Don't be phased by not seeing a lot of women lifting in the gym. Pretty much all female cadets that I know do it at least a little bit.

Feel free to ask any questions or shoot me a PM. I enjoy lifting a lot and can give you more detailed advice.
What they said^^^

Focusing on building lean muscle mass will ultimately translate to your ability to excel on the CFA when it comes to body-weight endurance exercise.
I would aim to start learning the in's and out's of resistance/weight training, focusing on using good form on compound movements such as bench press variations, squats, rows, deadlifts, and pullups. It is important to slowly progress over time- overloading the muscle with increasingly difficult stimuli will be the main driver of muscle growth. Once you build up more muscle over time and the date of your actual CFA approaches, then it would be wise to begin to translate the strength capabilities you have established in to the specialized tasks on the CFA. For example, transition from sets of benchpress to perfecting cadence pushups, etc.

I'm assuming the running will be lower on your priority list, and building aerobic endurance is more to the point. Run...

Be sure to eat enough of the right food to recover. Prioritize sleep, hydration, blah blah blah.

You got it.
 

prospective2019

USMA 2023
Joined
Nov 25, 2017
Messages
436
This might be an odd question but for when admissions score the CFA, do they prefer many reps with average/eh form or perfect form with not as many reps (for push-ups and pull-ups)?

They will only count repetitions with nearly-perfect or perfect form (with little leniency). If it's any consolation, I did really poorly on my CFA pushups and pullups (23 pushups, 12 second FAH). I passed. And I can do plenty more than that now!
 

_Katia2023_

New Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2021
Messages
3
Hey! This is a problem a lot of female applicants and cadets have. Firstly, based on your background, I'd hazard a guess that you already have quite a bit of muscular endurance which is a big aspect of fitness here. I was a lot skinnier and shorter than you when I was a sophomore in high school and now I can deadlift more than a good amount of men here.

The best way to start, in my opinion, is to focus on the "big three" lifts first. That includes back squat, deadlift (Army uses a hex bar), and bench press. Have an experienced friend or trainer show you the correct form for these exercises--do not just go into it yourself or you could very seriously injure yourself. Go through those 3-4 times a week, around four sets of four reps at close to your max weight, supplementing with some pushups/pullups/leg tucks/light running that the Army loves so much and you will build strength fast.

There are other things to think about like calorie surpluses, how much cardio to do, adding other weight training exercises, etc. Those can come later though. Weightlifting can be daunting to get into. Don't be phased by not seeing a lot of women lifting in the gym. Pretty much all female cadets that I know do it at least a little bit.

Feel free to ask any questions or shoot me a PM. I enjoy lifting a lot and can give you more detailed advice.
Thank you so much for your advice, I am talking to my friend who does wrestling to show me proper form for these exercises that you recommended so I don't hurt myself! I'll definitely contact you if I have any more questions, thank you again!
 

_Katia2023_

New Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2021
Messages
3
That's awesome! I have a ballet background and I went through the same thing. I was SO weak in my upper body in the beginning, but was able to max the push-ups and get a pull up in about 8 months by doing weight training about 4x/week and working on push-ups and pull-ups almost every day. I also ran 5-6 days week and joined the cross country team to improve my running.

The other people above gave great advice, but the one thing I want to mention is to not let anyone dismiss your participation in rhythmic gymnastics and ballet. Originally I thought I would be at a disadvantage for not doing "traditional sports", but it was actually what made me a unique and solid candidate.

I can't speak as much for rhythmic gymnastics (although I have some friends who do it and I know it's crazy hard), but ballet takes A LOT of physical and interpersonal skills. When you perform in groups, you have to work together to make sure everyone knows the choreography, is doing it at the same time, and that everyone is in the right costume. You have to stay in formation, and you can't have an individualistic mindset.

You also learn to develop a really thick skin and filter the pointless criticism from the constructive. For better or worse, I think most high school coaches would be fired if they treated people the same way that ballet teachers did. After having teachers tell me that I look like spongebob, are fat and lazy, or that I can’t dance so many times, I no longer measure my self-worth off of what other people say.

You learn to persevere through pain. These activities are year-round, so you never get a big break from training. I remember when some teachers would stand right next to my foot when my leg was up during adagio, and I wouldn’t dare give up and lower it to let it hit their face.

Performing teaches you to work with what you have and complete a task even in tough situations. I know people who have performed when they had the stomach flu (or broken bones, etc.), smiling and dancing 110% on stage and then exiting into the the wings to throw up before running on again. You learn how to control your nerves and give it your all because in live performances, there are no redos.

Physically, you really learn how to tune into your body and the awareness you have really helps when beginning other types of movement such as weight training.

Good luck on your application! You have plenty of time to become a beast by the time you take the CFA! 😉
Thank you so much for all of your advice, it's awesome to hear from someone who has a similar background as me. Thank you for providing some valuable insight, you're defiantly giving me more confidence in my background!
 

UHBlackhawk

5-Year Member
Joined
Sep 22, 2015
Messages
1,360
All good advice.
1. Step one is preparing for the CFA. Someone mentioned Stew Smith. Get his training program on the CFA.
You want to max the push-ups and get at least one good pull-up.
The run is not a long-distance aerobic run, but a long sprint or anaerobic run. Anything less than 3 miles is anaerobic and your training must reflect. If you train for the CFA by running long distances at a 10-mile pace, then you will run the CFA at a 10-mile pace. You need to do long sprints- 220, 440, 880 (1/2 lap, 1 lap, 2 laps). Also Fartleks (look them up).
Don't ignore core weight training or, if weights aren't available, bodyweight training. Stew Smith concentrates on this and there's a reason. It helps your endurance and speed, it helps prevent injuries, and if you're injured it helps recovery.
2. Long-term, if accepted, work on long-distance running, running hills (West Point has some brutal hills), and training for the ACFT. Beast is not Ranger School or Special Forces assessment. It's made for those who aren't fit. But showing up fit puts you one step ahead and cuts down on your stress.
3. Also long term, Cadets with a gymnastics background seem to do well on the IOCT.
 

OldRetSWO

USNA 78/parent 11/BGO for >25yrs
10-Year Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2010
Messages
2,091
All good advice.
1. Step one is preparing for the CFA. Someone mentioned Stew Smith. Get his training program on the CFA.
You want to max the push-ups and get at least one good pull-up.
The run is not a long-distance aerobic run, but a long sprint or anaerobic run. Anything less than 3 miles is anaerobic and your training must reflect. If you train for the CFA by running long distances at a 10-mile pace, then you will run the CFA at a 10-mile pace. You need to do long sprints- 220, 440, 880 (1/2 lap, 1 lap, 2 laps). Also Fartleks (look them up).
Don't ignore core weight training or, if weights aren't available, bodyweight training. Stew Smith concentrates on this and there's a reason. It helps your endurance and speed, it helps prevent injuries, and if you're injured it helps recovery.
2. Long-term, if accepted, work on long-distance running, running hills (West Point has some brutal hills), and training for the ACFT. Beast is not Ranger School or Special Forces assessment. It's made for those who aren't fit. But showing up fit puts you one step ahead and cuts down on your stress.
3. Also long term, Cadets with a gymnastics background seem to do well on the IOCT.
This is the first time I've seen the WP IOCT and it reminds me of the old USNA Obstacle Course which was on Hospital Point and when it was in use, was a required test every semester. Many similar obstacles.

FWIW, when I graduated the record holders both male and female were members of the small boat sailing team.
 

Wahoo Fan

Member
Joined
May 13, 2020
Messages
32
I believe (double check this) that you get more points on the CFA if you do one pull-up than any amount of time of the flex arm hang. I am a mom and a lot older than you, and I learned how to do pull-ups this year. I had never been able to do any pull-ups in my whole life, and at first when I tried last year, I couldn’t do any. The way I gained strength was to do negatives. You sort of jump yourself up onto the bar into the flex arm hang position, and then you gradually let yourself down as slowly as possible. This is called a negative. I did about 3-5 negatives on the days I went to the gym to do weight training. I did weight training (including other weight training/lifting exercises about 2-3 times per week (not every day). After about six months of doing negatives, I was finally strong enough to do one pull-up. After that, building strength was easier and I got to two pull-ups in a lot less time. Over months I kept practicing, and now I can do 5 or 6 in a row. If I can do it, I bet you can, too!

As for the push-ups, you will build up strength as you practice. Study the required form (USMA had a video demonstration). Have someone video you to make sure you have proper form.

For the basketball throw, find someone to help you practice who can help you learn the best technique. Somebody on this thread said to throw the ball to someone standing at a certain distance away. I don’t exactly agree with that. I used to throw discus, and we were taught to throw at a 45-degree angle to get the most distance (think of physics). If you try to throw the ball to the person, you will most likely not be throwing the ball at 45 degrees. I helped my son with the basketball throw, and when he threw it at a 45-degree angle, he got more distance.
 
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