Fitness at 40+
How to Get Started with Weight Training for Women 50+
Pumping iron is a key component for bone health in women
Our bones are in a constant state of renewal. New bone is made, and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, so your bone mass increases. But as people age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created.
Estrogen is a key component in maintaining bone strength. Women lose a small amount of bone every year as part of the natural aging process, from about when they turn 30 years old through the onset of menopause. At menopause, estrogen levels decrease and the rate of bone loss increases for approximately 8 to 10 years, before returning to premenopausal rates.
Also around age 30, you begin losing roughly 1% of your muscle mass each year. And since muscle burns fat, that’s why you may have found it harder to keep weight off than when you were younger.
As bones grow more fragile and susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break after a minor fall or even a far less obvious stress, such as sneezing.
The good news is that you can slow the descent into bone and muscle loss through strength training.
Most of us know that strength training helps build and maintain muscle mass and strength. What many of us don’t know is that like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. And strong bones can help minimize the risk of a bone fracture.
Pumping iron two to three times per week may be just what the doctor ordered.
Mike Sirani LMT, CSCS, cofounder of Capital District Sport and Fitness in Upstate New York, specializes in teaching athletes and general fitness clients how to get the most out of their bodies by enhancing their movement quality and creating exercise programs that allow you to get stronger, faster, and more powerful in a safe and effective manner. Sirani looks to get his clients moving and feeling the best they ever have.
“As we age, we begin to see things like osteoporosis, osteopenia, cardiovascular disease, and musculoskeletal injuries appear in our health history,” he explains. “A consistent strength training program is a great way to preserve and increase muscle mass, and increase your bone density, improve your power, and improve your cardiovascular health. All the above adaptations can lead to an improved quality of life!”
The Best Way to Get Started with Weight Training for Women 50+
Sirani recommends starting with your bodyweight for lower body exercises, like squats and split squats, and using assistance for upper body exercises, such as incline push-ups and TRX rows.
To get the most out of your strength training routine, you want to follow the Progressive Overload Principle. This means you gradually increase the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine in order to keep challenging yourself and getting stronger.
To progress, you can gradually add weight to the exercises above. For lower body exercises, it’s easiest to increase weight in 5- to 10-lb. increments. For upper body exercises, stick with 2.5- to 5-lb. increments.
Keep your strength training routine simple, and make sure it’s something you can consistently stick with. Sirani recommends starting with 2-3 supersets of exercises for 8-12 reps. A superset is when you pair two exercises and then alternate back and forth between them. So, for example, do a superset of squats and rows or split squats and push-ups.
A well-balanced strength training program is the best way to prevent common injuries. When working out, you want to make sure you’re training your full body and working on improving functional movement patterns that will take the stress off your joints. So make sure you’ve included bilateral (two-leg) and unilateral (one-leg) lower body exercises, upper body pushing and pulling exercises, and core exercises. Consult a certified fitness professional or licensed physical therapist to help you decide what activities are best for you!
Consistency Is Important
“If you want to see progress with a workout program,” Sirani says, “consistency is the key.” The first step before you get started is to ask yourself, ‘how many days each week can I realistically complete my workouts? Start with that number, and after you’ve hit that goal for a couple of months, you can increase the difficulty of your workouts and increase the frequency you’re working out. The second step is to choose activities that you enjoy. Training should be fun, and picking activities that you like doing will help you be more consistent with exercising over time.”
Other benefits include:
- Increased muscle mass: Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, but strength training can help reverse the trend.
- Stronger bones: Strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of fractures.
- Joint flexibility: Strength training helps joints stay flexible and can reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
- Weight control: As you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more easily, making it easier to control your weight.
- Balance: Strengthening exercises can increase flexibility and balance as people age, reducing falls and injuries.
It’s never too late to start exercising. By incorporating a strength training program as part of your lifestyle, you are able to build muscle effectively and increase strength and flexibility, which improves balance in older adults. Overall, lifting weights can help improve the quality of your day-to-day life and can reduce the likelihood of preventable injuries and falls in old age.
Postmenopausal women should include endurance exercise (aerobic), strength training, and balance exercise in their exercise program.
You should aim for two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, like tennis or brisk walking, each week. And 20 to 30 minutes of weightlifting 2 to 3 times per week.
If you have health problems, talk with your doctor before you start strength training.