Strength training is a midlife-must for women because after the age of 30 we lose around 5% of our muscle mass each decade. We lose even more once we hit our mid-sixties. This impacts on our flexibility and mobility and puts us at risk of developing heart disease, arthritis and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, the hormonal factors of menopause increase the likelihood of osteoporosis. Have I scared you enough yet?
The good news is that strength training fights the body’s loss of muscle mass, and reduces the risk of these chronic diseases. It also assists with improving posture, sleep and mental health. Strength training can improve body image in midlife women and empower us to be strong and confident and really embrace this time of life.
Challenging the stereotype of strength training
Strength training does not mean you have to deadlift dozens of kilograms, lift massive steel plates above your head or end up with bulging biceps. Of course, if that’s your goal then that’s amazing, I am in awe of women who powerlift. There are, however, plenty of effective and less daunting ways you can gain strength, mobility and flexibility.
There’s no need to spend ages in the gym or buy expensive exercise equipment. You will feel the benefits after just a few weeks of a regular strength training routine – not only will you look and feel stronger but those niggly aches and pains will be gone. These benefits will inspire you to make strength training part of your life.
What is strength training?
Strength training, or resistance training as it’s also known as, means exercising a muscle or group of muscles against external resistance. It’s based on the principal that muscles will work to overcome the force of the resistance, and when done repeatedly and consistently those muscles will become stronger.
Resistance can involve using your body weight, free weights like dumbbells, weight machines at the gym or resistance bands and exercise tubing – pretty much anything that causes muscles to contract. Your pantry is also a great place to find weights – think tins of food or bottles of water or wine. Full, of course!
How to start strength training
The following 7 exercises are ideal to do when starting a full-body strength training routine. They can be done at home with little or no equipment if you don’t want to go to a gym or are unable to.
1. Squats – for lower body strength
Stand with feet should-width apart and toes turned out slightly. Keep arms extended forward, bend your knees and reach your hips back as if you were sitting on a chair. Squeeze your glute muscles (glutes) and press into your heels to stand back up. 8 – 10 repetitions (reps).
2. Standing Calf Raises – for balance and mobility
Stand tall with your abdominal (abs) muscles pulled in. Hold the back of a chair lightly, push through the width of your foot and raise your heels so you’re on tiptoes. Hold for 5 seconds and lower your heels to the ground. 8 – 10 reps.
3. Glute Bridge Hold – for hip and glute strength
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. With your arms by your side palms-down lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Squeeze your glutes and hold for 5 seconds before lowering. 8 – 10 reps.
4. Modified push ups – for upper body strength
Start in a kneeling position on a mat with your hands under your shoulders and your knees behind your hips so your back is angled and long. Tighten your abs and bend your elbows to lower your chest as far as you can to the mat. Keep looking ahead to protect your neck. Press back up to start position. These are hard! Aim for 6 reps.
5. Planks – for abdominal and core strength
Start on your hands and knees, placing your hands under your shoulders. Step your feet back a bit wider than hip-distance apart. Make sure you have a straight line from your feet to your head and look down at the floor. Tighten your abs and glutes and hold for 15 seconds. As you get stronger build up the hold in small increments of time to 1 minute.
6. Overhead Press – for shoulder strength
Sit on a bench or stand up with feet hip-width apart holding a pair of free weights at your shoulders. Press the weight above your head making sure your arms are fully extended and locked out. Lower the weights back down to your shoulders. Start with 8 reps of a low weight (I started with 1.5kg dumbbells), slowly increasing the reps and the weight as you gain strength.
7. Bicep Curls – for upper arm strength.
Stand up with feet hip-width apart holding a pair of free weights with palms facing forward and elbows close to your body. Without moving your upper arms breathe out and bring the weights up to your shoulders. Inhale as you slowly lower your forearms. Again, start with 8 reps of a low weight and incrementally build up reps and weights.
Tips for getting maximum benefits from your strength training routine
- Aim to do 3 sets of every exercise with a minute break between sets
- Exercises can be done in one session or split up over a couple of sessions
- Consistency is key. Aim to do a strength training workout 2 – 3 times a week
- Have rest days between sessions to allow your muscles to recover
- Preventing injury and resting your muscles is just as important as building strength. Start with weights that are manageable. Warm up before you do your workout and do some stretching or foam rolling at the end. Here’s a dynamic warm up you can do before a strength training workout.
- Don’t exercise to exhaustion
Don’t forget these things
Your body needs good nutrition to build muscle so aim for three regular meals which include some lean protein. Between meals have healthy snacks like fruit, nuts or yogurt.
It’s important to still do cardio exercises when building a strength training routine. Walking or running is a great way to do this.
It’s never too late to begin strength training and slow down or even reverse the muscle loss that occurs in midlife. You’ll be protecting yourself from related risks and improving your quality of life, your confidence and your wellbeing.
Start slowly, rest in between workouts and eat a healthy and balanced diet. Doing regular strength training will have you looking and feeling fantastic in midlife and beyond!
Are you ready to get started?