Recently I gave a presentation to fitness professionals and students of Fit Asia (Singapore) about the importance of strength training for women in their peri-menopause years. And I got asked a very important question at the end of my presentation:
Is starting strength training in post menopause years TOO LATE???
What a great question… and it is not the first time I have been asked this. It could be that we don’t often see images of older women lifting heavy. It is easy to imagine that this activity is for the young.
However, that is simply not the case! It is never too late to build both bone and muscle strength.
Let’s start with why strength training is just so important…
Due to the drop of estrogen, bone density is compromised in older women. Or put another way – when oestrogen levels are high – when women are in their 30’s 40’s and 50’s – this is the ideal time to make muscle and bone strength. A strong bone starting point in preparation for the very sudden decline in oestrogen will put women in the best position to keep strong bones in their later years.
Even if strength training is not something that women have participated in during these years, it is not too late!
Strength training is important throughout life
Women are often reluctant to do heavy strength training as they get older, especially after menopause. I am personally on a mission to reframe the belief that lifting heavy is just for the young. The research categorically shows that we should be lifting weights at least twice a week, using heavier weights, and having fewer repetitions. Heavy strength training builds bone density, increases muscle mass, improves balance and coordination, and guards against conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis.
For women over 65, strength training has been found to be especially beneficial. The body naturally loses muscle mass with age, nearly half a kilo each year after age 40, and that process accelerates after menopause. The resulting decline in metabolism can make it very difficult to lose unwanted kilo’s, or just to maintain a healthy weight.
Strength training reverses the muscle loss associated with aging, improves balance, flexibility, and endurance boosts metabolism and strengthens bones. It also helps with weight loss by encouraging lean body mass growth. Strength training is essential to prevent osteoporosis, as well as reduce the risk of falling.
Lifting weights does not mean that you will be bulky!
Despite the benefits, women often avoid strength training. One reason is that they are concerned it will make them bulky. But lifting weights will not turn you into a hulk. Instead, it will help you gain strength and build lean muscle mass that can help you lose body fat and improve your metabolism.
Build up to heavier lifting
Building up to heavier lifting is a process that a lot of people make the mistake of skipping. If you start with weights that are too heavy, it can lead to an injury which means you will have to spend a lot of time on recovery, or worse. Light-weighted lifts can be done with higher repetitions as well as lower weight. This helps build up the strength needed for heavier lifts and builds endurance in your muscles.
It is a good idea to get support if you are concerned about lifting weights. Good posture and technique are essential to avoid pelvic floor injury. And it is often easier to have someone watch and correct you in real time, than rely on the mirrors or just how it feels.
To find qualified Fitness Professionals – check out the EVEolution™ Directory.
Heavy strength training may be problematic if there is pelvic floor dysfunction
Heavy strength training may be problematic if there is pelvic floor dysfunction. But this is not a reason to avoid lifting heavy weights – women just need to be aware of the issue, learn about pelvic floor exercises and find out how to perform exercises properly.
Here are my top tips for weightlifting to avoid pelvic floor injury
- Start each exercise with a full body scan of your posture
- Exhale on exertion – the bigger the load – the louder the exhale of your breath
- Be conscious of contracting your pelvic floor during the hardest part of the exercise and allow it to relax after
- If you have prolapse symptoms – do your weight lifting sessions in the morning. You may need or want to spend some time off your feet in the afternoon. Monitor how it impacts your symptoms
- Use a swiss ball to sitting machines to provide extra support for your pelvic floor
- Perform exercises in the bridge position – this is great for including your glute (butt) muscles, but also allows gravity to work with your pelvic floor, rather than against!
Women with low bone density need to be careful when lifting
Understanding exactly the state of the strength of your bones via a DEXA scan is critical. This will allow you or your trainer to create a program that is mindful of progressions.
If you already know that you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, you will need to take extra care when lifting weights. Particularly any flexion (think sit ups) or twisting (think oblique twists) – this is because the bones in the spine may be at risk of hairline fractures.
Starting gently and increasing weights and / or repetitions is the key. But also an ideal time to think outside the square – perhaps an aqua class will work for you. Aqua classes are great strength training options, as they also place very little stress on your joints and pelvic floor!
The balancing act!
Post-menopausal women must find a balance between light lifting and heavy lifting in order to strengthen their bones without compromising their pelvic floor.
With the right education and by taking appropriate precautions, you too can reap the benefits of strength training as you age —not just active people, but also those who are postmenopausal. It’s a misconception that women past a certain point in their lives (or in this case, post-menopause) can’t safely lift heavy anymore. If you take proper precautions and avoid exercises that put you at risk for injury, then strength training can help you keep your bones strong and healthy.
If you’re a fitness professional or any other service provider for women and want to become an EVEolution™ partner CLICK HERE.
If you’re interested in learning more about EVEolution™ CLICK HERE.
If you enjoyed this blog…. you might also enjoy these ones.
Just click on the image below!