In the past, workouts marketed to women tended to focus on cardio, and many still do (aerobics, spinning, dance). That’s starting to change, and top trainers say that’s a very good thing — weight training is especially beneficial for women over 45.
“Our ability to gain muscle is so incredibly important for health as we age,” says Nikki Warren, founder and CEO of Kaia FIT, a national women’s workout franchise that focuses on weight training and HIIT as its core programming. “If we can add even a small amount of heavy weight training, we’re combating against a lot of degenerative diseases caused by the aging process.”
We break down why adding dumbbells to your deadlifts and sandbags to your squats is so crucial.
Reasons to Lift Heavy
“As we age, our muscle fibers shrink in number but also in size,” explains Heidi Jones, a coach at Solace and Forte Fit and the creator of Squad WOD. Research shows age-related loss of muscle can be significant, and that’s not just a problem because your triceps may look a little saggy. “That loss of strength will affect your natural navigation through life,” Jones says.
It will also affect your metabolism, since age also slows the process and makes it harder to keep weight off, and muscle burns more calories than fat.
In addition, women lose bone mass as they get older, especially after menopause, making them much more susceptible to osteoporosis than men.
The good news: Regular strength training is like a multidimensional treatment for all of these intertwined ailments. Lifting weights preserves bone density and helps you maintain lean muscle mass, which helps keep your metabolism going. It may also boost your body’s production of testosterone, a hormone that is important for building muscle and tied to sexual health and energy.
How to Start Picking Up Heavy Things
Okay, so it sounds like you should be lifting while lunging, but if you’re more used to hopping on a treadmill, cleaning (that’s a lift!) your first kettlebell can be pretty intimidating.
“It’s all about that gradual progression,” advises Courtney Levering, a coach at Tone House in New York City. “You really want to maintain a safe environment for yourself. Start with low intensity and a light load and then gradually increase from there.”
Levering says you can even start with bodyweight strength-training, using exercise like push-ups, dips, and squats, and then add weight as you get stronger and more comfortable with the movements. Bodyweight movements alone will build muscle, but you can expedite those strength and overall health gains by adding an extra load.
Jones says you should incorporate strength training into your schedule a minimum of three times a week. Though there are many ways to do it, one easy way to get started is to take a movement (like a squat or lunge), choose a weight that feels challenging but not impossible, and then do three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
The tip all of the coaches shared? If you can swing it, work with a trainer, at least at first. That way you can get used to lifting and perfect the movements. Then you can do your own thing at the gym or find a group fitness class you like that incorporates strength training.
It’s really never too late to start, says Levering, who says Tone House — often referred to as the hardest workout in NYC — has recently been attracting more women in their 40s and 50s. “I honestly had a mother-daughter duo yesterday, and the mom was even more fit than the 24-year-old daughter,” she says.