Beginning Weight-Lifting Programs for Women Over 40

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Lifting weights over the age 40 is important to lower the risk of health conditions.
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Women over the age of 40 should adopt a stable weight-training program in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise to increase bone density and metabolism. Weight training for women over 40 may help lower the risk of health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

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Benefits of Strength Training for Women Over 40

At around age 40, the female body undergoes several changes as perimenopause hits. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a combination of inactivity, poor nutrition and age-related changes can cause the bone mass to decrease at a rate of 1 percent year after 40 years of age. If you're sedentary and don't lift weights, your bones can grow more fragile and are more likely to fracture even with something as minor as a small fall.

Other issues that may occur at this age include muscle fiber shrinkage, high blood pressure, unwanted weight gain and osteoporosis — a disease that causes your body to lose too much bone. Harvard Health Publishing says that an estimated 8 million women in the United States have osteoporosis, and that number is expected to rise.

If you haven't started incorporating weight training into your workouts, you should begin now. Following a strength-training beginner's workout for women over 40 may help reduce body fat, tone your muscles and strengthen the bones, lowering your risk of osteoporosis.

Some age-related changes are inevitable, but the decline of physical health due to inactivity can be greatly reduced with a diligent commitment to weightlifting as part of a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating right and completing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, per the American Heart Association.

Read more: The Best Beginner Workouts if You're New to Exercise (or It's Been a While)

How to Begin Weight Training

When beginning a weight-training routine, you should learn how to stay safe to avoid injury. Why? If you get injured, you might not feel motivated to return to resistance training and you could cause long-term damage to your muscles.

Harvard Health Publishing offers these five tips to help you design a successful strength-training program:

  1. Focus on form and not on how much you lift.
  2. Use controlled, slow movements. You might even want to lift less than you think you can in order to get used to the movement.
  3. Work on breathing. Exhale as you lift, push or pull. Inhale as you release the weight.
  4. Stick to a routine. You should work all of your major muscles two times a week for a full-body workout.
  5. Take time off to let your body rest. Strength training causes tears in your muscle tissues, which need time to heal. Your muscles will grow stronger as the tears repair and form a compact shape.

Read more: The 30-Day Squat Challenge

Choosing the Right Equipment

Choosing what type of equipment to use will depend on your experience and what is available to you. If you work out at home, consider investing in resistance bands and low-weight dumbbells, which can be purchased online or at any store that sells sporting goods. You can find budget-friendly, quality weights on the market. If you work out at a gym, you should have access to a wide range of dumbbells and machines.

Free weights require some coordination and have additional benefits over machines because they require you to use your stabilizing muscles. They seem to be more effective at producing overall muscular strength, and they are also more versatile, portable and inexpensive, states the Mayo Clinic.

Exercise machines might be a better choice than free weights if you have no experience with weight training. This is because most machines have a built-in range of motion, which makes lifting with proper form easier. The downside is that most people don't have these in their homes and must sign up for a gym membership.

Read more: Build the Perfect Arm Workout With These Trainer-Approved Exercises

Current Guidelines for Strength Training

Ready to begin lifting? To set up your workout regime, you should follow current guidelines for resistance training activity, which include the following:

Always warm up for five to 10 minutes with every workout. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a dynamic warm-up consisting of a physical activity that elevates the heart rate, such as running or doing jumping jacks, followed by simple movements like leg swings or arm circles.

Strength train all major muscle groups for a full-body workout, which includes your hips, legs, back, chest, abs, arms and shoulders, at least twice a week, says Harvard Health Publishing. Use a comfortable light weight, which will allow most women over 40 to complete 15 to 20 repetitions with good form.

Switch your workout up when you're ready. When you can easily do 20 repetitions with good form, reduce your repetitions to 12 or 15 and add one or two more sets.

Don't weight train two days in a row. The ACSM advises beginners to take a few days of rest in between each weight-training session as muscles can become sore within 24 to 48 hours after physical activity.

Also, complete an active cool-down. The ACSM recommends ending your workout with a few minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise. This allows your body to decrease the heart rate and prevent blood from pooling in the limbs.

Stop if you need. Feeling muscle fatigue when performing the prescribed number of repetitions is normal, especially as a beginner. But if you feel any pain, stop the exercise immediately and consult a health care professional (especially if the pain persists).

Don't do too much too soon. Beginners shouldn't complete repetitions until they can't lift anymore. This could cause joint compression or poor breathing patterns, resulting in dizziness, nausea or injuries.

Read more: Find the Best Outdoor Workout for Every Fitness Style

Over-40 Workout Plan — Female

The following movements from the American Council on Exercise are good for beginners to get accustomed to lifting. Be sure to always start with a dynamic warm-up, such as five to 10 minutes of walking or running or three minutes of running followed by 2 sets of 15 jumping jacks, 2 sets of 15 arm circles and 2 sets of 15 leg swings.

Move 1: Squats With Weights

  1. Stand with dumbbells in each hand, with the arms down at your sides and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your abs and tilt your head slightly up.
  3. Shift your weight into your back heels and lower yourself down to the floor while pushing your hips behind you. Make sure your feet stay flat on the floor. The movement is similar to sitting down in a chair.
  4. Hold for one second.
  5. Slowly lift yourself back up to starting position.
  6. Repeat for 1 set of 12 to 15 reps.

Move 2: Chest Press

  1. Lie faceup on a weight bench.
  2. Grip a barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Press your feet into the floor and lift the barbell off the rack.
  4. Lower the bar to your chest, keeping your arms at your sides as you bend your elbows.
  5. Hold for one second.
  6. Push the barbell back on the rack.
  7. Repeat for 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
  8. Put the barbell back on the rack.

Tip

If you feel unsure about this movement, you can use a spotter for safety. This person stands behind your head and can grab the barbell if you lose your grip.

Move 3: Lat Pulldown

  1. Sit down at the pulldown machine and adjust the thigh pad to fit against the top of your thighs.
  2. Engage your core and reach up and grab the bar with your arms outstretched. Grip the two ends of the bar. Your arms should be more than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Pull the bar down toward the midsection of your chest. You can lean back slightly, but not more than 30 degrees. Be sure not to move your head.
  4. Hold this for one second.
  5. Slowly move the bar back up to starting position.
  6. Repeat for 1 set of 12 to 15 reps.

Tip

If you see your elbows moving backward, stop. You've pulled too far down on the bar.

Move 4: Pullover Crunch

  1. Grab one dumbbell in both hands and lie faceup on the floor.
  2. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Reach overhead with both arms, keeping the dumbbell in both hands.
  4. Pull the dumbbell over your head to the midsection of your chest.
  5. Engage your abs and slowly pull up your back off the floor toward your hips.
  6. Hold this for one second.
  7. Slowly lower back down to starting position to perform a full crunch.
  8. Move the dumbbell back overhead.
  9. Repeat for 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Move 5: Standing Biceps Curls

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  3. With the palms facing toward the ceiling, bend your right elbow and bring your right hand toward the shoulder. Keep your elbow at your side throughout the movement.
  4. Hold at the top.
  5. Lower back down to starting position.
  6. Switch to the left hand and perform the same movement.
  7. Repeat for 1 set of 24 to 30 reps (12 to 15 on each side).

Move 6: Triceps Kickback

  1. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand. Move your right leg forward and your left leg back about 1 foot, creating a split-stance position.
  2. Place your right hand on your right knee for stability.
  3. Bend forward about 45 degrees, keeping your back straight.
  4. Engage your core and keep your head aligned with your straight back.
  5. Position your left arm parallel to your chest.
  6. Bend your elbow 90 degrees.
  7. Slowly straighten your elbow by contracting your triceps muscles.
  8. Hold this position for one second.
  9. Move your elbow back to the starting position.
  10. Repeat for 1 set of 12 to 15 reps.
  11. Switch arms for 1 set of 12 to 15 reps.

Move 7: Calf Raises

  1. Place a barbell about shoulder height on a rack.
  2. Place the barbell on the back of your neck and shoulder blades.
  3. Grasp the barbell a little more than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Tilt the wrists to move the bar off the rack.
  5. Move your feet hip-width apart.
  6. Engage your core and slowly push your toes into the floor while raising your heels off the floor.
  7. Hold the top position for one second.
  8. Slowly roll your heels back to the floor.
  9. Repeat for 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Tip

If you want more shapely calves, point your feet slightly inward.

Read more: 15 New Squat Variations for Every Fitness Level

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