Beginning Weight-Lifting Programs for Women Over 40

Senior woman weight training in a gym
Resistance training will help you retain your independence during your later years. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Having strong muscles is part of looking and feeling your best at any age, but after the age of 40 your muscles decrease by 10 percent each decade. It is valuable for women to adopt a stable weight-training program in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise to retain strength and increase bone density and metabolism. Strength training lowers the risk of health conditions that sometimes develop after menopause, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Benefits

Forty is a turning point in life for women: Your body begins to undergo the changes of perimenopause, including risk of muscle fiber shrinkage, higher blood pressure, loss of bone density and unwanted weight gain. These changes are intensified by inactivity. Adding weight training into your health routine will help reduce body fat, tone muscles and strengthen bones while also combating low energy, mood swings and insomnia. Some age-related changes are inevitable, but the decline of physical health related to inactivity can be greatly reduced with a diligent commitment to strength training as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Scheduling

When beginning a weight-training routine for the first time, the first challenge is to remain consistent. Write down your weekly workout dates as appointments that you can't miss. For the first few weeks, learn correct techniques and practice proper form. Always begin with a 10-minute warm-up of light cardio such as walking or biking, and stretch your major muscle groups after your workout, holding each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. The American College of Sports Medicine advises beginners to take a day or two of rest in between each weight-training session.

Equipment

The type of equipment you choose will depend on your experience and availabilities. A safe beginning workout can succeed whether you use machines at the gym or your own body weight, a set of dumbbells and resistance bands at home. Free weights require some coordination and have additional benefits over machines, because they require you to use your stabilizing muscles. They are more effective at producing overall muscular strength and they are also more versatile, as well as portable and inexpensive. Exercise machines are sometimes easier to use than free weights if you have no experience with weight training, because most machines have a built-in range of motion. If you belong to a gym, get help from a personal trainer until you feel comfortable practicing on your own.

Weight-Training Program

Using a comfortable light weight will allow most adult women to do 15 to 20 repetitions with good form; this will help you to get used to accomplishing the movement with a full range of motion. Each session should take less than 45 minutes; within that time, target all of your muscle groups by performing 10 to 12 different exercises. Perform exercises for larger muscle groups such as the glutes, legs, chest, back and core before smaller muscle groups such as your calves, shoulders, biceps and triceps to prevent you from fatiguing your muscles too quickly. A total-body weight-lifting program might include lunges or squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, lat pulldowns, pelvic tilts, planks, shoulder presses, biceps curls, triceps pulldowns and calf raises. When you can easily do 20 repetitions with good form, reduce your repetitions to 12 to 15 and add one or two more sets. When you can complete three sets, increase the weight you are using and do one to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Warnings

Feeling some muscle fatigue when doing the prescribed number of repetitions is normal, but if you feel any pain, stop the exercise immediately, and consult your physician if it persists. It is important for beginners not to do repetitions to failure, as it could cause joint compression or breath holding, resulting in dizziness, nausea or injuries. Get your doctor's approval before beginning any new exercise routine.

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