Episode #470 Maintaining muscle in menopause, let alone gaining it (and the desired muscle tone) can get tricky if you’re unable to lift heavy weight. These 7 not-so-secret secrets will remind you that you have options.
However, this isn’t just about svelte arms or those void of bat wings. It’s independence coming down the pike in a decade or two. It’s balance and agility and reaction skills so walking that uneven golf course is not a big deal.
If you’ve got a history of injury, prior injury limiting your ability to lift, or a condition that deems heavy weight more risk than reward, this is for you.
That said, even if you ARE able to lift heavy, sometimes for those of us more naturally muscular, or at a plateau … or just plain tired of the same kind of workouts, adding one of these to your next workout can make things so much more inspired again.
Cheers to more muscle in menopause! Tell me in the comments which one you’re using first. And for our Flipping50 members, I’d love to hear from you… as I’m about to record a new series just for you featuring the strategies here.
Secret #1 Time under tension
For muscle in menopause when you can’t go heavy, this is a favorite. Tempo training allows you to use a lighter weight if needed and still be able to reach muscular fatigue. Now, to be clear, the stress still may not be optimal for bone density benefit. However, if you’re limited by an injury or condition (arthritis, for instance) that has competing needs with bone density, the condition that stands to suffer most wins.
Adding more time under tension is something most gym-goers need to do. If you’ve ever been to the gym, even the hotel gym, you’ll see a lot of very interesting (and undesirable) strategy. But most typical is about a 1-2 second lift and similar lower. The basic of basics ideal is a 1-2 second lift and a 3-4 second lower, making each repetition on average about 6 seconds.
Lighter Can Work
There are other techniques, and adding power is beneficial (for bone density and weight loss), however, back to the need to choose lighter weight (or simply test yourself or get off a plateau). Tempo training offers a lot of variety. I’ll often suggest doing a 2-4-2-4 tempo. In addition to slowing the move down in both the lift and lower, I also add a hold.
Talking you through it goes like this. Imagine a chest press. You’re lying on your back with dumbbells in each hand. You press up 4 counts, hold at the top 2 counts, lower in 4 counts, and hold for 2 counts before repeating the next repetition.
That single repetition now takes 14 seconds (as opposed to the typical 4 seconds most of us would hurry through.
You try it and tell me if you don’t feel that weight you thought you’d outgrown just got heavier!
Secret #2 Reach temporary fatigue
Slowing down is one way to do this without having to go super heavy. Doing something called a drop-set is another. Increasing exercise volume is beneficial for women over 40. However, with obstacles like time, and energy that could result in not just muscle fatigue but overall fatigue without adequate rest, it’s best to add volume not by more days per week but by more sets and or reps in a workout.
Drop-sets (also called monster sets) are often done in the gym. There’s no reason you can’t do them at home if you have at least 3, or 4 pairs of weights to choose from. Your first set of weights needs to bring you to fatigue, ideally at 15 repetitions. (By the way if you don’t have weights that do that, you need to go shopping!)
I prefer to do and have clients do 4 sets of 15 repetitions when doing drop sets. You reach fatigue, reduce the weight, and resume the next set, actually a continuation of the first. At the end of each set of 15 you should be at fatigue, and if you’re not do a few more so you do get there. It is the fatigue each of 4 times that makes this effective.
Secret #3 Isolated single-joint exercises AFTER compound
Isolated single-joint exercises can increase stimulus to cause muscle growth in the specific muscles.
For example, you do chest press and follow that later in the workout perform triceps exercises. Another example is doing a squat followed by a hamstring curl.
Compound exercises that move multiple muscles boost the energy expenditure during and after a workout. This is the kind of work that increases metabolic effects of strength training. Rarely, if ever does it serve you to do isolated muscle groups only as a woman in midlife wishing to live her healthiest second half.
Secret #4 Alternate intensity and volume of workouts
Some memes were meant to be ignored. “Always go hard or go home,” is one such meme. Never ever does a professional athlete, an amateur athlete, nor should you always build, build, build. Your fitness level will actually decline and you’ll experience more breakdown leading to injury doing this.
I use the same strategy with women in menopause I would use with collegiate athletes or world champion triathletes. There’s rotating schedule of building and recovery weeks. If you exercise intentionally it helps to think of yourself as an athlete. Just wiser. What I mean by that is you are in this for life, not to put yourself at risk for a single competition. I keep that approach with Flipping50 programs.
To give you a 4 week “shred” program that if done, and definitely if continued, would damage your hormones immensely would be a disservice. They’re sexy and they sell. But I’m not going to play that game. I’ll be here when you need repair.
Keep in mind an athlete, model, or celebrity does not care about long term health like you do. They care about work. Keeping their job for the short time they may have it, is about something other than health.
Secret # 5 Change the Way You Do Exercises
Using different angles, and unilateral vs bilateral work, or unique range of motion changes is one way I manipulate different fiber stimulation. Not every chest press is the same. And you have a body that lives and moves 360 degrees. The more angles and variations* used, the more fibers recruited. The more muscle fibers we recruit the more beneficial the strength and metabolism boost.
*This is not variety for variety’s sake. There’s a line where function is enhanced and where time spend increases without much return on investment.
Secret #6 Limit the Amount of Cardio You Do
Definitely prioritize your strength. Move more. Do limited interval training. But kick your endurance cardio to the curb if you want to see and feel the positive effects of your strength training on your muscle tone and definition.
Move more, yes. We need to offset the time we sit. But long endurance is not the answer right now.
Secret #7 Get the Rest and Sleep required for Muscle in Menopause
Without adequate sleep the anabolic (growth) hormones you need can’t be produced in the amounts needed to support muscle. (That production occurs during deepest cycles of sleep).
While the Queen of rest is sleep, this also means handle your stress. If you’re doing the best workouts in the world, and you’re uber-stressed and or not eating or sleeping, you can’t reap the rewards. So, consider what you need to ditch stressors where you can, and enhance your coping skills for the stressors that will always be there. Never in your life has your skill in this area been so important.
A lifetime of putting others and things first is staring at you making this one hard for many women. There’s no way around it. Anything else you want to do depends on dealing with stress and the feedback your body is giving you.
And last? You can’t grow muscle (or boost metabolism) without adequate protein and carbohydrate. It’s just not happening. So, the glycogen has to be in the muscle for the strength training to be beneficial.
Fasting? Or doing Keto without carbs? You’re coming up empty. There’s no fuel waiting there to use. Then in the case of fasting, there’s not enough to go in afterward since you’re playing “catch up” instead of getting ahead.
If you’re doing IF, I recommend doing your strength workouts in your eating window. Make sure you’re on a rotation so you allow yourself 24 hours after strength workouts to take in the extra fuel that you need for muscle. Yes, even if – especially if – you’re trying to lose weight. Every action you do is either helping or hurting your metabolism.
Get Your Own Proof
But don’t take my word for it, go get a smart scale and watch the results of your daily habits for yourself.
Resources mentioned in this episode: