“My biggest question is about strength training. I don’t even know where to begin.”
This is one of the most common questions I’m asked. The focus is on weight training, and for a good reason. If you’ve crossed that threshold of 50, 60 or 70 or beyond, your need to maintain muscle increases. The combination of resistance training (with weights) and optimal nutrition are your two best weapons against muscle losses and the default to more fat.
The facts: muscles losses range from 3-8% a decade beginning in your 30s. The same thing coincidentally is going on in bones.
Frail muscles less likely to prevent a fall and frail bones more likely to sustain a fracture set up a downward spiral. Women tend to get a wake up call about belly fat first and worry later about bones. Yet, the fractures and falls you may think only happen to much older and more frail women, begin to threaten as early as your 40’s due to some very specific weaknesses. Midlife women’s calf muscles, for instance, are associated with increased risk of falls. This is true of all fitness levels.
3 Common Weight Training Program Errors:
- Too little to help with goals
- Too much to sustain without injury
- Too random without a work and rest relationship
I’ll elaborate on each of these below to demonstrate how to find your sweet spot for starting a strength training program.
Too Little Weight Training
Strength training to fatigue is key to making a change in the muscle fibers. It’s no secret I’m a fan of heavy weight for women able to safely do it. There are some wonderful fitness experts who focus on purely body weight. They look amazing. Under the hood, however I have concerns that the lack of bone and muscle stimulation from body weight-only routines is a big reason many 50 and over women are fighting fat gains.
Recently however, studies are showing that as long as fatigue is reached lighter weights can achieve hypertrophy (increased lean muscle). Do they do it better than heavier weights? It’s not likely but for those who dislike heavy weights or would be too much at risk for injury using them this is good news!
That said, you can choose a heavy weight that causes fatigue at 10 or fewer repetitions or you choose one that causes fatigue at 25 repetitions, or something in between. You want to make those decisions based on your goals. In You Still Got It Girl, the book and the course, I define the optimal routines depending on whether weight loss, bone density, or performance at say, better golf is your goal. However, if you don’t reach that state of temporary fatigue at the end of each set you’ll miss the benefits of the weight training for maintaining or increasing lean tissue.
Determine your goals together with your current fitness status and recent exercise habits. Be sure the last 2-3 repetitions of each set are getting difficult.
Too Much Weight Training
In attempt to get fit fast and with good intentions, you may be doing too much exercise with too little rest between. You may easily think the harder I work and the more often I do it the faster I get fit. The real solution is not intuitive. Less, but the right dose and intensity, exercise with plenty of planned rest and recovery gets the most optimal results.
Though you may not be nor have aspirations to be an elite athlete, bear with me while I use athletes as an example. Those athletes at the top of their game whose job it is to be the most fit and perform at peak plan very carefully their work and the rest. They take days off for full recovery. They adjust and may take more days off if they are still sore, or have performance falling off the goal.
If you think of yourself as an athlete for a moment (I do even if you don’t!), and your measure of performance is optimal weight, or high energy, for example then when that’s not happening it’s time to look at why.
If you’re feeling tired, sore, or lack results while you’re exercising regularly, the possible answer is just as likely you’re overdoing it as #1, you’re under exercising.
Leave a minimum of 48 hours between strength training (and other high intensity exercise – including HIIT if you’re sore or tired) for the same muscle groups. Up to 72 hours can be more beneficial after the age of 50. Listen to your body for clues and respond accordinging.
Too Random Weight Training
You’re lifting weights without a plan. You have it checked off your list as something you know you need to do so you’ve minimally qualified but there’s no purpose to each workout.
You want tone in your legs and so you look around for leg exercises on YouTube or watch what someone else is doing at the gym. After they get up you go and try that exercise.
Perhaps you’ve fallen in love with following the latest trend in exercise or the latest popular tool or prop your trainer or fitness instructor loves. Yet, you don’t know exactly how it helps you achieve your fitness goals, helps strengthen weaknesses, or improves your body mechanics.
You might rely on bootcamp or Crossfit to motivate you or give you that fix for high intensity and sense of accomplishment you want. Yet, you’re giving the responsibility of selecting the right progression, rest and recovery, and work ratio all to the leader of the class. If you miss a day or two class moves right along and you have to jump in and adjust or risk injury. If this is a long-standing class, there may be no real progression in it. It’s just exercise entertainment.
Start with the right exercises to meet your goals. Assess what you want, where your fitness level is right now, and determine the plan to get to your goals. The exercises and the exercise schedule then become much more clear.
Do choose strength… two or three times a week… schedule it right now! Before you do that scheduled exercise, though, choose exercises that match both your goals and your current needs. Sometimes you may need to start with some corrective exercises to put you in the best alignment before you can tackle the performance or weight loss goals you have.
Plan 48 -72 hours between strength workouts. Some adults beyond 50 can work just as hard as they did in the past, as long as they take a little longer recovery.
I can vouch for recovery. I began teaching 3-4 fitness classes a day many days of the week in grad school. This was long before we gave adequate props to recovery. Today, I do hard workouts 3-4 days a week and supplement with plenty of recovery. I’m the same weight and body composition and a LOT less tired.
What that means simply is that your fitness level may go UP if your frequency of exercise goes down. Here’s a simple example of a beginning weight-training schedule:
- First two weeks: 1 set 15 reps of all exercises Monday and Thursday
- Weeks three and four: 2 sets of 15 reps of all exercises Monday and Thursday
- Weeks five and six: 3 sets of 15 reps of all exercises Monday and Thursday
The exercises you select as a female over 50 may have commonalities if you’re apparently healthy. If you have a special condition you may leave out or add some for your unique needs. There are so many variables to consider that this may not be a perfect fit for you. It is a perfect place to start making adjustments that are more perfect for you.
Remember to get your Muscles in Minutes guide at flipping50tv.com to get instructions for 20