Strength Training Mistakes that Cost Bones and Muscles

Are you making these strength training mistakes?

This is a follow up on an ongoing poll of women in our Flipping 50 community. At this point over 1000 women have completed the 3-minute survey. Want to take it before you read further? Click Here. 

The news is this.

Houston, we have a problem.

The more women that take the quiz the more clear it is that you’re not getting the right information when it comes to what builds bones. There may be some exercise you can’t do based on a special condition or existing injury, but the quiz assesses your knowledge of optimal training for bone density.

The medical, health, and fitness information highway is failing you. There’s an abundance of information. A lack of information is not the problem. There is plenty of content out there today- much of it without scientific research cred. It also may be that even when science is used for evidence-based articles it isn’t always interpreted clearly.

We tend to follow the leaders and programs going in the direction we already wanted to go.

And, hey, why not? We like to be right!

Stronger Longer!

This post is an update on the current correct/incorrect responses. Before you leave I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How important a priority is bone density for you? What’s your current status? (No known osteoporosis, osteopenia, or diagnosed osteoporosis).

Your best exercise program will be unique to you based on your status. You wouldn’t do the same thing a 15 year old should do to increase bone density. You wouldn’t do that same thing a 25 year old would do. You at 55 shouldn’t do the same thing you at 85 will do. But you should know exactly what you should do, how to start, and how to progress to get the best results.

[The mistakes don’t appear in order of importance: they’re equally important!]

#1 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

More than 71% of midlife women don’t know how to lift weights to BEST boost bone density.

They don’t know that heavy weight training is the BEST for bones. Heavy is defined as a weight you can lift 10 or fewer times. That’s not putting the weight down after 10. You have to truly reach fatigue – get to the last one you can lift well – at a weight you can lift 10 or fewer times to optimally influence bone density.

No, you don’t start with a weight that heavy. Progression is key. You begin with a lighter weight and more repetitions. Building up your tolerance and progressing over a period of at least a couple months is best.

#2 Strength Training Boo Boo

Over 38% don’t know a combination of weight training and HIIT are best for changing body composition. A significant number incorrectly think weight training and long slow endurance will change body composition. Do you?

Much research suggests that long slow endurance activities may accelerate aging and interfere with hormone balance for women in midlife. You do have to know yourself and your limits.

Your body will give you signs what you’re doing is not working. You will have weight loss resistance. You may have increased or decreased appetite. You may not be sleeping.

#3 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

Over 60% of women over 50 believe incorrectly that the best frequency for weight training is 3 times a week. It’s a conundrum that you have to wonder if there was ever research pointing to it (its hard to find). It may have simply been a Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine imposed by the group fitness programs at local gyms.

Habit too is sometimes easier to create the more frequently you do something. Millions don’t think about stumbling to the kitchen for coffee every morning for instance. Taking the multivitamin, less of a regular habit.

Newer studies show an increased amount of rest and recovery between high intensity sessions is best. Additional studies comparing a frequency of one, two, or three times a week exercise in peri-menopausal women (important) revealed the sweet spot for greatest overall energy expenditure is twice a week.

#4 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

Only a third of responders knew the number of repetitions most likely to “build bulk.” Ironically, it corresponds to what nearly every woman over 50 was instructed to do in high school or her early 20s. Some coach somewhere told you three sets of 10 was the way to go.

If you’re reluctant to lift weights because of all that bulk, at this point you don’t have the hormones (or the time) to spend hours doing that. There’s an ideal protocol for your body typeto consider as well. Are you lean and unable to gain tone? You actually might love the results from this routine today.

#5 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

Less than 40% of women over 50 know the right repetition range for increasing bone density. It is 10 or fewer repetitions. That is to fatigue. The weight is heavy enough you want to put it down because you can’t do another one well.

What works for muscle will not work the same way for bones. You can choose a lighter weight and do more repetitions. If you reach fatigue you will have provided enough stimulus – overload – to the muscle so that it will respond by getting stronger. That is, if it’s given adequate rest, proper calories and protein between workouts.

However, reaching muscular fatigue alone is not enough for the bones to respond positively. It’s the force application to the bone that matters. Heavier weight provides the force necessary while lighter weight does not. The term is called Minimal Effective Stress. It’s used more often to discuss activities like walking, or rebounding, as opposed to jumping or hopping. More walking does not provide more stress to bones. Your body has already adapted to the heel strike.

Weight bearing exercise like walking is better than swimming or sitting on the couch. After you’ve become a walker, walking two miles instead of one, does no more good to the bones.

For many women using the services of a trainer it’s important to request a few machine exercises in addition to functional movements to provide bone density benefits. Machine weights are very functional when they tie directly to a goal and safely accomplishing it. Many trainers will argue otherwise.

#6 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

About 55% of survey respondents have a good idea of how to begin interval training. But 45% would start out with a hard interval: recovery interval ratio that leads to injury or to reduced effectiveness of intervals.

By definition interval training sessions are alternating high intensity exercise with periods of very low intensity recovery. The best analogy is of driving your car around town. All of that stopping and starting means you burn up a lot of fuel, right? You get terrible mileage in town. Exactly what you want when you exercise!

If you don’t recover between hard intervals the workout is much less effective. The high intensity interval isn’t. The low intensity interval isn’t. It all becomes gray. For beginners the best intervals are more recovery time and less work time. If you’re work: recovery intervals are equal or you’re recovery time is shorter than your work time, definitely as a beginner you’re probably short changing your results.

The 7th Mistake

A whopping 84% of midlife women don’t know how much time to rest between strength training sessions. [Maybe there’s a theme here, considering #6 – we just don’t know how to rest!]

The best way to fully recover after age 50 is to monitor yourself closely for a week or two. Track your resting heart rate (first thing in the morning), your soreness before beginning a workout, your fatigue or energy level during the day, the quality of your sleep, and your appetite.

I discussed each of those in You Still Got It, Girl! and you track them in The After 50 Fitness Formula for Women course. If any of them aren’t optimal (e.g. your resting heart rate is elevated by 5 beats from normal) and you’re exercising “more” as opposed to better, increasing your rest may be the answer to better fitness.

In your fourth or fifth decade, your need for recovery between hard sessions increases. Make no mistake – you have the ability to work just as hard as you ever did – and get comparable results to younger cohorts, so long as you rest longer. It’s not necessarily an age thing either. We’re all different in our need for recovery.

Rest Right For You

Compare one elite athlete to another and you’ll find there’s a difference in how much time they need between challenging workouts. The one that needs more recovery time could be the better athlete – as long as she’s able to recover.

For many older adults recovery time of 72 hours between tough workouts gets better fitness. You can –and should- absolutely perform lighter and moderate workouts and lots of movement between. Adding that extra day of recovery – as opposed to an extra workout – might help you reach greater fitness in the second half.

Try ditching the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule and give a Monday, Thursday schedule a try for a few weeks.

#8 Most Common of Strength Training Mistakes

A whopping 7 out of 10 survey respondents aren’t getting enough protein after workouts to optimize lean muscle repair. Protein synthesis declines with age. Fortunately for active older adults it’s higher than for sedentary older adults. Still, you don’t synthesize – use the protein you eat for the use of your muscle – as well as you did 10 or 20 years ago.

So if you’re eating the same amount of protein you used to, or as many older adults do, you’re cutting down on your protein, it might be time to bump your protein. If you’re not seeing or feeling results from your workouts the type and timing of your protein matter significantly as you age.

Clean, unprocessed, hormone-free protein sources are best. Consuming about 30 grams of protein at each of three meals is ideal for daily habits.

Muscle and protein haven’t been a part of the bone density discussion for the first 20 years of our increased awareness of osteoporosis prevention. Now, however its so clear that without muscle you don’t have the ability to do what you need to prevent osteoporosis, or prevent additional bone loss, and increase balance to reduce falls.

And Finally the 9th Mistake 

Only 1 in 4 know the ideal timing of a high protein meal or shake after a strength training session. It’s not just how much protein you need, it’s when you consume it that matters.

Following a hard strength training workout, consuming either a meal or a shake/smoothie with 30grams of protein at 60-90 minutes after is optimal.

Have you read or heard that you should have protein and carbs right away? At one point chocolate milk was all the rage. It’s past time to rethink that sugar and the dairy that is not ideal for many older adults. Further, the research on timing has been replaced, especially for older adults.

Strength training gives you a big advantage in synthesizing protein. Follow strength training you can use it better. However, you (in the second half) have a blunting effect for about 60 minutes in ability to synthesize protein. So wait till you shower, or run that errand, to have your next scheduled meal or a protein shake for the best lean muscle benefits.

Your Turn

Is anything a surprise here? I’d love to hear from you.

If you seek support in Bone Density knowledge, learn more about my bone health mini course here.

If you want support for strength training – and making it a lasting habit with my 12-week STRONGER programsclick here!

Enrollment opens a few times a year and if you’re lucky enough to be reading this during enrollment you can jump in! If not, you can ask to be notified when doors open (and be the first to take advantage of early bird rates offered to a limited number of students!)

strength training mistakes

Additional Resources:

How to Choose an Exercise Program 

How to Start Strength Training After 50 (two-part) 

Why Strength Training After 50 is So Important for Women

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