Women in Midlife Need Different Training than Mice, Men, and Young Women

Women in midlife deserve better. This post is an update from an earlier post I felt called to write after coming across a very disturbing post from a (male) personal trainer online. In this update, I provide a detailed list of questions and infographic to remind you what you really should ask a trainer or coach. I share how to interview and choose a personal trainer/health coach. 

Prepare for the rant.

Though I won’t apologize.

This is absolutely what is WRONG with the reason your exercise plans have failed you.

Post from a Personal Trainer’s Facebook Group

Let’s make clear: women of every age are included in this image of a trainer’s post. And there is a difference in mens and women’s training at every age. But never more than at midlife. This goes on every single day. Male (and some female trainers and instructors) that have a minimum of education from a certification (which qualifies them for the “minimum viable knowledge required to enter the field”(that is ALL that a certification is) believe this and live it every day.

I’ll link to my TEDx talk below – the fastest way to learn more about the limited amount of exercise on women. It doesn’t tell the whole story though. Less than 10% of that research exists for you in any one stage of the up to 7 hormonal phases you go through in your life. That will help you understand at some level why this trainer’s statement is wrong. wrong. wrong.

The only place the trainer below is correct on any level is anatomy. Women and men have the same muscles. In his example of butt muscles, yes, both genders have gluteus maximus and medius for instance. A trainer could argue that both have pectoral muscles. (However, can we agree they are clearly not the same?) 

That’s where similarities end.

Women have a wider hip/pelvis leading to a bigger Q-angle, that if not addressed in training makes them more prone to injury.

Women are more prone to injury during certain times in their cycles – when estrogen levels are high. Women in midlife are also notoriously more injury prone. (That is, more than younger women and more than older women)

Women are better able to utilize strength and power in training at some points in their cycles. They respond with more fitness doing less strength and more endurance during other weeks.

Women not only cycle monthly through these hormone and training relationships, but they have major phases in life. For instance, reaching puberty, pre-natal/post-natal, perimenopause, late peri/early post menopause, post menopause are phases that DEMAND a very specific change in their training. Women in menopause or post who don’t cycle, actually can still benefit from a cycle of training.

Here’s what IS different about women, especially women in midlife and menopause:

  1. hormones
  2. body composition
  3. metabolism
  4. socialization (Especially if you’re in your 50’s or older, you were raised by a culture that potentially still has deep-rooted beliefs about how exercise should be, be done, or is or isn’t something you should do).

Women in midlife utilize fat for fuel differently than men do during exercise. You respond to the same exercises differently. You are more prone to negative effects of stress (cortisol hormone) at times during your cycle and most definitely at menopause.

There is a higher rate of injury among midlife women. Obviously, we link that to hormonal changes, though there hasn’t yet been research to suggest the exact link. Those of us who have served women in midlife for decades know it, and see it daily. With comments like this from trainers, is it any wonder why getting “a trainer” is not a simple solution?

Women in Midlife absolutely need to choose Personal Trainers wisely.

You’re vulnerable to begin with. Your socialization and work ethic (from parents in a generation who taught that hard work pays off) will cause you to try to do more, more often, harder. You set yourself up for injury when signs of hormone changes include weight gain or belly fat.

But going to a trainer could be no better if you don’t know the questions to ask.

These are the questions to ask:

  • Have you worked with women just like me before?
  • How many?
  • What results have they experienced?
  • How long have you been working with women just like me?
  • Is that part time or full time (a very important question: no one becomes an expert a few hours a week)
  • Can I talk with some prior clients or see some testimonials?
  • How would my plan be unique for me- what do you have in mind?
  • What training have you had specific to women in menopause (or post)?
  • Why do you enjoy training women in menopause when you could train anyone?

What education do you have?

    1. This might be a degree or certificate program from a university. Ask though, is it in exercise science, kinesiology, or health promotion (this included far less exercise phys/kinesiology/exercise programming). 
    2. This might be mentorship and training in house for a major fitness brand. Lifetime fitness clubs for instance train their own method in some cases. Few programs provide depth in hormone balance or training women in midlife and beyond menopause. Several “certificate” or specialty programs are put together from an eclectic bundle of prior published articles of an organization. That’s substandard if you’re looking for a step-by-step way to educate trainers about how to assess, plan, and coach training for women in midlife.

What certification do you have?

    1. Is it current? What do you do (continuing education) to keep it current? Please note: at this time there is no requirement that a Medical Exercise Specialist take CECs for working with the populations that might be women in menopause, osteoporosis, cancer, or fibromyalgia in order to renew their certification. A trainer can take CECs in anything they choose – including how to use and train with kettlebells, or how to use social media for marketing and as long as they have the credits, and pay for renewal, they’re renewed). You will have to ask… what were the recent CEC course you took in this area that will help you work with me?
    2. Certificates of completion and Certification are distinctly different. Please know that attending a weekend online program (or buying it) could provide an attendee with a “certificate.” That is not to say they have taken and passed a quiz that “certifies” them. While holding certificates of completion demonstrating investment of time and energy into knowing a topic deeply is valuable, it’s even more so when combined with a coaching or training accredited certification.
    3. Lastly, with national certifications, the Subject Matter Experts such as myself who write exam items (for Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and Medical Exercise Specialist exams) are given specific advance about item creation. The purpose of an exam is to qualify a candidate as having the minimum viable knowledge to enter the field. You must do your own due diligence beyond that. Passing scores for certification exams should also be considered. Granted some of us are not good test takers. Is someone who squeaks by with a passing score of 70% as qualified as someone who scored 98? You won’t know. There’s always something to consider. Few tests are as rigorous as they should be. 

What is your Training Style?

    1. Is this a “functional” trainer more committed to a list of “functional” exercises than to you? Are exercises and protocols selected that match your status, goals, and needs? Listen, doing squats or using leg press machines to lift heavy and influence metabolism and bone density I call “functional” if these are your highest priorities. There are many trainers who do not think this way and who’ve been taught not to rely on simple basic exercises and research-based protocols in favor of creative exercise that keeps you reliant on them. Based on 37-years as an educator with a full-time fitness career every exercise tied directly to a desired outcome is functional.
    2. Does your trainer believe in a “no pain, no gain” attitude? Does that work for you? (Um, midlife babe, before you say yes, think twice).

Asking, “Are you CERTIFIED?” is not enough.

I write exam items for a top certification agency: for health coaching, personal training, and medical exercise specialist exams.

The instructions to us as Subject Matter Experts is clear: the purpose of the exam is to identify those who successfully have a passing score know the MINIMUM KNOWLEDGE to enter the field.

Yet, 90% of the population polled believe that “certified” means totally qualified. They don’t ask anything beyond that. A smaller percent, though still high, believe that a trainer working for a fitness center has been screened and qualified by the owner adequately enough.

The truth is, most likely some “certificate” or certification from over 500 – of various levels of competency – that could qualify a trainer to be hired by a fitness business. If they’re popular, and can sell or renew their clients, most businesses are looking for profitability as much or more as ability to safely transform health.

Unfortunately, often your most educated trainers think they can’t afford to learn about marketing, sales, and scaling a business so you won’t see their ads or marketing. [Reality is, they can’t afford not to learn it from someone doing what they want to do, generating the kind of revenue they want. Even conference presenters sharing business sessions often do not have a business that pays the bills. That’s insane!]

Asking Do You Have a DEGREE?

Even a university degree doesn’t insure they know what they need to know.I taught in kinesiology at a university for 15 years as a Senior Lecturer courses for pre-med, pre-PT, students who wanted to be trainers, and fitness owners.

There isn’t time to get a student out in 4 years (and a lot of pressure to do that) to cover women’s hormones and exercise. We’re trying to make sure students know how to train knees safely and identify mistakes in form, and fitness test someone with the basics.

So, a 4.0 with a physiology major does not guarantee your trainer can articulate, communicate, and relate and all three are a must for you.

If you are a woman, you have female friends, relatives, or health coaches, doctors, or others who would benefit from this post, I encourage you to share it. 

We can do better. So much better.

P.S. I dislike throwing anyone in the industry under the bus. It honestly throws me right along with them. We don’t need any more controversy about fitness professionals. We need leadership and guidance and consciousness to up-level this still self-regulated industry. Especially in times like these when we need positivity and immune boosting, disease-fighting exercise more than ever.

Resources: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4021014/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439248/

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