Getting Started In Strength Training Later In Life

Instagram might be full of 20-something fit chicks. But a growing number of older women are discovering a love of strength sports. Are you one of them? 

Despite what social media would have you believe, not every woman who lifts is under the age of 30.

I’m 38 (39 in a few months, actually). Yet people regularly guess my age at more than a decade lower. I don’t spend cash on fancy skincare, and my sleep isn’t always great. My anti-aging weapon of choice? The lifting lifestyle: regular strength training, and the decent diet that comes with it.

Being older could even be a benefit in strength sports. Age brings strength, muscle density, increased proprioception, and the calm focus of a successful athlete.

What do women who first take up strength sports in their 40s, 50s, and beyond need to consider?

Benefits Of Strength Training For Older Women

It’s time efficient. Unlike running, you don’t need to train for a long time to get the benefits. And you can add intensity (rather than duration or distance) to keep the progress coming.

You set your own schedule. Weight training fits around work and  family, so you can set your own schedule and stick to it. No need to wait for pool opening times or class schedules.

It gives you a competitive outlet. Who says older women don’t want to compete in sport? Sure, some don’t. But many do. Perhaps you come from a sport background and want to rediscover that side of yourself. Or maybe you just have a new urge to compete. Bodybuilding welcomes older competitors. Powerlifting has dedicated Masters categories.

There’s a strong community feel. Women who lift share a distinct bond. It doesn’t matter what weight you have on the bar. If you step up to the squat rack, or load up a bar for a deadlift, other women in the gym will know you’re part of the clan. And the community is strong across social media, too.

It promotes bone density. Skeletal strength becomes even more dramatic after menopause. Older women are at significant risk from osteoporosis and fractures.  Strength training is an amazing tool for tackling loss of bone density.

You’ll maintain your metabolic rate. Muscle mass starts to drop from our 30s onwards. This loss contributes to creeping weight gain (typically 10lbs a decade), and so-called problem areas. Boost your muscle mass (even by a little) and you’ll keep your metabolic rate higher. This means you can control your weight without having to take calories so low. Strength training is a far more effective weight management tool than dieting.

Keep up with the kids. Or the grandkids! Strength training won’t make you heavy, slow, or muscle bound. It’ll make you stronger, more agile, and less prone to aches and pains. And will probably give you a confidence boost too.

You’ll add or retain your muscle mass. More muscle means more calories burned (even at rest), and helps you shape your physique. The common areas older women worry about – arms, stomach, hips, thighs, butt – are lifted and filled out by strength training.

Your posture and skin tone will be better. Strength training will help maintain your postural muscles, meaning you’ll look taller and slimmer. And older women who strength train report that it seems to keep their skin tone looking better, too. Perhaps it’s down to the muscle filling out the skin.

You might experience fewer aches and pains. Getting older tends to mean back pain, joint pain, and general feelings of wear and tear. A smart strength training programme can reduce aches and pains from everyday life.

Did You Know?

  1. As women grow older, our physical activity levels tend to drop. The 35-44 age group is still the most active, but only around 1/3 of this age group meets activity guidelines.

  2. In the 55-64 age group, less than 1/5 women take part in moderate activity on a regular basis.

  3. Older women taking part in sport report two main benefits (aside from health improvements): a boost in self-confidence about body image, and access to a new network of social support.

What Do You Need To Find Out?

Like any new skill, you’ll need good guidance. Working with a coach would be your best bet. But if that’s not realistic for you, find a woman who lifts and ask her advice. Every single female lifter I know wants to help other women get into strength training. If you get PT sessions, be sure the PT specializes in strength training. There are good books out there, and a ton of information on the internet and social media. But be selective, and don’t try to follow more than one plan at a time.

You’ll need to consider good technique, solid progressive programming, specific programming to suit your history (injuries, pregnancies, biomechanics), and diet/nutrition.

What’s Your Goal?

The great thing about strength training is that it lends itself to many goals.

Want to lose weight? Strength training (paired with a few good dietary tweaks) will transform your body. Want to maintain your weight as you get older? Adding muscle will help you do that. Do you want to shape particular areas of your body, or tackle lingering injuries? Strength training is a better tool than cardio, and much better than ignoring the issue!

And if you want to compete, there are tons of avenues open to you. The main strength and physique based sports are bodybuilding, strongman, powerlifting, and Cross Fit. All welcome older women. Most actually have dedicated age categories or Masters divisions to champion older athletes and give us our own records and titles to aim for.

But most older women coming into lifting report that they do it for themselves. With age usually comes a calm focus. We tend to care less about what others are doing, thinking, and looking like. We know ourselves better than we did in our 20s and 30s. And lifting is an incredible outlet for focusing on ourselves and what we can achieve.

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