I am 49 and fortunately have been doing strength training over 20 years, but if you haven’t ever picked up a bar bell or a kettle bell, don’t wait any longer. Your body will thank you. [Sidebar: Annie - personal trainer at FBD - Kuhn's motto is "I'ts never too late." She is over 50 (a little bit) and kicks ass picking up heavy weight on a regular basis.] I recently interviewed 3 women from my strength training class. I wanted to find out why they began a strength training program and what perhaps surprised them the most about lifting weights. Here is a little bit of what they had to say. These women began their weight training regimen when they were 40 to 52 years of age.
Q1) Why did you initially look at starting a strength training program?
A1a) I initially started strength training to augment my running regimen. I knew that if I wanted to be a better runner, I needed to be stronger. In addition, as I helped to care for my aging mother, I realized that her independence and mobility were hampered not only by her lack of cardiovascular stamina, but by her lack of strength in many of her muscle groups.
A1b) I noticed I was losing muscle mass as I aged.
A1c) I have always been a runner (aha another runner ) and felt good about my cardio and leg strength but never had any upper body strength to speak of. I tried lifting weights, using machines at the gym and had my husband show me (on numerous occasions) exercises I could do when I finished running, but I always got bored doing the same old thing. I was looking for a couple of things; variety in the workout and good coaching, but not one-on-one attention, as I wanted to keep some ownership of my effort and level of success. This strength class is the perfect answer for me; variety, group camaraderie, and the coaching is personalized (group attention) enough for me.
Q2) What surprised you most about strength training?
A2a) My running definitely improved, but I was most surprised by how much better I felt overall. I have increased energy, my posture has improved and my low back issues have been resolved.
A2b) I was surprised most by the amount of weight that I eventually was able to lift and how much the encouragement of others in the class can push you to work harder and lift more.
A2c) How much stronger I’ve gotten and how much I enjoy and look forward to my workouts. I remember one of the ladies in the class saying that this (class/workouts) was the best part of her week, and thinking ’what a sad week she must have if this is the best part!’ Now I think the same thing and I have a good life
Q3) Was there a common misconception about strength training that was proven wrong for you?
A3a) I had always thought that free-weight training was for guys or body-builders. I believed that lifting heavy weight would bulk me up – when I discovered that the opposite is actually true. I am leaner than when I started. I also never realized what a great overall workout I could get from strength training. My heart rate goes up and I feel I get a total body workout every session.
A3b) Initially I was hesitant to work out with heavy weights because I did not want to look bulky…I have been doing boot camp for 3 years plus and I am still not bulky.
A3c) My misconception was that I couldn’t lift very much weight and that the class would be a bunch of women trying to outdo each other. It’s not! Everyone is encouraging each other to do their best at whatever level they are at. It’s not about anybody else but me and me getting stronger and better. And yet, working out with others spurs you on to do more, and try more.
Q4) What advice can you give other women over 40 about beginning a strength training program?
A4a) I would encourage every woman in her 40′s and 50′s to begin or maintain a strength training program with a high-quality knowledgeable instructor. Don’t let your doubts or fears stop you. You will be surprised what you can do and how it will help you in all activities of daily living…do something so that you can be enjoying an active lifestyle in your 60′s and beyond.
A4b) I always thought that I needed a super charged cardio class to burn calories and I am still amazed at how many calories I burn during a strength class.
A4c) It’s never to late, but be careful…you will begin to schedule the rest of your week around this class!
Even in the age of “Forty is the new 30″ and “Fifty is the new 40″, women in particular are still nervous, afraid, and as OPRAH used to say, “Scaaarrred”, of beginning a strength training program. Old misconceptions (from the 1980′s and thanks to many aerobic gurus) that lifting weights make you bulky, shorten your muscles, and decrease your flexibility are still believed, but are UNTRUE!
Strength training is one of the major water sources to your fountain-of-youth. It provides many great benefits, but these three are my favorite; improves muscle definition, improves bone density (fights osteoporosis), and improves calorie burn at rest.
Estimates have put muscle loss over each 10 year period at 7 lbs.* and also at 1% to 2% per year**! So, if you haven’t been doing any weight bearing exercise like lifting your body weight in a squat, pushup or chinup since the age of about 20, but still weigh the same, you need to ask yourself, “What is this 14 to 21 pounds made of that is hanging on my body? Has my composition changed?” YES! Not only has your muscle to weight ratio changed, but so has your bone density, and your metabolism. Muscle tissue burns calories at rest, so if you put more muscle on your frame you will burn more calories.
Beginning or even maintaining a weight training regimen after the age of 40 or 50 is slightly different than beginning a program in your 20′s or even 30′s. Our body repairs itself slower at a (slightly) older age. You can get away with a lot of bad form in your 20′s and bounce right back in a day or two, but bad form in your 40′s can set you back much longer. Starting your program off with a focus on form and patience will get you where you want to be more quickly as you age a bit. Also our range of motion might not be what it used to be, so your program should incorporate full range of motion exercises and stretching.
Give yourself the gift of finding a good strength training coach to teach you proper form and give you some great advice on starting weights and exercises. Each woman I interviewed for this article recommended that you find a quality knowledgable instructor. Guess what?? We have these at Fitness by Design! The Strength Class held at 9:30 on Tuesdays and Fridays is regularly filled with women in this wonderful age range, so you will feel right at home. We work hard, and we love to encourage each other and celebrate our accomplishments large and small. (Younger women are also encouraged to attend. We have those too!)
As we age even into our 60′s and beyond, weight training is still vitally important. Keep in mind that less jarring movements will be better for our joints and spine, but general aches and pains shouldn’t be an excuse for giving up on exercise. Brisk walking, cycling and ergonomic rowing can take the place of pounding exercises. Strength training in a slower and more controlled manner will still allow you to gain muscle mass. Flexibility and stretching and balance movements are crucial at this age and beyond and should be incorporated into your daily routine.
On a final note and shameless plug, if you know of a Mother, Daughter, In-Law, Neighbor or Friend that could really benefit from getting stronger and leaner, send them into Fitness by Design – Mother’s Day is May 12th. We have a great start-up special that will get them that one-on-one attention AND give them the option of doing some classes. It’s called our Trial Starter Package for only $129. Otherwise the coaching they will receive in the classroom setting itself is superior to any of our competition. Just mention this blog post for a FREE class pass!
Thanks for reading and thanks 9:30 class pals for contributing! ~ Lisa Hudson
* Wayne L. Wescott, Thomas R. Baechle “Strength Training Past 50″, 1998 Human Kinetics
** Susan Faulk, Nov.19, 2009 TeamLiveStrong, Official Partner of the Livestrong Foundation