Strength Training for Women over 40 - How to Get Started

Strength Training for Women over 40 - How to Get Started
by megan dahlman
December 19, 2023

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You know you probably need to strength train more, you just don’t know where and how to start.

Well, buckle up, because I’m about to show you exactly where and how to start in the simplest, easiest ways possible.  

Let me tell you a story about Elaine…

Elaine is 65, which she told me sounds so old to say out loud, but she usually doesn’t feel old. She has 3 kids and 2 grandchildren, and is actually a very active and trim grandma, which is how she always wanted to be.

Her primary activity is cycling. Just this year she has cycled over 2700 miles, and on the days that she doesn’t cycle, she either goes for a 4 mile walk that is fast and hilly, or if it’s raining, she gets on her elliptical for 40 minutes. Quite impressive really.

But all of this activity recently ground to halt, because she’s currently experiencing hip and back pain that is keeping her from doing much of anything.

She said to me, “I haven’t done strength training for years, and I know that’s what I need so that I can avoid these flare-ups of back/hip pain. I just don’t know where to start.”

This is a very common statement that I hear nearly every day, from women that feel quite out of shape and even from women that are extremely active and actually quite fit.  

  • They know they should be doing more strength training - their doctor may have even told them they should start doing it
  • BUT! They don’t know how to get started safely.

Grab your pen and paper or your open up your notes app, because today I’m going to tell you exactly how and where to properly and safely get started with strength training.

Why should you strength train?

If you’re in peri-menopause or you’re post-menopausal, strength training is one of the most important forms of physical activity you can do. This is recommended by countless doctors and health experts, and I know you’ve heard it said over and over again.

Strength training is crucial for your:

  • muscle health (if you’re over 40, you’re at a much greater risk of losing significant muscle mass and this muscle loss speeds up for women over 60)
  • bone health (you can lose up to 20% or more of your bone density in the first 5-7 years after menopause)
  • the health of your joints and ligaments and tendons
  • healthy circulation through your body’s lymph system (it’s primarily your muscles flexing and un-flexing that help to pump your body fluids around)
  • for your balance and coordination
  • for your blood pressure and blood sugars
  • injury resistance
  • and even for your heart health
  • Strength training checks every box

You know this, I just wanted to give you a reminder of why this is so important! Cycling, walking, the elliptical - it’s great activity but it simply can’t do all these things.

Knowing WHY you should strength traing isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s knowing HOW to get started.

And when you’re not quite sure how, it’s easy to kick that can down the road and stay active in other ways and hope you’re getting close to what your body needs.

But just like Elaine, you might be active - like very active. But you could still have some major issues and be miserable.

How can you start strength training safely?

Don’t start with weights.

You’ll be shocked to hear this, but don’t start with weights or any kind of equipment.

Do you ever watch America’s Funniest Home Videos? You always see videos of exercise mishaps and it’s always with equipment.  Most of these mishaps are because they’re trying to get the hang of how to move & control their body and simultaneously figure out a piece of equipment. This is also why many women end up with wrist, elbow and neck injuries when they start weightlifting - it’s all unfamiliar and so they’re death gripping the weights as a precautionary measure

  • The best movements for your overall strength & fitness require you to balance, stabilize and coordinate all at the same time. - that’s a lot for your brain to learn! Don’t try to make the learning process harder by also putting things in your hands.
  • You’ll feel discouraged, frustrated, demoralized
  • This should not be your first experience with strength training
  • Start with strength training movements that use only your bodyweight for resistance - and there are PLENTY of them!
  • Squats, hip hinges, bridges, birddogs, push-ups, inchworms and the list goes on and on.
  • The benefit of starting here is that you’re going to:
  • Gain far greater awareness with how your body moves and your alignment
  • Learn how to engage and control your core through the movements, which is really important
  • Yes, we’re moving in the direction of lifting heavier things down the road, but to start out, you don’t need that yet. You need to know how to do the basic movements properly first.

I recommend doing body weight-only training for a full 3 months before you put anything in your hands

As you start strength training, do “functional” movements.

FUNCTIONAL: “designed to be practical and useful, relates to the way something works or operates.”

Think about all the movements you need to do all around your house everyday: squat, hinge, push, pull, lift, brace, rotate. Usually you’re standing on your feet for a lot of this, usually multiple limbs are going and working at the same time.

When you move all day long, you’re never isolating one muscle or one joint - instead, many joints and muscles are coordinating together at once, and you want each of those areas on your body to be able to go through their fullest ranges of motion with strength and control. (this is what we call good mobility),  

If you can train for these types of movements, it’s going to prevent injuries, will build your bone and muscle mass more than anything else, and it’s going to give you much greater confidence and functionality.

This might ruffle some feathers, but right now, there are several styles of training that are very popular that use very small movements, lots of isometric holds, or they just isolate one specific spot on your body - like the weight machines at the gym, and even pilates and barre classes.

  • You might feel strong while you’re doing that very specific movement, but when you go about your day and you need to move your muscles through a larger range of motion and even move quicker, your muscles and your joints won’t be there for you. They just haven’t been trained for that type of movement. And that’s how you get injuries. Because this is not functional training - it’s not practical, it’s not useful.
  • So, what I always say is that if you like going to a certain class or doing a certain type of activity, that’s great! Do it for fun and for extra movement.

I recommend that if you want to start strength training and you want to get the best possible outcome from your time, focus on functional style strength training.

Follow an intentional progression.

Don’t jump into the deep end and start out with things that your body might not be ready for quite yet. (Maybe you know this, but another trainer you worked with didn’t know this.)

  • Someone I work with has been dealing with a torn glute tendon for the last year. You know how she got that? She had never strength trained before and decided to hire a personal trainer. In the first two weeks of working out with the trainer, he had her doing side lunges. She didn’t have the mechanical stability yet in her hip socket to do a proper side lunge.
  • A side lunge is actually very advanced! Squat > staggered squat > split squat > reverse lunge > forward lunge
  • A movement might look cool or sound effective for the body part that you want to work on, but you might not have the proper neuromuscular control and stability to do that yet without hurting yourself.

I was trying to think of a good metaphor for this, but your relationship with strength training should look like a river that flows from here to there and gathers more energy and momentum along the way, rather than a lake that doesn’t really start anywhere and doesn’t go anywhere.

  • Your long term success hangs in the balance here, and it might mean that you need to start easier than you think you should.
  • There needs to be a proper progression with things, and it has to occur in the right steps and at the right times.

Progression can happen in many ways - the difficulty of the exercise, the amount of reps, the sets, the speed that you do the movement, and of course the amount of weight that you use

  • This is also how you’re going to continue to see results without plateauing.

So, I recommend that as you’re starting out with strength training, don’t just pick a bunch of random exercises and do them over and over. Make sure you have a plan for some sort of progression, so that you start right where you’re at and you get stronger and actually get somewhere.

Example Strength Training Workout

Here’s an example of a good strength training routine to begin with:

5 movements - bodyweight-only, functional, and they’re going to follow a progression:

  • Squat
  • Bridge
  • Hinging (bent-over) thoracic rotation
  • Elevated push-ups
  • Birddog

Progression example - First time, once through, then we do it twice through the next time, then add a few more reps, and then we make one of the moves slightly more challenging.

Success vs. Failure

When you follow these steps, not only are you going to actually get all those wonderful healthy benefits that we talked about earlier, but you’re also going to have a far more positive experience with strength training!

But listen, if you come out of the gate too hard, if you don’t do functional-based movements, if you try to lift weights right away, you just might find yourself back at square one, frustrated, and thinking, “well that didn’t work, I’ll just keep walking and call it good.” Still with that nagging thought that you really should be strength training.

The easiest way to put this into action…

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Can you just do all of this for me? Can you just give me a simple video to do each day so I can just follow along with you, and you can just tell me exactly what to do to get started?”

Well, YES, and I can do even more than just that!

I can give you 30 days of videos that are all different and perfectly progress from Day One to Day 30, and have the right exercises done on the right days, with the perfect balance of rest days and even just stretching days, and even some days where we do actually go on a walk together, and every day is only 15 minutes or less.

Not only that, but I’ll also text you everyday and hold you accountable, and do coaching calls with you every week.

And what if I also coach you through your nutrition every day too? And help you get your nutrition on track, and teach you how to make better food choices in every situation?

And what if I told you this was just phase one of a long, beautiful journey that I have fully mapped out for you that you never have to think again about what you should do and how you should train and how you should eat?

Well, it might sound like a dream, but it’s real - what I just described is my Jumpstart 30 program, and I’d say it’s about time that you let me help you.

The new year is right around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to create a fresh start and say that 2024 was the year that you started really strength training and got serious about your longevity and your long term health.

Sign up for Jumpstart 30 and I’ll take care of the rest. I know these next couple weeks are a bit crazy, so we’re going to kick off Day One of Jumpstart 30 together on Monday January 1st.

And hey friend, I always sign off these episodes by saying “be strong”… and this time I really do mean it. Let’s do the things that are going to help you say “Yes, I am strong.”

More Resources & Links

Jumpstart 30 - Register now! Day one starts Monday, January 1st (click for more info!)

Grab Megan’s free 5-Day Core Tune Up program here

Do you nagging back and hip pain? Check out Megan’s Back & Hip Fix program here!

Follow Megan on Instagram

Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
Read More About Megan
Hi! I’m Megan.
Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
Be sure to subscribe to Self-Care Simplified wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
Read More About Megan
Hi! I’m Megan.
take the quiz
Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
Be sure to subscribe to Self-Care Simplified wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
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