Inspiration and info for midlife women who lift—or want to start

Category: Getting Started Page 1 of 2

Tips and resources to help as you embark on your strength training journey.

First Time Going to the Gym? We Were All New Once

The new year is here, and thousands of people all over the world are facing their first time going to the gym. 

You may be one of these folks. Maybe you’ve decided this is the year you’re finally going to get started with strength training. You may be preparing to pick up dumbbells or a barbell for the very first time. 

If so, way to effing GO! I’m so proud of you!!

On the other hand, maybe you’re an old hand who practically lives in the gym. If so, you may be dreading the impending onslaught of new members, because you’ve been here before. You’ve watched newcomers wander around aimlessly, overwhelmed and unsure what to do, looking baffled as they try to figure out what this machine is for and how to adjust the seat on that one. 

Whichever you are, I’m talking to you: veteran and newb alike. There are some things we all need to remember at this time of year.

Let me tell you a story. 

Female athlete using foam roller to alleviate muscle soreness, DOMS

I’m Not Sore—Do I Need To Work Harder?

My question is, how come I haven’t been getting sore? I’ve been lifting heavier, getting my protein in, but the last few weeks I only feel sore or tender sometimes. Makes me wonder if I’m not working hard enough, but it feels like I am when I’m in the gym!

Soreness is absolutely NOT the measure of how hard you’ve worked!

The underlying biology of delayed onset muscle soreness, which typically hits 12-18 hours after exercise and is often called “DOMS” by lifters) is not very well understood, but we do know it’s the result of microscopic muscle damage (which is how we get muscles to grow) and that a few specific scenarios tend to cause it.

Older woman in superhero cape flexing biceps on a mountaintop.

Recovery: The Unsung Hero to Build Muscle

Ask most people what they’re doing to build muscle and they’ll tell you all about which training program they’re on, which exercises they’re doing, how much protein they’re eating and how many hours they spend in the gym every week. They may even brag about their dedication and “no days off” mentality.

Unfortunately, most lifters don’t understand a key principle:

If you want to build muscle, the real secret is outside the gym.

It’s called recovery, and it’s the unsung hero of gains.

Set of dumbbells increasing in size to illustrate the importance of progressive overload in building muscle.

Progressive Overload: The Key to Building Muscle

New lifters often spin their wheels because they don’t understand one of the most important principles of building muscle: progressive overload. 

I hear from so many beginners who say “I’ve been working out for months but I’m not seeing any changes.” Leaving aside other factors–for example, sometimes not eating enough protein–a big reason for this when we start digging into their routine is a lack of progressive overload.

Stop Procrastinating: Start with Just One Thing

You can’t do everything, but you can do one thing, and then another and another. In terms of energy, it’s better to make a wrong choice than none at all. You might begin by listing your priorities—for the day, for the week, for the month, for a lifetime. Start modestly. List everything you want to do today or tomorrow. Set priorities by dividing the items into A, B, and C categories. At the least, accomplish the A items. Try the same thing with long-term goals. Priorities do shift, and you can change them at any time, but simply getting them down in black and white adds clarity to your life, and clarity creates energy.

George Leonard, Writer and Aikido teacher, in his book Mastery
Assortment of protein-rich foods

How Much Protein Do I Need?

“How much protein do I really need to be eating, and what should I eat to get it?” 

I hear this question from new lifters a lot, especially from women. 

Many women (including me!) initially start lifting to change the way they look, and tend to dramatically underestimate how much protein they need, and in fact to eat too few calories in general. No surprise: we’ve heard for our entire lives that less food and endless cardio are the keys to the body we want.

How Lifting Weights Protects Your Heart and Brain

In parts one and two of this series on the benefits of strength training over 40, we talked about preventing frailty and osteoporosis. But did you know lifting weights also helps protect your heart and your brain?!

Personal trainer teaching client to deadlift.

How to Start with Lifting Weights

“How do I start with lifting weights?”

I get this question over and over again. It’s probably the question women ask me the most.

So I’m taking a brief detour from talking about the myriad benefits of strength training for women (and men) over 40. We’ll come back to those, because there are lots more to cover. But given how often this question comes up, I think it requires some attention.

I’m convinced that intimidation/confusion holds far too many women back from lifting (along with myths like “I’ll get big and bulky” and “I’ll hurt myself”.)

If you’re already strength training, I’ll bet you know someone else in this position and have gotten the same question. If you’re not already lifting, maybe you’ve heard enough to decide it makes sense to start, but aren’t sure how to go about it.

There is no “right way” to start with lifting weights

Contrary to what people may tell you, there is no single “right” way to start strength training. 

There is only a right way FOR YOU. 

The four stages of osteoporosis

Lift Weights to Prevent Osteoporosis

In part one of this series on why strength training is critical in midlife, we talked about muscle loss, or sarcopenia. Muscle loss affects both men and women, not equally, but significantly.

There’s another catastrophic loss that affects females more profoundly than males, especially after menopause.

Yup, we women can add another fun Greek word to the list of things we have to deal with as we age: “osteopenia,” and its uglier relative, “osteoporosis.”

Dumbbell rack in a weightroom

Over 40? 8 Reasons to Lift Weights

In my 30s, I exercised to look good. In my 50s, to stay fit. In my 70s, to stay ambulatory. In my 80s, to avoid assisted living. Now, in my 90s, I’m just doing it out of pure defiance.

Dick Van Dyke

Let’s face it. Many women, especially those of us over 40, find the idea of lifting weights unfamiliar at best, and scary at worst. 

In general, our culture has not historically encouraged girls and women to get strong. Thankfully, the public perception of strength training for younger women and girls has been evolving at a pretty rapid clip over the past 10-15 years. But lifting doesn’t even occur to most older women—think Gen X and up.

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