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

Category: Training Life Page 1 of 2

All things training, from equipment to programming to what to wear in the gym.

First time going to the gym? We were all newbs 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. 

Older woman holding smartphone in the gym, smiling because she knew how to get motivated and stay consistent.

How do I get motivated and stay consistent?

I may earn a small commission for purchases made using links in this post. I only recommend items I know, use myself, or have otherwise vetted.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off for five years. I go from fully committed, getting great results, great diet, etc. to falling off and starting again. I can’t figure out how to get motivated and stay consistent.

If this is a priority for you, stop allowing training and good nutrition to be a choice based on how you feel, or on motivation. 

Build habits. 

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.

Surfer on a big wave at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii, as an example of overcoming fear when dealing with a heavy barbell in strength training.

How do I Psych Myself Up Before Heavy Lifts?

Do you have any tips for mindset and overcoming fear before heavy lifts? My issue is when I step up to a big lift I try to psych myself up but there’s always a voice telling me “you’re gonna fail this.” How do I shut that voice up?!

This is a common problem and one I deal with myself sometimes. I jokingly apologized to my coach recently for being a head case—my self-talk has been pretty poor as I struggle to come back from a back injury—and he kindly referred to me as a “psychological athlete” 😂 and said he’s going to tell me to just shut my brain off for the entire day at Nationals in a couple of weeks.

But, how do we shut our brain off? How do we stop thinking so much and just DO the damned thing? 

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.

Push—or Pull Back?

Learning when to push and when to pull back is an important part of athletic maturity & something I still struggle with a lot. LISTEN to your body and learn to understand when you need to pull out the grit and push through and when you need to put your ego aside to successfully get the best out of your body THAT day. Even if it’s not the most ideal session.

Mattie Rogers, olympic weightlifter
Barbell with fractional plate

Add Weights to Solve the Goldilocks Problem

Every lifter’s been there at some point: the increment between weights for your dumbbells, barbell or cable stack is too big, leaving you with an unpleasant choice. Just like in the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, you can either go too light or too heavy. What you really need to make the workout just right is to add weights.

But you need those weights to be smaller than what’s usually on offer in a gym.

This problem presents itself in a few different ways. You may find you’re simply incapable of going up to the next highest option, which frequently happens to women on upper body work.

For example, you can easily do bicep curls with the 15-pound dumbbells, but 20 pounds is just too much. Or you can bench 50 kg at RPE 9, but 52.5 won’t budge.

Or, you may be working with a program that uses percentages, and the weight programmed falls in between the available options.

Yes, you could just do more reps at a lower weight instead of going up in weight. Yes, you could round up or down on your percentages. Both solutions often work well.

Still, sometimes you really want to increase the weight, not the volume. And sometimes you want to be precise about your percentages.

But how can you add weight to dumbbells or kettlebells? Or add weight to a barbell that’s smaller (say, a pound or a kilo) than the minimum five pounds/2.5 kg possible using the smallest standard plates?

Unmotivated woman sleeping on bed instead of morning training

How to Train When You Don’t Feel Motivated

This morning, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Daily Pump Club email mentioned something I often share with people:

Smiling makes you feel better.

(By the way, Arnold’s newsletter is terrific. Great value for a small time investment. Ten out of ten would recommend.)

People tend to assume they need to be happy to smile—that the feeling should precede the action. After all, isn’t smiling a signifier of our mental and emotional state? If we feel miserable, why in God’s name would we grin?

Lifting in the Middle

Australian powerlifting great Liz Craven posted something on Instagram recently that hit me, as the young folks these days say, “in the feels.”

She recalled breaking some IPF All-time World Records back in 2017, just before a forced six-year hiatus from World competition due to powerlifting politics and Covid (during which time she also overcame some incredibly challenging health problems).

Liz is finally heading back to IPF Worlds this year, and at 48 will be competing against lifters half her age. She writes:

there is a whole new generation up there.

Very few of the old guard (my friends) will be there, I will be around the middle these days and sometimes it is hard to find the drive to work that hard to be in the middle.

Everything hurts more, everything is harder. Will I even get to weight?

I have been trying to change my perspective though.

It is a privilege to still be able to get there, one other people would love.

So I’ll keep working hard and we will see what I can do after all this time.

Working hard to be in the middle

Working hard to be in the middle is what I do literally every time I train. That’s why this caption resonated so much.

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