woman with yellow dumbbells

Strength Training: a Woman’s Secret Weapon to Vitality

green kettlebells

One of the most noticeable changes in body composition for women over 50 is the emergence of a “lower pooch” and an overall decrease in muscle tone. Suddenly, the group Zumba classes, weekly walking/running sessions, or 30-minute elliptical workouts aren’t enough to keep your body looking fit. For me, along with this change in the way my body looked, I also had this growing feeling that I was less strong, less vital and less “pulled together” than I had been in my 20s and 30s. So, in addition to physical changes, I saw an internal shift in my self-esteem. By the time I was 50, I noticed that I talked about myself in a way that devalued my womanhood, rather than uplifted it.

Where’s your Vitality?

When people gave me compliments, I’d joke and say, “I guess I’m still looking good for an old lady!” It was a joke, but it signaled that, in my mind, a worthy compliment had to be connected to my ability to hold on to my youth. But I was entering middle age. Was I worth less now that I was older? Why was I talking like I was in jeopardy of losing my zest and vitality? As I settled into my early 50s, I realized I wasn’t ready to give up those things, and you shouldn’t either.

woman with yellow dumbbells

As a culture that values youthful beauty, we are too apt to throw out seasoned sassiness. That’s a shame, because women have a limitless ability to get better with age—smarter, more resilient, loving and skillful. How can we nurture and refuel our sense of power and sassiness? We can do it by tapping into one of its greatest promoters: strength training.

Strength Training: Promoter of Power

There are tons of benefits to strength training, but two of the most important are preserving muscle mass and muscle strength (power). As you age, these two factors play a critical role in your mobility (how well you get around) and your body’s overall functioning. Strength training needs to be a priority. Many argue that strength training is even more vital than cardio for women over 50 (although I like to think it complements the heart-healthy benefits of cardio). I hope I’ve convinced you of the medically-sound reasons for adding strength training to your workouts. But, the benefits of strength training go way beyond these two factors.

Reaping the Rewards of Strength Training

While you will reap all the health benefits of strength training—maintaining muscle mass, improving muscle power, re-contouring your body to have a toned and fit silhouette, boosting your metabolism, and strengthening your bones—there are other essential benefits that we don’t talk about as much. I want to focus on them here because if your motivation to strength train for its health benefits starts to fizzle out, it’s helpful to know that there is a whole set of rewards to look forward to. These rewards have more to do with your mind and spirit than your muscles (and they are hugely motivating).  

smiling woman with dumbbells

These are the real reasons I keep coming back to pump iron:

  • I feel so good after my strength training workouts! I feel strong and ferocious and almighty! As my grandmother would say, “No one can tell me nothin.” I am my most empowered self after I lift weights.
  • I gain a sense of mastery. While doing a particular exercise circuit (series of exercises), I may start with 5-pound weights, progress to 8 pounds, and then move up to 10 pounds. By the time I’ve worked up those three rungs, I’ve gained some mastery. I don’t need to get the barbell out and start bench pressing 100 pounds (but that could be my goal). I can gain mastery within any workout I do by progressively overloading my muscles to make them grow and get strong. Focus on great form and adding weight or increasing reps when the exercise starts to feel easy. Quick guide: if you can do 12 reps with a weight and not feel taxed by the last two reps, you probably need to go up in weight or add more reps to continue to gain muscle strength.
  • My self-esteem goes through the roof. I walk taller, my posture improves, and I feel like a female version of the Terminator. I’ve got the dark sunglasses and black leather jacket on, and I’m a badass. For a woman in her 50s, that’s a powerful way to feel!
  • My clothes fit so much better. I fill out my jeans in all the right places, and my bra doesn’t dig into my back. Ripples and cellulite lessen, resulting in a smooth, seamless look when I wear fitted clothes.
  • My joints feel loose and nimble, with improved flexibility and balance. My body moves with ease, and I can keep up with my teenage daughter! No wobbly knees or misaligned hip movements when I walk, and I’m able to take on flights of stairs because my muscles still have power.
  • My sexy is back! One of the things women mourn as they get older is their sense of themselves as sexy, vital women. It can sometimes feel like once you reach 40 or so, you’re supposed to get out the velour tracksuit, the ugly sneakers and hobble around muttering to yourself. Women are women, no matter their age. That means they have everything they need to feel sexy well into their older years. A good strength-training workout can remind you of your own sexiness. As the saying goes, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

So, that’s the real deal on strength training. Put strength training on repeat by adding it to your workout sessions (about three times per week), and enjoy the feeling of power and vitality that it will bring.

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