When the topic turns to maintaining health and well-being or managing body composition changes in midlife, we are met with a sweeping recommendation to “lift heavy.” It’s not bad advice. It’s simply very generalized. What does that even mean? You may imagine a being under a barbell. This can be the way to go for some folks. However, this type of training is not required nor even prudent for everyone (including me!) Even without hundreds of pounds, you can still lift enough to have a significant positive impact.
First, if you aren’t on board with strength training at all …let’s chat about strength training and why everyone, ESPECIALLY women 40, benefits from adding some form of it into their weekly routine.
Due to several factors, we simply do not maintain our muscle mass very well once we hit middle age and that loss accelerates once we reach 70. If we aren’t doing anything to support it (i.e. training and nutrition) it’s gonna start to dwindle. Why does it matter? Losing muscle affects a lot more than how we look.
You may have heard that muscle is “metabolically active” tissue. That means that muscle requires more energy to function than, say, fat tissue. Imagine that year after year you lose muscle mass but keep eating the same amount of food...over a few years, what do you think happens? You will likely start to increase fat mass. Now, I’m not one to focus on weight gain or aesthetics but there are real consequences to abdominal fat accumulation in midlife including heart health considerations and increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Working to maintain your muscle helps keep your fuel requirements a bit higher.
I Have the Power!
Another aspect of muscular health is the ability to produce power. Strength is the ability to exert force (lift weight), while power is the ability to exert force quickly. As we age, muscular power diminishes more quickly than strength. Power is what helps you to stand up from sitting, go up stairs, and plays a role in being able to move quickly when needed. It is crucial to aging well. Different modalities of training can help you preserve and improve this important function.
(Don’t) Give Me a Break
According to the Osteoporosis Foundation, worldwide, 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporosis fractures. You may not think about your bones often but there will come a day where you will. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are a real concern for women, especially after menopause. Strength training not only strengthens your muscles but it helps maintain bone mass too.
Live Well Lived
From the ability to carry groceries, move furniture, and do other activities around the house without help, strength training consistently makes life easier. It's also pretty motivating to be able to do more than you did just a few weeks ago. Another bonus is that it can be an incredible source of stress relief.
So now that some of the benefits are covered, what does it mean to lift heavy?
It depends! (I know…that’s always the answer, right?) Heavy is relative. What’s heavy for me could be a breeze for you depending on the exercise. Essentially, it means using a resistance that is sufficient to be challenging within a specific rep range (usually lower ranges 3-6 or mid-ranges 7-10). Lifting heavy means you feel significant muscular fatigue as you complete the set. You could not do 2 or 3 more reps of the exercise with that weight without rest first. This could be in relation to body weight exercises or exercises using dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, etc.
If all this sounds good to you, it's time to get started! Here are a few considerations:
Before you load tissues and joints using weights, set yourself up for success (and reduce the likelihood of injuries) by first performing new exercises with no or light loads. Once you've got good form down, add weight. Get comfortable performing the exercises and then spend some time at a moderate intensity (a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1-10) before going all out. For many people, this means 1-2 sets with a weight that gets challenging at around 8-10 reps. You stop when you have 1-2 more reps in the tank before failure. Then as you get stronger, increase the number of sets and/or increase the weight used. Depending on your goals, the rep ranges can also change, which is where a fitness professional can help you. However, for general muscular fitness, you can largely work within a 6-12 rep range depending on desired intensity and equipment availability. Adjust the number of sets and the weight used to ensure adequate challenge.
If you strength train 1-2 times per week, take a full body approach rather than splitting it lower body and upper body. Strength training sessions can be structured in many ways for effectiveness, efficiency, and preference. A personal trainer can ensure you are covering your bases.
In summary, lifting weights has many benefits particularly for those 40 and up.
Lifting heavy means that you feel significant muscular fatigue as you perform those last few reps in a low to moderate rep scheme.
The weight used is gonna depend on YOU and what feels challenging without pain.
Questions? Send them my way!