Blog: Strength training for women after 50

Before the year 2000, when a woman went to the gym, she would gravitate to the cardio room either with a friend or by herself. 

The treadmill, bike, or steppers were taken up mostly by women. The free-weight area of the gym was considered the “men’s section.”  A lot has changed since then. Every day, women from all backgrounds go to the gym or stay home to strength train using weights or other resistance equipment. They realize the benefits of a common-sense approach to weight training.

The question is, can women after 50 realize these same benefits?

What Are The Benefits of Strength Training for Women After 50?

  1. Increase Bone Density

Postmenopausal women experience up to a 70% decrease in oestrogen production. It also means a reduction in hormonal protection to the bones, which can ultimately lead to osteoporosis.  Also, menopause is a decrease in calcium uptake, leading to further deterioration of bone structures.  Although it is a myth that weight training can reverse the process, it can at least slow it down. 

Loading the muscles with a heavy object over intermittent periods can cause strength adaptations in both the muscles and the bones. Lifting weights can also increase essential nutrient uptake to the entire body by increasing demand for those nutrients. The obvious benefit when it comes to osteoporosis prevention is with regards to calcium uptake. 

By increasing the amount of available calcium and other nutrients absorbed into the body, bone deterioration is slowed considerably.


  1. Stave Off Heart Disease

The number one killer for women in developed countries is a heart attack, which is surprising because most news coverage concerning heart failure refers mostly to men. The reality is that more women die from a heart attack or stroke than do men. So how can strength training help women lower the chances of a heart attack?

Lifting weights is anaerobic, which means that you owe your body oxygen while you are engaged in picking up a heavy object. Anaerobic activity puts a temporary workload on the heart, which can condition the heart to become stronger over time when done carefully.


  1. Improve Posture

Over time, muscles can become deconditioned to the point where they no longer function as they were designed. The result can be dysfunction leading to pain. For example, the gluteus maximus (glutes) are often the hidden culprit for low back pain. They are responsible for aligning the pelvic and lumbar regions with each other. They also help keep the knees aligned by preventing the long leg bones (femurs) from rotating too far internally.

When we sit for long periods throughout the day, large muscles become deconditioned. When they are too weak to do their job, the result is bent over or stooped posture, leading to joint misalignment and a higher incidence of osteoarthritis in the hips, knees, and shoulders.


  1. Improve Gait and Balance

When the muscles are strong and balanced, so are you. Walking is easier because your posture is in its proper alignment. You feel strong and confident. Contrast that with someone who never challenges their body through repetitive exercise. People who are deconditioned walk stooped over and unbalanced. They are unstable and unsure of themselves, especially on uneven surfaces.

The fear of falling gets worse as we get older. By strengthening the entire body, a woman can put that fear aside for many more years than if her lifestyle was mostly sedentary.


  1. Improve Endurance

When we perform physical work, our bodies produce a substance known as lactic acid. It is the byproduct of repetitive muscle contractions over time. An example may be the burn you feel when doing 40 arm curls, and your biceps will not move for another repetition. For some, it may be a simple walk through the grocery store before lactic acid creates fatigue, and the legs start to give out. 

By having a regular program of thoughtful weight training, you condition your muscles to work longer and increase your overall physical endurance.


  1. Injury Prevention

There are more creative ways for people over 50 to participate in sports than ever before. Activities such as walking, golf, bowling etc. turn bone-jarring sports such as running and tennis on their ear. People over 50 realize the benefits of engaging in regular sports activities. And with increased activity comes the potential for injuries. Strength training can help prevent injury by toning muscles and tendons around joints, which has a stabilizing effect. The result is a stronger body that can resist the increased ballistic movements involved in the sports activity.

Strength Programming For Women After 50

There are several essential points to keep in mind when designing your strength training program:

  1. The Doctor Needs to Know, Always

Casually mention to your GP that you intend to pursue a strength training program. You will probably be met with, “Oh, that’s wonderful.” This brief interaction is usually enough if you are reasonably healthy. But in some cases where you are taking several prescription medications, the doctor may need to at least be aware of your increased physical activity. 

There may even be a chance that some medication dosages are modified slightly to maintain overall effectiveness and prevent harmful interactions due to increased physical exertion.

  1. Start Slow And Increase Gradually

The common mistake for both men and women is starting too heavy, which puts too high a load on the deconditioned body too quickly. The obvious outcome is a higher risk of injury. It is not the muscles that you have to be concerned about being injured. The connective tissue around the joints is the problem. Your body is just not used to the movements you are trying to perform, especially under increased stress.

The best thing to do is take it easy until your joints get used to the added strain. The general rule of thumb is to increase weight by 10% per week for the upper body and increase by 20% for the lower body until you finally plateau. Even then, use caution when increasing workload on your muscles and joints.

  1. Warming up is Not a Crime

Most people have heard the conflicting data on warming up before weight training. Certain studies have shown it to be either worthless or even detrimental. Most studies are inconclusive. It is a personal choice that no one has the right to take from you. If you feel better walking on the treadmill for a few minutes and then stretching lightly before hitting the weights, by all means, do it. Likewise, if you feel better with no warm up at all, that is perfectly fine also.

The bottom line is, try not to let others’ opinions dictate what is right for you. Instead, listen to your body.

What About Those Who Are Over 80?

Once you reach the age of 80, the rate of aging seems to speed up. Scientists have no idea why this is, but there is an apparent correlation between the higher incidence of falling and being over 80. With that said, there is no reason for a person over the age of 80 to stop exercising. In fact, the same benefits mentioned earlier can apply even more to those over 80.

However, here are a few guiding principles:

  1. It is a Good Idea to Avoid Exercising Alone

Again, the fall rate is much higher for those over 80. Not much is known about why. The prevailing argument is that the central and autonomic nervous system functions slow down.  Whatever the case, it is simply common sense to have a workout partner with you, “just in case.”

  1. Avoid Stressing The Body Too Much

Recovery time for older adults is longer than for their younger counterparts. Those over 80 should avoid going heavy altogether. The added stress on the heart is hardly worth it. Take plenty of breaks and drink lots of water. Give your body the best possible chance for recovery after each exercise session. That way, you will be ready to go for your next awesome workout!

  1. Divorce Yourself From Those Silly “trim n’ tone” Workouts

The days of stressing out over how good your butt and abs look are over. Besides, you were always too good for that, anyway. Instead, make it a point to have fun.  Enjoy the company of the other exercisers around you. Make it a relaxing time that is reserved just for you. Stressing out over your exercise program is completely counter to why you started in the first place!

The Verdict

Strength training for women after 50 is not only fun; it is necessary if you want to avoid getting old too fast. Without physical activity in our lives, our bodies die off quicker.

Take a good long look at those around you the next time you are at the shopping mall or grocery store.

How many women do you see either limping or walking in a stooped, forward-head posture?

If you want to avoid those problems when you are older, commit to starting a moderate strength training program today.


Author: Dan Barcelon. The Fitness For Non-Athletes Blog is a site dedicated to the unathletically inclined who want simple fitness and health tips.


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