There are some very good reasons for women to take up weight training in the lead up to menopause*. Weightlifting is an effective exercise for building and maintaining bone density and strength in menopausal women. Importantly, the level of bone strength a woman has going into the menopause transition, will determine key health markers for the rest of her life.
However, it is important to understand that weight lifting for menopausal women is not low weight, and high reps. Menopausal women need high weight and low reps.
Endurance lifting does not give the explosive power needed to fire up the contractions and muscle stimulation to strength muscles and bones effectively.
We need to train menopausal women to lift heavy.
Lifting heavy - high weight / low reps has other benefits for menopausal women too.
During peri-menopause women may notice that they may be putting on extra weight, particularly around their middle. The strategies they used in the past (eating less, working out more) not only may not work any more, but may be causing them to put on even more weight. I am sure if you are working with women in their 40’s, then you have been party to these conversations.
There is no single magic bullet for weight loss, but lifting weights is one key element of the solution. Restoring muscle loss and maintaining lean muscle mass is important is driving metabolism, which generally slows during the menopausal transition.
Post menopausal women are also at a much higher risk (again, thanks to the reduction of oestrogen) of heart disease, including heart attack. Lifting heavy improves cardiovascular health, blood pressure and blood flow. Improving blood flow to and from the skin is key for the body to self regulate and respond to hot flushes.
Lifting heavy weights is important for menopausal women, but it also co-incides with the time that they are at most risk of prolapse or other pelvic floor dysfunction.
As trainers we need to include heavy weight and explosive training into exercise prescription, but not at the expense of pushing our clients to prolapse.
How do we do this?
Here are my top 5 tips:
- Start with mobility movements in all planes (sagital, lateral and transversus) to help the connective tissue prepare. Connective tissue also loves hydration and collegan. Coach your clients on the importance of including these daily.
- Coach technique before loading. This includes:
- good posture – starting from feet up. Pressing big toes into floor will help activate the deep front line (fascia train) which activates pelvic floor. Check all joints, are they stable?
- exhale on exertion – start this exhale at start of lift – not a puff out at the top
- make sure there is no valsalva (bearing down internally)
- pelvic floor is activated before and during the lift and released after the lift
- Use a seated form (on a swiss ball or a bench) or perform in bridge position to further support pelvic floor if needed. Ie: If your client has pelvic floor dysfunction and / or their pelvic floor is feeling heavy or noticeable before the work out.
- Start with isolation exercises and then move to compound exercises. Simple / known exercises, coupled with your coaching, can significantly help your client to concentrate on exactly what muscles should be firing
- Rest and recovery. During the session this could mean using supersets. And this type of training should have 2 – 3 days recovery between.
Explosive force is what we are trying to achieve. This will also help to determine weight and rep. A good example is also including jump training into this work out. However, many people have not jumped since they were kids and may have to re-learn the technique. Starting with bent knees, swinging arms, exhaling on landing. Use a small step or even big weights on the ground that they can jump up onto and to build confidence with the movement. The goal with jump training is to land with feet together. Keeping feet close together on landing will also help support the pelvic floor.
And finally, always check in with your client after such a session. How did they pull up afterwards? Did it have a negative repercussion on their pelvic floor? Are they feeling strength gains in their activities of daily living? These are all great questions as well as recording progression and responses.
Menopause, much like periods and postnatal, is shrouded in secrecy for both trainers and clients. But it doesn’t need to be. All your clients who experience menopause will appreciate you sharing the knowledge of exactly why this will benefit them and their menopausal transition.
*Remember: The term menopause is a time stamp. A woman is menopausal when she has had one year free of periods. Post this year she is post-menopause. In the years leading up to menopause (which can last up to 10 years) is called peri-menopause.
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