Build Muscle Before, During and After Menopause

As a personal trainer specializing in the ‘Over the Hill’ demographic, I’m often asked by my clients what the best exercises are for women of mature years. I used to tell my clients that they should engage in so much aerobic, strength and flexibility training so as to realize continued fitness into their senior years. But I have noticed that most, if not many, of my clients struggle to be physically active regardless of what they know they should be doing.

So I have changed my answer to this often asked question by saying that the BEST exercises for EVERY WOMAN are the exercises WHICH SHE ENJOYS doingoften. For women on the precipice of menopause, a physically active lifestyle is highly protective against the traditional weight gains and muscle losses associated with the menopause years. If middle-aged women who still have regular menstrual cycles or are on hormone replacement therapy can discover or create ways to be physically active during these transitional years before menopause, they can set themselves up for less weight gain and muscle loss during the menopause season. From my personal experience, I would have  I have gained my best fitness outcomes (strength/endurance) from adding weight training and high intensity interval training to my exercise regimen. Unfortunately, many women my age shy away from these types of activities and view them as behaviors which only men or elite-athletes engage.

So this is why I standardize my response to that most asked question and resort to the standard conventions for exercise prescription. By this I mean that 2 to 3 days a week  should be devoted to strength training together with 3 to 5 days a week of aerobic exercise with a minimum 30 minute duration. Clearly, the key to staying this active is in discovering those activities which provide a measure of fun and enjoyment for you. Remember, if your exercise routine doesn’t put a smile on your face, then your exercise routine becomes a stress inducing activity rather than a health inducing activity.

Finally, don’t discount the value of trying something new when planning your  fitness program. You may even want to re-visit exercises or activities you learned to dislike in your youth.  When you have a say in how or when you engage in your exercise, you may discover that you could actually enjoy the rigors of team sports or group fitness compared  to the requisite ‘gym’ class you were forced to attend during your school years. And if you’re the type of person who enjoys a more social approach to your exercise, then by all means enlist your friends to join you in your fitness endeavors.

You  might like to read the brief article about Ms. Willie Murphy (pictured above), a 77 year old grandmother who took up weight training not too long ago. I think her story perfectly illustrates the fact that you are never too old to try something new and get fit too!

Exercise Intensity…It Matters!

Seeking the Illusive Runner’s High? Want to lose fat and build muscle?
Then you need to try High Intensity Interval Training  or HIIT.

While it currently might be considered an exercise fad, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has gained merit and momentum in gyms across the country. What is HIIT? It is an exercise format that uses timed intervals for periods of intense exercise together with timed periods of active rest intervals. Often using the principles of circuit training (5-8 different exercises performed in circuit, one after the other) HIIT workouts allow a tremendous about of higher-intensity work to be accomplished beyond what could be accomplished (at the same intensity) in a continuous workout. This translates into several key physiological benefits. First, caloric burn is increased during bouts of high intensity exercise. Second, high intensity bouts of exercise activate fast twitch muscle fibers better than steady state bouts of aerobic exercise. This is especially important to adults aged 40 years and older because as we age these fibers go dormant unless they are actively recruited on a regular basis. And lastly, HIIT does not require special or additional equipment to one’s current exercise routines. Any way you look at HIIT, it increases aerobic and strength fitness levels it a shorter amount of time than a traditional strength or aerobic exercise session.

Here are some safety tips from the American College of Sport’s Medicine when planning your HIIT program:

1. Always warm up before starting intervals and cool down afterward.
2. Be cognizant of your current physical fitness; start conservatively and
gradually progress the work interval intensity.
3. Keep the number of repetitions realistic and gradually build the number
over time.
4. Only modify one variable at a time (e.g., increase intensity or duration but
not both at the same time).
5. Set the recovery interval duration and intensity to allow your heart rate to
come down below 110 BPM.

Here’s an on-line link to 7 HIIT training programs: