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5 Non-Negotiable Rules of Strength Training for Women Over 50

By Linda Melone July 07, 2022 Health and Fitness

Here’s the thing about fitness information: It changes constantly. New research, trends, and fads steer us in directions we believe will be The Answer to whatever fitness problem ails us.

Belly fat? Use the Belly Blaster 2000!

Jiggly thighs? Do leg lifts for four hours a day!

Underarm wiggle? Try Wiggle Away!

One day we’re squeezing the life out of our ThighMaster, the next day we’re kickin’ it to Tae Bo. Now we wear tech that inspires us to walk around the bed 100 times before going to sleep just to rack up those 10,000 steps.

It’s easier to buy bigger clothes and forget the whole thing versus trying to decipher all the claims we stumble upon daily. How do you know what and who to believe? Where to turn?

It would be nice to have one neat little answer presented to us in a pretty box with a nice bow on top (one of those fancy, drapery-type cloth ones, not the cheap drugstore versions).

If only.

So let’s wade through the noise, shall we?

Here are a few solid, research-proven facts from the book Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle:

Muscle Loss

We naturally lose 5 to 10 lbs. of muscle per decade after 50. 80% of women and men over 50 have too little muscle and too much fat. (Yikes!)

Muscle Helps Metabolism

Muscle keeps our metabolism stoked because it burns many more calories at rest. Without strength training you can expect a 3% drop in metabolism per decade, which adds up to an average of 15 lb. weight gain per decade or more. Sound familiar?

It’s Reversible!

Here’s the good news: You can reverse this loss of muscle with even a small amount of strength training. If you are currently weight training, pat yourself on the back (not too hard though, or you risk tearing a rotator cuff).

If not, fear not! You can start today on the road to a better metabolism, stronger muscles and overall better life. For reals.

With this in mind, here are my top rules to get started and achieve the best results from any strength training program, based on the mistakes I see most often.

Use the Right Amount of Resistance

If you’re striving for muscle ‘tone’, you need to build muscle. Don’t worry though, you’re not going to look like a WWE wrestler. No wrestler ever got massive biceps from curling 5-lb. dumbbells, I assure you.

Here’s the thing: You can’t tone fat, which leaves you with… muscle!

So, you need to work the muscle to a point where it has a reason to change. You do this by challenging it beyond its normal everyday exertion.

For example, as you read these words, pick up a pen, pencil, whatever you have around you, and start doing biceps curls with it. Keep going for the next five minutes.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

That’s essentially the same thing you’re doing when you use too light weight. You can go on forever and will never see results. You’ll eventually tire out from muscle fatigue – it may even ‘burn’ from lactic acid buildup, but that muscle will not be stimulated enough to wake up and shape up.

The bottom line is, you have to pick a weight that enables you to do 12 to 15 repetitions, where the last three of them are tough. If you can jump right into another set, it’s not heavy enough.

Note: When you first start doing resistance training you’ll notice your strength increases quickly in the beginning, but that will eventually level off.

Signature Fitness Set of 2 Neoprene Dumbbell Hand Weights at Amazon.

Work Every Muscle, Not Just Your Favorites

As much as we’d all love to have flat abs, doing crunches without watching your diet and without exercising every other muscle won’t do it. You need a total body workout, not just abs and triceps, for example.

Be sure to include exercises for legs, glutes, core, chest, back, biceps, triceps and shoulders. Ignoring any muscle group sets you up for imbalances and possible injury.

Read 3 Steps to Restore Your Core to Youthful Strength and 4 Tips for Strong and Healthy Hips Over 55.

Use a Full Range of Motion

Learn the proper way to do an exercise and be sure to use a full range of motion. That ensures you’re working the length of the entire muscle. It’s different if you need to modify a move due to an injury, arthritis or a doctor’s recommendation, of course.

Use Your Core in Every Exercise

All movements start from the core. Your core includes everything that connects your upper body to your lower body. Needless to say, it’s pretty important. Whether you’re doing an arm exercise, leg or shoulder move, first engage your core.

This does not mean ‘sucking in’ your stomach. Instead, imagine bracing your ab muscles as if you’re about to try and bounce a coin off of them.

Another way to focus on the core is by trying to draw your bellybutton in towards your spine, but without holding your breath in the process.

Read 3 Best Exercises to Tighten Your Abs and Firm Your Core After 60.

Keeping these muscles engaged not only works your core throughout your workout, but it also protects your spine. It’s really a win-win.

Big to Small Rule

Start with big muscle groups and work your way down to smaller ones. This isn’t a hard and fast rule if you’re just starting out, but it gets more important as you get stronger.

Smaller muscles support the bigger ones. For instance, if you tire out your triceps, you may need to lower the resistance when doing your chest exercises since your triceps stabilize and support the main chest muscles.

Ditto for biceps and back muscles; they work together.

Aim for two to three workouts a week, on non-consecutive days, one set of each exercise to start and work up to two to three sets when time allows.

Read more fitness-related articles:




Do you do strength training? What do you use tubing, dumbbells, kettlebells, machines or your own body weight? Please share your routine below!

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Jeanne L.

After quite a few years of sedentary work and weight gain. I gave myself a present when I turned 69 last year. I signed on with a personal trainer at my local gym. Its been quite a process. I’ve been going twice a week for almost a year now and I LOVE it. I’ve learned so much about proper form, avoiding injury, and staying motivated. And see a big difference in strength, flexibility, and endurance. I was walking hills in my neighborhood an hour a day with the dogs for cardio. But after one of my older dogs could no longer do the walking. Started taking Active Aging (Silver Sneakers) classes in personal and online another two days a week to keep the cardio going. Personal training is not cheap but worth every penny!

Patricia Coldiron

Linda, I am 68 and have just strength training again. I used to be a heavy exerciser when I was younger, but now I am finding that riding my stationary bike turns my ankle purple and aggravates the meniscus tear in my knee. Even walking is not as good as it used to be. I want to set up a strength training program for myself. So far I am just doing basic lifts but my pants are a lot looser. Appreciated this article.

The Author

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She recently switched careers, again, currently helping businesses with their marketing messages.

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