Weight Lifting for Women

This article will tell you everything you need to know about starting or continuing weight lifting for women over 40. I am only 39, but it is never too soon (or too late!) to prepare for getting older in the best way possible! Having a foundation of strength is so important when you are working to stay healthy or practicing a sport!   Even if you aren’t interested in lifting weights to improve your pop up for surfing or stronger legs for snowboarding, my goal is that by the time you finish reading, you will be excited to jump into this new kind of working out that so many women never even try!  Lifting heavy weights. And let me tell you, once you start seeing results, you will wonder why more women don’t lift!

Somewhere around the 95th of March

Now is the most perfect time to start weight lifting for women.  Really any time though is a perfect time to start lifting. But, now we have all been cooped up in our houses, stuck with kids, stuck with spouses, stuck alone, while the masked world outside turns upside down!  We visit the fridge ten time a day. There is nothing good left on Netflix. But this is all about to change! Little by little, sweet freedom is returning. 

Over the last 22 weeks, you might have seen this awesome quarantine meme to the left on Facebook.

I think that this meme hilariously describes how we have all been taking it. Some of us have been leaning in and making quarantine a positive time for change, and some of us have made some changes for the worse.  Now we must either challenge ourselves to maintain out new healthy routines or challenge ourselves to reverse unhealthy habits we adopted under the stress and limitations of quarantine.

*Whispers* I Hated Lifting…

When I left my classroom on Friday March 13th, I was pretty sure I would not be returning for a very long time. When the lock-down was official, like many people in isolation, rather than starting to lean into their couches, I started to lean into my workout routine.  I am one of those people who rely on physical activity and healthy food for happiness. I just need it.  The biggest thing I emphasized in my lock-down routine was weight training.  Only one problem.  I hated lifting.  

Of all forms of working out, weight training was the one that caused the most ennui. Lifting weights was like a steamed Brussels Sprout, except there is no other way to cook it, no roasting, no grilling, no frying, no shredding it up into a slaw, only steamed, and you have to eat it because it is so good for you.  Alas, there are no replacements for the benefits of weight lifting.  Running hills does not replace doing squats and rock climbing does not replace doing bench press; there are no shortcuts and there is no cheating. 

To make matters more critical for us in the 40-ish crowd, if you and your health have succumb to the stress of adult life, then you have to gain 3-5% of our muscle mass every year just to keep up with the muscle loss caused by 20 years of nearly continuous stress, sleep deprivation, intermittent overeating, and sitting.  And the only way to gain muscle mass is to lift weights. Ugh. But, I knew that at t-minus 1.5 years to turning 40 I needed to change my mental relationship with lifting. Weight lifting for women is the KEY to keeping the muscle we have and building new muscle.

The Best Fitness Books I Have Read (Click each image to check out the book on Amazon.)

My cat, making me accountable for my workout. Counting reps.
This is Brendan Brazier’s fittness guide book, I am in the middle of reading it now and I love it!
Although I am not now vegan, I was for nearly 4 years, and this book taught me how to fuel!
This book changed the way I warm up and the way I tune in to my body when I run, and now I am 100% a better runner.
Although I am the farthest thing from an ultra runner, this book taught me so much about getting uncomfortable.
Before this book, I begrudgingly lifted weights 2-3 times a month. Now, I lift 5 times a week, and make real gains!

Incredibly good. I would close this book, and immediately put on my shoes for a run. THAT inspiring. (1st 50 pages were boring, IMO.)
This is the “Thinner, Leaner, Stronger” book with a male audience in mind.

My Weight Training Mental Transformation

When I find a good book about fitness, or weight lifting for women, or athlete diets, I usually devour it in a few days.  These are a few fitness books that I absolutely loved and devoured.    But, the transformation book of the day is Thinner, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthew.  (You might have heard of the Legion Athletics… that is him!)  I read this book in 4 days! It’s a 433 page book, and I didn’t read it that fast because I am a nerdy high school English teacher, which I am. I read it that fast because it might be the most motivating and informational fitness book geared towards weight lifting for women that I have ever read.   

Click here to learn how this book can inspire you, the way it inspired me, to start lifting and read all about my weight training takeaways from the first 4 weeks of Thinner Leaner Stronger.  If you are not quite ready hear more about a 400 page book on lifting, don’t worry! Keep reading!

This is my notebook from my first 4 weeks of the Thinner, Leaner, Stronger Program. It is so awesome to see progress that is NOT a number on the scale.

Does Lifting Heavy Weights Make You Bulky?

Many people think that weight lifting for women isn’t a thing. Most women have reservations about lifting heavy weights because they do not want to become bulky looking.  Let’s lay this myth to rest right now!  You will not get big lifting weights unless you try, and it is not easy.  Those who get big have put in hours upon hours of work in the gym and they have carefully crafted their diet and protein intake to support that muscle growth.  So, unless you are itching to spend dozens of hours in the gym every week and eating like 200 grams of protein a day or something, you will not get big! 

Unless you seriously power-lift, you will only develop visible and toned muscle, not bulk.  Lifting weights for women will just give you defined, toned, and strong muscles, not bulk. If you want to take a more in depth look at the science of how lifting weights for women will build toned muscles and not bulky muscles, check out my article here!

Why Women Should Lift Weights

First off, I am a high school English teacher.  I know as much about the importance of muscle strength as any dedicated amateur athlete should be.  There are so many reasons women should lift weights!  If you want to look toned in a bikini every summer, you should lift weights.  If you want to practice a sport as you age. Also, if you want to rough and tumble a bit with your grand kids, then you should lift weights.  However, there is a much more serious reason women should lift weights!

Not that you have to have cute nails to lift, but full disclosure, I do appreciate a cute manicure when I lift or climb!

For women, the big concern is the natural decline in estrogen levels starting at age 40.  Ugh, I hardly want to think about it!  Estrogen plays a big role in our body’s ability to maintain bone density.  Consequently, as estrogen levels in our bodies declines, our bone density levels go with it. This is where osteoporosis comes in.  But, what does bone density have to do with lifting weights?  Actually quote a lot!  Many studies show that activities that place tension on bones, pushing and pulling on bones, can stimulate cells to grow bone.  This means that resistance training can actually help stimulate bone growth!

Dumbbell Workout at Home for Beginners

I personally love dumbbells.  As far as weight lifting for women goes, dumbbells are a perfect place to start.  For an at home workout, you can get so much done with just a few weight sets!  For years, I lifted at home with just a pair of 15 lb dumbbells. Or at the gym, go right up to that big mirror, don’t be intimidated by all the dudes around you, find a bench and get working!  Dumbbells are for ladies getting strong. 

It might look like not many dumbbells, but this is more than enough for every dumbbell workout you will ever try!

Why are dumbbells so awesome?  Dumbbells do what no machine can do.  You see, when you workout on a machine, like a shoulder press machine or a row machine, they provide so much stability that your muscles do not get the full benefit.  Machines isolate muscle groups so much that they do not engage stabilizing or balancing muscles around the isolated muscles.  Machines also allow bilateral muscle groups to work together simultaneously, allowing for uneven effort and compensation.  All this spells not maximum benefit.  Basically, dumbbells allow for a higher quality muscle workout because they do not only work the isolated muscle, but they also work surrounding stabilizing muscles.  

There is so much more to say about the benefits of dumbbell workouts.  If you want to get even more informed about the benefits of a dumbbell workout and a beginner workout plan, check out my article Dumbbell workout at home for beginners!

Body Weight Workout Plan

If you are not quite ready for investing in dumbbells to workout at home or ready to step in front of the big dumbbell mirror at your gym, then body weight workouts are your place to start. The best thing about body weight workouts is that they are already adapted to you, Because you are only lifting your own body weight.

I never really thought much of body weight workout plans until I did one, and it only took one to convince me of their value!  They keep me fit through the winter to get maximum enjoyment of my climbing gym sessions and upcoming snowboarding trips or just making sure that I didn’t pack on 5 lbs of cookies and Chrismas beer over the holidays. 

I learned all about body weight workouts while taking ILoveKickBoxing classes and Orange Theory Fitness classes.  Fitness classes are my go to for exercise through the winter, when it is dark at 4:30 and the school year is starting to take a toll.  The down side of these classes is that they are quite expensive and they really want you to buy into the brand.  Between the two programs, I learned a long list of like 30 body weight/HIIT exercises that really get the job done with a mere carpeted floor or yoga mat.  Click to see my body weight workout plan!

Muscle Activation

I didn’t even know what muscle activation was until 3 years ago when I visited a kinesthesiologist for the first time.   A kinesthesiologist is an expert on body movement. They will work with you to see whether your muscles are working optimally together and what you can do if they are not working in a balanced and optimal way.  They answers questions like: Is one muscle too weak causing other muscles to overwork?  Is a muscle group working as much as it should? Is your left side compensating for your right side? 

I went to her with no specific injury, the purpose of my visit was really to gather knowledge.  She had been so highly recommended to me by two athletes that I just had to see for myself.  It was from her that I learned about muscle activation. 

The most impressive take away from my kinesthesiologist visit and what changed my perspective forever on warm up exercises: my glutes were not working.  I was not using my butt muscle, like at all.  My hamstrings were compensating that much.  I had to retrain my body to use my glute muscles.  Check this out if you want to learn about muscle activation.  It will change the way you think about warming up.  

Recovery Exercises

Here is my small army of foam rollers! Click for details!

Stretching at the end of a workout used to be my absolute favorite recovery exercises.  But, these days, in the age of the foam roller, I look more to it for muscle recovery than to a stretching routine.  I still stretch, but the purpose of it is more for mobility and flexibility and because it just feels good.  When it comes to wanting to move and massage muscles I just worked, I turn to my foam roller.  Foam rolling doesn’t really feel good! Lol! In the same way that a good Swedish massage hurts and feels good at the same time.  It is in that hurts so good grey area…

Remember, high school English teacher here, I know as much as an amateur athlete should know.  What does a foam roller do? A foam roller helps you do myofascial release on yourself, no masseuse required.  What is myofascial release?  Fascia is a name for muscle tissue.  When you lift and really work your fascia tissue (muscles) it gets tight, it can even form what we lay people call knots.  How do you relax tight and knotted fascia? You massage it, like a piece of meat!  And a foam roller helps you do just that.  Foam rolling is the most important recovery exercises I do.  

Thank you so much for reading!  I hope I have shared some useful and inspiring information about weight training for women!  It is time to get strong!  

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