Strength Training and Hypertrophy for Women over 40

I’d like to persuade all women over 40 to start strength training for hypertrophy, today.

I’d like to persuade all women over 40 to start strength training for hypertrophy. Now, before you start panicking that I am trying to make you big and bulky, let me explain why it is important for women over 40 to strength train rather than just stick with a cardio routine. First, you need to understand exactly what hypertrophy means and how it will benefit you. I also want to mention that cardio still has an important part to play in your life in conjunction with strength training.

The Role of Hypertrophy

I believe that the word hypertrophy has been misused and, at the minimum, misunderstood.  Hypertrophy means to change the shape, function, and strength of the muscle by nourishing the cellular structure—this does not necessarily mean the muscle has to get bigger. In fact, if you are working on fat loss, building muscle will likely make you smaller because muscle is much more dense than fat.

What we as individuals determine to be bulky might also be interpreted differently by others, and there is no one true definition of what this means. For example, the majority of women do not have the hormone profile that men carry that allows for huge gains in muscle mass to happen.

The science behind hypertrophy indicates that you need to work your muscles to the point of overload–and this means you need to have some discomfort while you are working out. I have to break the news to you that all the articles you have ever read about getting long, lean muscles with 5 pound weights performing 200 reps are complete bullshit. For one, you physically cannot change the length of a muscle, it is, after all, attached to bone, so unless you want to extend the length of your bones, your muscle length will stay the same. Yes, you can change the shape, viability, and function of the muscle, but not the length.

5 Reasons Hypertrophy Works: 1. It Fights Aging

After the age of 30, our muscles start to naturally shrink. Muscle mass can decline at an approximate rate of 3-5 percent per year, so even before we really get into the meat and bones of hypertrophy training, you need to acknowledge that you are already fighting the first stages of aging. By adding strength training to your program, you can start to regain some of that required strength in your body as it naturally declines. If you are a woman going through menopause, then you will also be dealing with hormonal disturbances that can impact your ability to gain muscle easily, so the earlier you start lifting, the more prepared your body will be for aging.

5 Reasons Hypertrophy Works: 2. You Will Look Good Naked

Lean muscle boosts your metabolism, and your muscles need nutrition to thrive whereas fat is just lazy. If you have increased muscle mass, your body will use your food more efficiently (think a Ferrari here) whereas increased body fat is just like feeding a broken down old car.

I know that looking good is not everybody’s main reason for working out, but there is no denying that the by-product of a good strength session is that your body starts to change. Your body composition can be totally transformed when you develop lean muscle. A great way to see this is not necessarily by the scales, but by your clothes sizes, measuring tape, or even just visually by looking in the mirror. So, if you are interested in the aesthetics, then start lifting.

5 Reasons Hypertrophy Works: 3. You Will Feel Empowered

Something really amazing happens when you start to get strong, you start to feel empowered in other parts of your life. It’s one of those things that is under-rated by the young ‘uns, but for us ladies over 40 who often experience a sense of feeling incapable or having low self-esteem, this is huge! The rush of endorphins you get from a great workout will leave you feeling invincible, so let’s give our selves the gift of having a strong body and a strong mind. The connection is undeniably there, and it can literally change your life.

5 Reasons Hypertrophy Works: 4. It Will Help Prevent Injury

While the main purpose of our muscular system is movement another primary purpose is maintenance of posture and body position, and by this, I mean that our muscles support us. If you have a strong body you are protecting your joints, and you are building a system of muscles that can contract, react, and bounce back helping you to stay injury free and mobile.

5 Reasons Hypertrophy Works: 5. You Get Overall Health Benefits

Often overlooked in the gym is the knock-on effect of having good overall health from building muscle through hypertrophy. Having a functioning body with a good metabolism will help us fight some of the major diseases and illnesses that plight us as we age. Supporting our structure against osteoporosis is a basic essential requirement if we are to enjoy our life moving forward. Having a strategic exercise plan is one of the proven ways for women to fight epidemic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, one of the biggest causes of death in females.

How to Plan Your Workouts

Now that I have totally persuaded you to start lifting weights, you probably want to know what this type of training looks like.

Here are some basic requirements:

1. Keep reps in the 10-12 rep range.

2. Cover six essential movements of the body:

  • Hip dominant: swing, deadlift
  • Knee dominant: squats, lunges
  • Push: both vertically and horizontally, push ups, chest press
  • Pull: both vertically and horizontally, pull ups, bent over row, inverted row
  • Core functioning: shoulders to hip, front, and back of your trunk
  • Explosive movement: jump squat, hang clean

3. Load, speed, and duration are all elements to consider.

4. You need to reach overload with your muscles, and discomfort is okay.

5. Work for 25-30 minutes.

6. Work 3-4 times per week.

7. Alternate days of low intensity steady state exercise (LISS), walking, hiking, swimming, yoga, pilates, etc.

8. Mindfulness. I am not some raging hippie but keep your body’s stress levels regulated by finding some quiet time in your day.

9. Restoration. Get adequate rest between workouts, take days off, dial in your nutrition, and get enough sleep.

Use Muscle Overload

One of my great mentors in the fitness industry, Coach Robert Dos Remedios, describes overload as filling your work capacity bucket. You need to lift heavy enough and do enough reps of the six essential movements.

For example, if I program a workout for you that has you working in a 10-12 rep range:

  • If you can do 15 reps easily, then you are not working hard enough.
  • If you can barely do 4-5 reps, then you are working too hard. If you start puking, you are working way too hard. If it hurts your body in ways that don’t feel good, then you might get injured.
  • If you get to 8 reps and have to push through those last 2-4 reps, then you are working just hard enough.

Think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, find the place that is just right. And remember, only you can determine that unique place for you, the place where discomfort and overload is ideal. Find where the magic happens.

Just Go and Do It

So there you have it. I know that I have converted you. Now, we just need to tell the masses. Most of the general population could benefit from some element of hypertrophy in their life. It’s all good news. Strength training for hypertrophy is going to impact you in positive ways—you will be able to be more active, play with the kids, and manage your stresses, all with renewed energy if you push far enough to achieve this.

You might also like The Differences Between Training In Your 40’s And Your 20’s.

Coach Amanda Thebe is Breaking Muscle’s Expert Coach in Residence. If you are a woman who is over 40 years old and want Coach Thebe to cover a topic you are interested in, or would like her to address a specific issue you may have, email [email protected]. Put Coach Thebe in the subject line, and let us know what you need in your training.