Strength for Women After 40: My Plan and Perspective

There comes a time in our lives, almost as if by surprise, when we realize we’re not as young as we used to be. Aging can be a difficult and uncomfortable topic of discussion. Especially for those of us who pride ourselves on being strong, healthy, and a positive example for our students, young and old.

More and more people are getting on board with the idea that strength training can reverse the signs of aging, but what does that look like? And to be more specific, what does that look like for a woman rapidly approaching her fifties and beyond?

What We Face as Women After 40

It has been my experience that as a woman’s body changes with age, she may fall into one of several categories. Some may become frustrated with training as it no longer yields the same results it once did. This can cause a woman to settle for less than she is capable of from a strength and conditioning perspective, or simply throw in the towel altogether. Conversely, a person might beat herself down by taking an unrealistic approach to her training and recovery, upping the ante in an effort to remain at a fitness level that is becoming more and more difficult to maintain.

I chose the latter for the first part of my forties and paid dearly. It took adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, joint problems, and finally, hypothyroidism for me to rethink my outlook on training. I had to completely relinquish my preconceived idea of what a woman my age should aspire to be, aesthetically. It was through this process that I became kinder to myself. I stopped making demands on my body, which usually culminated in a self-imposed hostile environment within my own skin. Instinctively, and with patience, I was finally able to discover and accept where the sweet spot was—for me.

So, how is it that at 49-years old I’m able to easily maintain a weight of 132lbs and 16% bodyfat? To do a full wheel backbend and 100 40kg swings or 100 16kg snatches in five minutes? Dead hang pull-ups for sets of three, head/handstands, splits, double 16kg presses, and ten 24kg get-ups in under 10 minutes? All of which I couldn’t imagine accomplishing at this age?

By doing less.

Yes, kids — it’s true — less is more.

Strength for Women After 40

Thanks to the StrongFirst principles and its diverse and complete programming, I’ve been able to dial-in my strength, athleticism and mobility in a way that doesn’t compromise my wellness, but rather fosters continued improvement and gains. Allowing my body — exactly where it is — to guide me, has been the single most important change I’ve made.

Strength Women After 40: My Training Plan

My programming is simple, basic, and it gets the job done:

For the last two years or so, I have alternated between a four- to eight-week program based on Pavel and Dan John’s Easy Strength (changing the lifts as needed), and a scaled down version of Pavel’s Rite of Passage (ROP) as it applies to my goals at the time. Simple & Sinister has also made it into my rotation as of late. I have found that with ROP, keeping the ladder rungs maxed at 3 or 4 works best for me. Going beyond that in volume, things begin to get dicey with my shoulder.

Pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, and moving in different planes of motion, with and without load, as well as getting in a fair amount of ballistics training are my staples. Most training days take less then thirty minutes to complete and I spend a good twenty minutes in joint mobility pre- and post-workout. I test my SFG lifts at the end of each four- to eight-week plan, make any adjustments to the next program and take a complete week off in between.

Twice a week, I attend a yoga or YBR restorative body rolling class and I walk the beach trail with my much appreciative pup most days. Bi-weekly ninety-minute sports or acupressure massage and a contrast ice bath/sauna session (Korean spas are the best) at least once a week, keeps everything humming along nicely.

That’s it.

My 7 Tips for Staying in the Game

  1. Every rep should have a purpose. Having a plan is non-negotiable for me at this stage and I prefer to leave my training sessions feeling energized and not like I have nothing left in the tank.
  2. Removing the ego can be empowering. My mom has a saying, “Just because something fits, doesn’t mean you should wear it.” I find that this applies to my practice, as well. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to press or pull more than planned that day, just because I can.
  3. Less or no alcohol equals better performance. Period. Sorry.
  4. If something hurts, find the source and take care of it. Being sidelined has served me well as a coach. Patience truly is a virtue.
  5. Don’t eat garbage. Focus on what you know is good for you and not on what you can’t have. But, if you’re going to eat cake, eat the cake, and move on.
  6. Do your best to manage stress and get adequate sleep.
  7. Keep a detailed training journal. Not just what you did, but how you felt while doing it.

I wish I’d realized the importance of the above a few years sooner. Nevertheless, strength can absolutely continue to grow and exist at any age. I am not impervious to the years as they pass. I welcome them and I get on with it.

Gabby Eborall
SFG II
Gabby Eborall is a StrongFirst Level II Instructor and founder of North Beach Kettlebell in San Clemente, California.

For more information about the studio and training with Gabby, please visit North Beach Kettlebell.
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56 thoughts on “Strength for Women After 40: My Plan and Perspective

  • I’m glad to see your experience mirrors mine. I’m in my fifties. A year and a half ago, I started seriously working out. I did succeed in getting down to 17% fat (from 28%) and got to my lowest weight since high school. I have maintained. But I did too much too fast – now I’m dealing with shoulder and knee issues. I’ve learned the hard way to back down. I have found that I need to work hard BUT I need to leave “something in the tank” AND allow myself adequate recovery time.
    ” If something hurts, find the source and take care of it.”
    Learned that lesson the hard work. I kept saying I’ll just work through the shoulder pain. Um – no. Just means I got sidelined and sidetracked for months.

    Key lesson: LISTEN to your body.

  • Thank you for your honesty and advice! Where can we learn more about your journey with your endocrinologist? Is that the key to finding the most effective way to trim fat while getting stronger?

  • Thank you so much for this article! You are an inspiration! I am working towards my first StrongFirst certification and this is just the thing to keep me motivated. Age is never an excuse for not being active. Keep up the good work! You are totally fabulous!

  • You are in way better shape than I am. I feel so envious right now. I think I might even faint if I try to do your workout routine. Tomorrow I’ll start my workout and diet plan and stick to it no matter how tough it will get. I have been putting on weight this past few weeks. I did not break any sweat, my job requires me to keep on sitting in front of a computer and because of the work load I have not slept for more than 5hours this week. As a result, I have been mindlessly eating. I need to make a change.

  • I just turned 42 on March 17th. Since hitting my 40’s, weightloss is a BEAR. I used to be able to drop pounds quite easily when I put my mind to it before then. I’ve always weight trained and been active. I started using kettlebells in 2010 and have been getting increasingly more serious about them. I track my food and my training. Still trying to find that “sweet spot” calorie wise. Strength is improving consistently which is terrific. I just wish the weight would follow suit. Great article! Thank you!

    • You are very welcome, Tracy. Not sure if I mentioned this but a good endocrinologist is a girls best friend. This made a huge difference for me in my total health and wellness. Helped me find my “sweet spot”

  • Inspiring article!

    The biggest problem for me is discovering what everyone else has discovered instead of learning from others mistakes. I seem to be delusional, I think that I am in some way diffrent that others wich in most cases have been proved false.

    IT IS ALL IN THE BASICS.

    btw, you look really good for 49, really really good.

  • Totally agree with everything you’ve said Gabby. I am 56 now and have been doing Kettlebells for 3 years. Prior to that I repeatedly kept trying to get back into running but was plagued with injuries and back problems. Was very frustrated and disillusioned. Now, here I am fitter than I’ve been for a very long time and stronger than I have ever been. With the plus that I am able to run comfortably, but it’s no longer my main focus and no hint of a back problem. And, I’m still getting stronger and feel amazing thanks to our two excellent SFG instructors at Bristol Kettlebell Club. I can’t recommend it enough. Old? What’s old?!!! 😉

  • My girlfriend mentioned this article today – what a great read. Very timely as I am heading into my early 40’s like a very fast locomotive…thank you for your honesty, this is a must read for all women.

  • I have my 52nd birthday staring me in the face this week and this article is perfect to read right now! I have just, one week ago, dropped drinking all soda which has been a huge staple of my life. I don’t drink or smoke and soda was the one addiction I never “wanted” to give up. Going through menopause and putting on a ton of belly fat after losing over 110lbs back in 2007-2008 made me “rethink” about things. I was introduced to KB’s back in 2007 and haven’t stopped loving them, in fact, I did the RKC back in 2010. I need to make my training work “for” me and not “against” me…..I gained weight while training for my marathon!
    I just got results back that my cortisol level is elevated….I need to get my adrenal’s back on track! Hopefully getting the chemicals of soda out of my system will be a good start. Taking my workouts down a notch will be next.
    Thanks for the great article!

    • Thank you, Diana! Cutting the soda out can’t hurt, right? I like herbal teas myself and have a huge variety at home and work. I’m actually sipping on Tension Tamer from celestial seasonings as I write this. Sounds like you are on the right track.

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