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.
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.
My 7 Tips for Staying in the Game
- 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.
- 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.
- Less or no alcohol equals better performance. Period. Sorry.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do your best to manage stress and get adequate sleep.
- 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.
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.
Hope all is going well with you and that you’ve been able to make some headway in finding what works best for you. Let me know if I can help.
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”
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.
I thought I was different as well…turns out I wasn’t! Sounds to me like you are getting it too. Hang tough.
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?!!! 😉
Thank you, Annie
You are in good hands at Bristol KB Club. Good to know that you are wisely moving through the years!
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.
Thank You, Shasonta. It’s good to know that the article resonated with you.
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.
It’s so difficult to communicate the less is more approach, but so important. You’re doing great things.
Where can I find a comprehensive look at the Rite of Passage program? Is it in one of Pavel’s books? Thanks.
Amy, Thank you!
You can find Pavel’s Rite of passage program in his book ‘Enter The Kettlebell”
I LOVE this article … I could wax lyrical about how what you said resonates but I will just say I sooooo wish I could find a coach like you near where I live!!! Now I just have to try work out my own programme, based on what you said 🙂
Denise, I hope things are going well for you. Let me know if I can help you with programming in any way.
You look so young at this age, nice!
Great and smart article.
Thank You, Luko.
I’m a 32 year young male and I can relate to several of the areas you talk about, particularly adrenal fatigue.
I’m so grateful to hear stories, such as yours, that re-affirm “more can be achieved with less”.
P.S you look really darn healthy, your students are lucky to have someone like you who ‘walks the walk’ 🙂
Peter, Thank You. You have your youth and you get this??!! That is fantastic. You just may be way ahead of the pack.
As a 60+ gal, who is starting to get torn rotator cuff injuries, knee injuries, and an ankle injury. I really enjoyed reading your post. Had I stuck with the training, I may not have injured myself as easily. You are an inspiration! We need more stories of women who succeed at training later in life. The magazines are full of articles about men who do well, but we need to hear more about women who excell long past their expected “expiration dates.”
Thank you! Sorry to hear of your injuries and I hope you are able to work around them and find what works best for you.
Excellent and right on point. great post!
Thank you, Mark. Means a lot coming from you,
Thank you, Mark
Looks like you’re way stronger since 2011 level 2.
I can relate to all of your points. Approaching my mid 40s and strict pressing double 36kg takes a ton of tolls in my body. No alcohol, more enzymes got me well quite a bit.
I am, my friend. I have to say that being very patient with myself was the key. Patient, kind and appreciative. Hope you are well.
I really appreciate this inspiring article because for one, I’m a gal who turns 49 this summer, and two, I often ponder how I should approach my training as I age. I don’t have a training background, but I was a fairly active teen and then joined the service and became a parachute rigger in the US Army. Since my time in the Army, I’ve just winged it, doing some running here, a some weight training there, some cycling and yoga, interspersed with periods of inactivity. Consequently I never reached the level of athleticism that I’d hoped for.
When I finally discovered the kettlebell in the summer of 2011, it was love at first swing, and I haven’t looked back. I now have muscles showing up where they never dared to show up before and I’m loving it. I still find it sort of unbelievable. I taught myself the basic moves from a DVD – an American kettlebell guy to whom I have to give major props to for good instruction. When I finally sought out an RKC/SFG instructor in Jan 2013, and took the SFG Kettlebell Course in June 2013, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had been doing my swings, cleans, front squats, presses, and snatches with, for the most part, correct form. My RKC/SFG instructor has filled in the gaps and taken my training up more than just a few notches.
Currently, I am doing Simple and Sinister, and attending my KB class 2x/week. I Love S+S! It leaves me feeling recharged and ready to go. Gabby, I couldn’t agree with you more when you say ” I prefer to leave my training sessions feeling energized and not like I have nothing left in the tank.” Amen. In my mind I’m still 25, but then there’s nothing worse than going past your limit and then paying for it the rest of the day. When I’m feeling good and I want more of a challenge I just pick up heavier kettlebells during my KB classes, and this is working out really good for me. I am making steady progress towards my goals. I’m getting regular personal records, including one this past Saturday – I pressed the 20kg with my right arm – woo hoo! In Simple and Sinister, I am currently using the 20kg for all my one-arm swings, and doing 6 out of 10 TGUs with 16kg and 4 out of 10 TGUs with 20kg(still a bit shaky on my left side), in about 5:15, and 9:48 respectively.
My main goal is to attend the SFG Level I certification, but the question I have is, do I wait, or not wait? Until my 50th birthday, that is. (summer 2015). I won’t lie, snatching the 16kg for 5 minutes scares the bejesus out of me, and I’m not there yet. I’ve started snatching it, but still feel like it is beating me up. The practical side of me says wait, remove my ego, snatch the 12kg and just own it. I welcome any advice or comments.
Loved the article, thank you for posting!
Thank you for your comments. Sounds like you are on the right track to me. My advice on SFG Cert would be to take a stab at Brett Jones prep guide. It’s very similar to what I have put my candidates through. Don’t rush it and go with the weight/volume that works for you. That should get you your answer. Aim high but pay close attention. Good luck to you.
Awesome. Thank you so much Gabby.
I think your secret is living by the beach and going to the spa 3x a week.
And a little exercise helps, too. Smart training beats hard training any day.
Thank you, Nick. Believe this, the Korean Spa is no Spa. Far from it. Between the freezing, the heat and the unforgiving accupressure doled out. It’s work, I promise. It’s Hardstyle!
Living by the beach, ya got me there.
I have been rolfed so I know where you are coming from.
Great article Gabby! I was so pumped when I saw WHO wrote this article!
Great insight and awesome of you to share your story. (#TeamNelson -:))
Thank you, Scott. Team Nelson FTW! Hope all is going well with you and yours.
Thanks, this is right on time for me at age 64. Interestingly, I’m currently reading “Simple Strength.” Your words shine a light on my need to take that to heart.
Thank you, Dave. Good luck to you with your training.
I’ve just hit the big 50 and can absolutely relate to your post. I believe too that age itself is no barrier to any fitness pursuit but you have to alter your mindset to one of less is more, as you say. It’s interesting though because it seems as if once you reach a certain age, a milestone, the penny drops – if only I listened to some wise old sage some years ago I may have prevented many injuries and would have been a whole lot stronger because of it. And, like you, that advice has been around for a long time but with youth and exuberance, choose to ignore it. Blood, sweat and tears? Leave it to the kids.
A great post, let’s hear it for the oldies!
Alistair, I’d like to think we are still youthful and exuberant despite a little wear and tear. Yes? 🙂
Truly inspiring Gabby. Your students are blessed to have you.
Thank you, Doug. Truth be told, I am the blessed one. I’ve got some great students!
Awesome post Gabby! Thanks!
Thank you, Jo-Ann. Glad you liked it.
Gentlemen, Thank you so very much. It’s wonderful to hear positive feedback from you!
Great post Gabby!
I have found simpler is often best with most things in my life and my training has also followed a similar minimalist/less is more approach to yours.
Keep up the great work!
Thank you, Carl. I hope that your practice is still going well.
Thank you, Mike. I hope our paths cross someday.
An amazing article Gabby, well done.
John, Thank you
Excellent post, Gabby! Thanks!
Means a lot coming from you, Geoff. Thank you.
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