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.