The Best Workouts For Women Over 40

Hormonal changes beyond your 40s

  • bone density loss
  • weight gain, and
  • lean-muscle loss

See How My 10 Week Workout Plan For Women 40+ Will Help You Reach Your Goals

10 week workout plan for women over 40
  • Lose post 40-60s fat
  • Get fit and strong
  • Balance your hormones
  • Manage stress and limiting beliefs

Forget light weights and endless reps.

Lift Heavy Shit

You need to give your body a strong neuromuscular stimulus. 

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Woman lifting weight the wrong way
Doing it WRONG
You have to pull faces when lifting weights
This is better

Bear in mind though that the correct posture and technique need to be maintained throughout that grind.

This balance can take a bit of time and experimentation to find if you’re a beginner – a trainer can help here.

How many reps and sets?

For toning/muscle building, any of the following:

  • 4-6 sets of 12 reps per exercise
  • 5-7 sets of 10 reps per exercise
  • 6-8 sets of 8 reps per exercise

If you can do more than 12 reps, the weights are not heavy enough. 

For strength:

  • 5 sets of 5 reps per exercise
  • 6 sets of 4 reps per exercise
  • 8 sets of 3 reps per exercise
  • 10 sets of 2 reps per exercise

Weights must feel super heavy for you – you are in fact trying to get stronger. You should not be able to do more reps at the end of a set. 

Rest periods and session length

For toning/muscle building:

  • rest up to 60 seconds between sets – you should not be 100% recovered from the previous set when starting the next set
  • session length should not last longer than 60min – longer than that will make it catabolic and too stressful on the body

For strength:

  • rest 2 – 10 minutes between sets (the longer the better) – you should feel recovered from the previous set when starting the next set
  • sessions can also last up to an hour, including rest periods

How often?

  • strength: two days/week (the minimum for making progress), ideally three days/week
  • toning/muscle building: 4-5 days/week
  • See FAQ below to make sure you periodize workout and recovery weeks optimally!

Remember that every three weeks, you need to either change the exercises or the rep / set ranges to prevent hitting a plateau.

Benefits of Strength Training For Women Over 40:

(as recently posted by Dr. Stacy Sims):

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases:
    • Research shows that resistance training is just as, if not more effective than aerobic exercise at reducing the risk for
      • type 2 diabetes
      • cardiovascular disease
      • cancer
      • and general disability.
  • Improves fat burning metabolism
    • this study shows that lower lean body mass (muscle) is by far the most important reason for the lower fat burning capacity in menopausal women
  • Reduced risk of heart disease:
    • A fascinating study found that people who did any amount of strength training on a weekly basis had a 40-70% reduced risk of developing
      • heart attack
      • stroke
      • death related to heart disease
    • compared with individuals who did no strength training.
  • Improves bone mineral density in pre and post menopausal women:
    • Research on premenopausal women shows that just six months of heavy resistance training improves bone mineral density of the hip joint and the lower back.
    • In post menopausal women with low bone mineral density and osteoporosis of the spine and hip, strength training also can help maintain and increase bone mineral density.
  • It’s an anti depressant:
    • In a meta-analysis, resistance training significantly reduced depression symptoms in both women and men.
    • In a Harvard study of 60 – 84 year olds with depression, 10 weeks of resistance training worked as an effective antidepressant. The harder they trained, the better the effects.
  • Vitality and longevity:
    • Strength training improves and maintains your grip strength.
    • A 2022 study found that when comparing weight loss to grip strength, grip strength was a better indicator of longevity.
    • Several other studies confirm this finding.
  • Improved performance in any sport:
    • A study from 2019 showed HEAVY (not the high rep, low weight nonsense so many distance runners love calling ‘strength training’) resistance training enhanced running economy in regular runners.
    • They managed to cut 1 – 2min off 10k times!

2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT has become a fitness buzzword for a reason: it can be amazing for weight management, overall fitness, and building stamina – if you do it right.

HIIT for women 40+

The beauty of HIIT?

You can use almost any exercise!

The best choices are usually compound movements, which work multiple muscle groups at once.

Think squats (and all their variations!), pushing and pulling exercises for your upper body, swings, burpees, lunges, thrusters – the kind of stuff you might see in a CrossFit gym.

Don’t forget bodyweight exercises like jumping lunges, skipping, mountain climbers, pistol squats (single-leg squats), jumping jacks, pull-ups, push ups, or squat jumps.

You can even turn your cardio exercises such as running, speed walking, hiking, cycling, rowing or swimming into potent HIIT sessions.

How many reps and sets?

  • up to 20-30 reps per exercise, or 20-60s duration

Choose between:

  • two to five exercises, with 10-20 reps of each, and repeat for as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in say, 15 minutes (rest only when needed)
  • the same amount of exercises, but do a certain amount of rounds (like three or more) for time (see how quickly you can get it done)
  • one or two movements and do them every minute on the minute (EMOM) for say, 10 or 15 minutes
  • a TABATA workout – 20s all out, 10s rest x 8, which totals four minutes. Tabata can (and maybe should) be BRUTAL if done correctly. Choose any exercise. Do about three rounds with 3-5min rest between each set

There are more possibilities, as you can imagine. One can get creative.

Rest periods and session length

  • very short or even no rest periods (in which case the workout should be about 15min max – this applies to the first three examples above – AMRAP, EMOM and ‘for time‘)
  • if you do Tabata, three or four rounds max (depending on the exercises used) with a 3-5min rest between each will total around 30min for the workouts.

How often?

  • no more than twice or three times a week as these sort of workouts are stressful on the body
  • you’ll need 48h rest in between HIIT sessions
  • (My 21 Day Plan For Women 40+ consists of 3 HIIT sessions/week, however they are carefully designed with adequate rest and therefore allows for 3 sessions per week)

More or longer sessions when it comes to HIIT is NOT better and NOT recommended.

Benefits of HIIT For Women Over 40:

  • sessions can be done in under 30min
  • helps manage stress (if not done too often or for too long)
  • lowers anxiety (in women who did three sessions per week)
  • improves glycolytic capacity in the brain to sustain a better cognition and slow down or prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
  • increased information processing speed
  • A study published in Cell Metabolism found that HIIT:
    • contributes to protein synthesis, thus reversing a major adverse effect of aging
    • improves aerobic capacity and mitochondrial function for skeletal muscle
    • improves
      • cardio respiratory health
      • muscle mass
      • insulin sensitivity

3. Sprint Interval Training (SIT)

Sprints aren’t just for young athletes! They’re a fantastic workout for women over 40, offering a great return on investment (ROI) for your time.

sprints for women over 40

Our fast-twitch muscle fibers are the first to deteriorate with age and inactivity.

SIT fires up these muscle fibers to keep them strong and alive as we get older.

The ability to react and exert force swiftly is crucial for preventing falls than strength alone.

But I think a hot favourite benefit of doing sprints will be its favourable effect on burning belly fat:

“Remember, levels of your stress hormone, cortisol, rise during menopause. That sets you up for a vicious cycle of storing belly fat, which produces more inflammation and stress. In fact, deep belly fat has about four times as many cortisol receptors as the regular fat that sits under your skjn.  So not only does deep belly fat trigger more cortisol production, it also leads to more belly fat storage. SIT breaks this cycle. 

Dr. Stacy Sims

How many reps and sets?

  • 6 sprints of 10-30s each

You don’t have to do running sprints – you can do sprints on stationary cardio equipment like a spin bike, rower or elliptical etc. too.

Rest periods and session length

  • 2min rest between each sprint
  • sessions can take about 25min max

How often?

  • once or twice a week (HIIT and SIT together can total twice per week)

Benefits of SIT For Women Over 40:

  • sessions can be done in under 25min
  • improves insulin sensitivity
  • increase lean muscle mass and reduce fat in a relatively short period of time – study
  • improved fat burning (especially deep visceral/belly fat)
  • lowers fasting blood sugar levels
  • trains your body to burn more fat for energy when you’re not exercising 
  • stronger mitochondria
  • boost of growth hormone after you finish
  • Research shows SIT also helps increase lean muscle mass, as well as improve power and cardiovascular fitness.

4. Plyometric Training (Plyometrics)

Plyometrics basically is ‘jump training’ and should be introduced last, after LHS, HIIT and SIT.

Plyometrics For Women Over 40

Women naturally have less of a specific type of muscle fiber called Type IIb.

These are the powerhouses that help us generate force and explosiveness.

Unfortunately, as we approach and enter menopause, we lose these fibers even faster.

Plyometric exercises are needed for maintaining and keeping these muscle fibres strong.

Start with easy movements like jumping jacks, skipping, skater hops, and low box jumps before progressing to more advanced exercises.

Plyometrics should only be done if you:

  • have done regular strength training for at least two months
  • have no injuries
  • are well rested
  • are well warmed up

How many reps and sets?

  • once a week
  • add a second session or more advanced exercises after two months

Rest periods and session length

  • session length: up to 20 minutes is enough – it’s not supposed to tire you 
  • rest periods: 2 – 5 min, or the same as when training for strength

How often?

  • once a week
  • add a second session or more advanced exercises after two months

Plyometric training is about full effort, powerful, quality movements – NOT getting tired. This is why these workouts should be done with fresh legs.

Benefits of Plyometric Training For Women Over 40:

  • sessions are short and can be done as part of a warm-up routine
  • good for building bones which is much needed as estrogen and bone density declines
  • makes your muscles more efficient at storing carbohydrates
  • improve insulin sensitivity
  • it will make you a more efficient road and especially trail runner

Don’t be scared of BULK. Be scared of muscle LOSS

Sadly, society and the fitness industry has feminized aerobic classes and the cardio section, and masculinized the weight section of the gym.

That is NOT in the best interests of women – not for health, not for longevity, and not for body composition.

But I think this is changing, which is great – albeit slow.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

I really LOVE cardio / endurance sport, what now?!

You can keep crushing distances, but for optimal results as you age, consider adding 2 x strength sessions to your weekly routine. This might mean shorter runs/rides (2h ride instead of 3h) to ensure you can recover effectively.

Are these exercises the same for women in peri menopause, menopause and post menopause?

That is correct.

The training changes you implement during the transition from peri menopause all the way to post menopause (about 40 – 60+) remain the same.

Just be mindful that recovery time takes longer as you enter menopause.

What if I had a hysterectomy?

If you did not have your ovaries removed, you will go into peri-menopause and menopause the same as any other woman. If you had one removed, it will still be the same, as far as I understand.

I am premenopausal and still get my period every 28 days – how should I structure workouts and recovery?

If you had both ovaries removed, however, your hormones will be the same as a woman in menopause.

If your cycle is 28 days, you can train the hardest for the first 2-3 weeks of your cycle.

The week before your period starts again, is when you want to recover and take things easy.

If you have a race in the week before your period, you will need to take in more carbs/glucose during the race.

Won’t I bulk up if I start lifting weights?

Not very easily at all.

It becomes especially hard from per-menopause onwards.

I am 40 but not yet in peri menopause – when should I start training like this?

NOW.

Research found that peri menopausal women can avoid the loss of muscle and unfavourable metabolic changes by doing resistance and HIIT training.

However – it is NEVER too late to start!

I don’t like the gym

You don’t have to. There is a lot of strength training that can be done without going to the gym – HIIT and plyometrics too.

You can easily get by with two sets of weights at home.

Conclusion

  1. Start off with strength training (Lifting Heavy Shit) twice a week, build to three times per week.
  2. Make sure you always use the correct posture and technique – a mirror can help if you don’t have a trainer.
  3. Add one HIIT session per week after a minimum of two months of strength training.
  4. Bring in a SIT session once per week after at least another month.
  5. After doing the above (a total of at least 4 months), bring in one easy plyometrics session per week. Slowly increase the difficulty of the exercises.
  6. Every three weeks, change the exercises or the rep / set ranges to prevent hitting a plateau.
  7. For maintenance: keep doing 2-3 strength training sessions/week and alternate HIIT, SIT and Plyometrics to total 2 sessions/week.
  8. Make sure you recover properly between sessions by eating and sleeping appropriately, and managing stress.
  9. Do not do workouts when you are sleep deprived, chronically stressed, or not recovered from a previous session.

If you’ve already added Strength Training, HIIT, Sprint Training or Plyometrics to your workout regime, what changes have you noticed to your body or fitness?

Check out my FREE 21 Day Plan For Women 40+, my 10 Week Plan For Women 40+, or let me work a plan out for you.

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