When many women think about working out for weight loss, the first thing that comes to mind is cardio exercises. Weight training for women over 40 is typically the last thing that comes to mind.
Walking, running, biking or high-intensity aerobic workout classes are typically what many women will turn to when starting an exercise program.
Cardio is an excellent way to gain cardiovascular fitness and burn calories. However, strength training with weights is another crucial part of any fitness regimen.
There is the misconception that lifting weights is only for bodybuilders, or to get big bulky muscles.
But the truth is, strength training is essential for overall health and fitness, body image, weight loss, and injury prevention.
Improving Health With Weight Training
In regards to overall health, strength training has also been found to decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Since these diseases are more prevalent in the aging and sedentary population, you can see why strength training is so important later in life.
Strength training also has been shown to improve body image in women.
This psychological benefit of weight training is just as important as the physical benefits.
Being physically stronger and looking good in the mirror are great motivators to continue pushing yourself to your fitness goals.
Burning Calories With Weight Training
While cardio gets a lot of recognition for being a calorie burner, the truth is weight training is just as, if not more, important for weight loss.
As women get older, lean muscle mass tends to decrease, something known as sarcopenia. This decrease in muscle mass is what causes your metabolism to slow.
However, research has shown that this loss in lean muscle mass is not solely due to aging, but is related more to muscle disuse and a sedentary lifestyle.
One study looking at older individuals that exercised on a regular basis found that lean muscle mass did not decrease, showing that chronic exercise can help preserve lean muscle mass.
The solution then is to weight train to increase lean mass and boost your metabolic rate and calorie burning potential.
This means that even when you leave the gym, your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate.
Components of a Complete Weight Training Program
A good weight training program will include movements to target all areas of the body.
You don’t want to focus all of your strength training on just the upper body while neglecting the legs and core.
A strength training program needs to be comprehensive and target the muscles at different angles and at different intensities to be the most beneficial.
The Jumpstart program through the Fit Mother Project is a great place to start.
With this three day program, you will get an introduction to a startup diet and exercise plan to begin you on the road to health and fitness.
As mentioned above, you really need to include a number of different strength and resistance moves to work the entire body.
Weight Training For Women Over 40
Here are some of the essentials to weight training for women over 40. These have been broken down by muscle group to emphasize the area of the body worked.
Leg Presses: While the leg press machine does not force you to engage your core as much as free weight exercises such as squats and lunges, it can definitely be an effective leg exercise.
This is especially true if you are new to weight training.
It will reduce strain on the low back and keep the focus on the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Squats (Barbell or Dumbbell): Squats will really target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings and will also force you to engage your core during the full range of motion.
Because you are using free weights your smaller stabilizing muscles will be activated to a greater degree than with the machine leg press.
Be sure to maintain proper form throughout the movement.
You can start with no weight at first and gradually add weight as you perfect your form and gain strength.
Dumbbell Lunges: You can do lunges either by walking across a room, or you can stay in place and alternate legs depending on how much space you have.
Again, start out either with light dumbbells or no weight and slowly increase the weight as you build up your leg muscles.
Stabilizing your body with one leg during the push-off phase of lunges really activates your glutes and hamstrings to a greater degree.
Romanian Deadlift: This variation of the deadlift is a great way for beginners to master the deadlift form while working the glutes and hamstrings.
You can use a barbell, dumbbells, or even kettlebells for this exercise.
Calf Raises: It’s important to not forget the calves when performing lower body workouts.
Try these with your toes pointed forward, out, and in to work these muscles from all angles and get sculpted calves.
Standing Shoulder Press with Dumbbells: This will target mainly your middle and anterior deltoids, but also your chest, traps, and triceps to a smaller degree.
Standing while doing this movement will force you to engage your core muscles as well.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Here you will really target your lateral deltoids along with your anterior deltoids and traps to a lesser degree.
Bent Over Dumbbell Fly: It is important to hit all sides of the shoulder with weight training moves.
Here you will target the posterior deltoids to really round out the shoulders and improve your physique.
Preacher Curls: This exercise is great because it will strengthen the brachialis muscle or lower part of the biceps.
By doing the curls on a preacher bench you won’t be able to swing the arms and use momentum to gain assistance from the shoulders or back muscles.
This really forces you to have good form and work only the targeted muscles.
Alternating Supination Curls: By adding a supinating motion to the standard bicep curl you will also work the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles.
This will help increase muscle strength and fill out the muscles in your arms.
Hammer Curls: This curl variation will strengthen the biceps and forearm.
Again, working the muscles from different angles is crucial to develop balanced strength in fitness.
Tricep Kickbacks: This is a simple and effective exercise that will strengthen and sculpt the back of the arms and also your core muscles as you stabilize your body during the movement.
Tricep Rope Push-Down: Many people perform this exercise standing straight up with their elbows locked to their sides.
However, to really work all three heads of the triceps muscles, lean your body forward about 30-40 degrees during this movement.
Pull your arms down until they form a 90-degree angle with your body and then drive your arms down until they are perpendicular to the floor.
This will ensure you are working all three heads of the triceps through their entire range of motion.
Weighted Tricep Chair Dips: Once you have mastered body weight chair dips, try the exercise with a weight plate on your lap while you complete this exercise.
It will add a new challenge and really build up the triceps muscles.
Bent Over Barbell Row: This is a great move to target the lats and rhomboids.
Contracting and engaging your core while in the bent over position makes this another perfect exercise to hit multiple muscle groups.
Lat Pull Downs: Another simple lat exercise that gives you a ton of bang for your buck.
Make sure not to use body momentum to pull down the bar.
Complete this exercise in a slow and controlled manner with a slight pause at the bottom to get the most out of the movement.
Single Arm Dumbbell Row: Rowing exercises are the best way to strengthen the back muscles, and once again you will be hitting the large latissimus dorsi along with the rhomboids and traps.
Pull-Ups: This is the gold standard for back exercises, and is an excellent way to stimulate multiple muscles in the upper body.
The lats are the main muscle worked, however, you will also activate the muscles in the rotator cuff, triceps, biceps, and even the pectoralis muscles in the chest.
Many women that are just beginning a workout plan are intimidated by pull-ups, but don’t be!
The above exercises will strengthen the back muscles as you work your way up to doing pull-ups.
You can modify the pull-ups by using assistance from a pull-up machine, bands, or a spotter.
Building Strength After 40
Building and maintaining lean muscle mass is important at any age, but this becomes even more crucial as women age and lean body mass begin to decline.
Weight training for women over 40 will help you gain muscle strength and allow you to perform everyday activities independently and confidently.
A strong physique will lower your risk for musculoskeletal injuries and strength training can help decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Plus having a strong, toned body will have you looking great and feeling like you are in the best shape of your life.
The Fit Mother Project is here to help you achieve all of your fitness goals at any age.
After trying the free Weight Loss Jumpstart Program, try adding some of the above weight training exercises to your routine.
You can use these exercises during a full body workout by choosing one exercise from each muscle group and cycling through.
Or, you can choose to focus on 1-2 areas in one session and choose 2-3 moves from each category.
It is important to adapt your workout plan to your level of fitness and comfort. It is also important to adjust your routine based on your specific goals.
Writer, The Fit Mother Project
Holly Smith is a board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine and nephrology with a bachelor's degree in dietetics.
A strong interest and passion for health and wellness, Holly is also a NASM certified personal trainer with a performance enhancement specialization.
Holly enjoys long distance running, competing in Ironman triathlons.