Strength Training Tips For Women Over 40

March 31, 2023 4 min read

Strength Training Tips For Women Over 40

Strength training is a highly effective way for women aged 40+to set themselves up for a healthier and longer future. Unfortunately, many women tend to shy away from rigorous exercise as they age. Both men and women can become prone to inefficient workouts, but the impact is particularly strong on women due to their physiological and metabolic differences.

Differences In Women Vs. Men

Due to their hormone profiles, younger women may be safeguarded from some metabolic issues that plague men. However, as hormones fluctuate in middle age, ladies could then become more prone to insulin resistance and accumulating fat around the abdominal area. Also, they may become more prone to the disabling outcomes of stress and elevated cortisol.

Women over 40 often suffer from a greater loss of muscle mass than men, and therefore can be at greater risk of health problems. Additionally, women tend to have less muscle mass at baseline, increasing the likelihood of bone loss and subsequent osteoporosis later in life.

Good News For Women Who Strength Train

Studies show that women can largely prevent age-related body composition and strength decline when they strength train following specific parameters. Recent research has outlined the methods which can help optimize results.

Training Load

The first step in designing a workout program is determining the training load, or intensity. This should be set as a percentage of an individual's one-rep maximum weight capacity.

Many factors are considered when designing a training plan, and typically, using heavier loads of 80% or more of your one-rep max (lifting 8 times before reaching failure) will yield the best results for strength gains. Moderate loads of 65-80% (8-15 reps before reaching failure) are more effective for increasing muscle mass and altering body composition.

Women often opt for training loads that are much lower than the 60% level needed to cause transformations in strength and physical appearance without the aid of a coach.

How can you avoid this pitfall?

Using rep ranges can be an effective way to manage weight load. If training in the 10 to 12 rep range, use a weight that will result in a minimum of 10 reps with proper form but not exceeding 12. Increasing the weight is necessary if completing 13 or more reps. Common rep ranges with associated objectives are listed here:


Rep Range Goal
3-7 Reps Strength
8-12 Reps Body Composition/Muscle Growth
12-15 Reps Muscular Endurance

Training Volume

Studies show that an increase in training volume, or the total workload of a training session, can lead to enhanced gains in strength and muscle. A study of women over 40 revealed that those who partook in 3 sets of exercises experienced greater losses in body fat than those who did 1 set. Moreover, the high volume group experienced more substantial changes in their health markers, such as triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, glucose levels, belly fat, and inflammation levels.

Once embarking on a weightlifting routine, a wise starting point is usually three sets with a rep count of 8-15. As you progress, increasing your sets to 4-6 can help promote gains.

Training Frequency

Research found that frequent strength training among women aged over 40 is a key contributor to desirable body composition. Body fat dropped an average of 1.32% for each extra day of strength training per week, while fat-free muscle mass increased an average of 1.45 lbs for each extra training day.

Frequency of 3-4 days of training per week was shown to be key for optimizing body composition - participants who trained at this rate had 4.3-5.8 lbs more fat-free muscle mass, alongside 3.9-5.2% lower body fat, compared to non-lifters.

Training Duration

Many women mistakenly believe that longer exercises are more effective; however, fast-paced and intense workouts are often the best option to accomplish goals while diminishing cortisol levels. With ample concentration and effort, workouts can be completed within 45-60 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down periods.

Lengthy workouts lead to a reduction in exercise intensity. In effect, it's not viable to perform quality work for over an hour, leaving you with a lack of progress. Evidence for this can be found in a survey of women whereby those who reported that they trained 'very hard' were seen to have an average of 3.7lbs more fat-free mass and 3.6% lower body fat than those who stated they trained 'very easy'. Consequently, it's evident that the more women invest in strength training, the better their body composition will be.

Training Recovery

For those starting a fitness journey, women require more recovery time between sets than men due to physiological differences. However, once established strength has been attained, studies suggest that women need less rest than men.

Women usually require less rest time between sets than men, often between 1-2 minutes. An effective strategy is to perform circuits that focus on alternating upper and lower body exercises, with the only pause being the time needed to transition.

Concluding Thoughts

 This is a highly beneficial type of exercise for women over 40 to decrease body fat and establish an optimum body composition. Rather than decreasing their physical activity, women in this age group should aim to increase their intensity and employ quality workouts to get the best results.

 Weightlifting offers numerous benefits when performed regularly; ideally, women should incorporate weights in their regimen 3-4 days per week for 45-60 minutes. To ensure an adequate workout, choose weights that are challenging enough to prevent you from completing more than the prescribed rep range.

 As you become more experienced, the importance of volume in relation to body composition results increases considerably. A general recommendation is to start with three sets per exercise and work up to four to six sets. Adjust rest periods accordingly; new to working out, may need two to three minutes of rest, while those with greater fitness can reduce this to under a minute for circuit training.

 It is imperative to ensure quality when aiming to obtain effective outcomes. Research often reveals that females who visit the gym with purpose and a structured workout tend to put in more effort and achieve more.

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