How to Preserve Lean Muscle for Women Over 40

I’ll share two specific resistance training methods to help you build and retain lean muscle mass. These techniques are research-based for women in the over 40 age group. Before I get into the methods, let’s do a quick run-through of estrogen and how it affects muscle.

The Estrogen Dip

Estrogen plays a critical role in the function, appearance, and strength of muscle. As estrogen declines, our muscles are severely limited in their ability to regenerate (hang tight, I’ve got good news coming). The hormonal changes women experience lead to a gradual loss of muscle mass. Losing muscle mass means loss of strength and bone density which leads to frailty. Guess what else happens with the loss of muscle mass? Your metabolism takes a dip making it easy to accumulate extra fat.

I could keep going on about our hardships. Instead, let’s get to what we can do to regain our strength.

The Good News

Specific methods of resistance training can help preserve muscle mass and strength. Research has shown that women over 40 get greater benefits from higher-volume training programs than from lower-volume, high-intensity programs. High volume training shows the most significant improvement in blood biomarkers and body fat percentage (here’s the study).

Research revealed that the more days, time, and effort women devote to strength training, the lower their body fat and the higher their fat-free mass (Burrup et al. 2018).

Let’s get to, what exactly is high-volume training? It refers to the number of repetitions and sets performed for each exercise. High volume training presents the risk of overtraining and injury so before all of us ladies go running to do 100 reps of each exercise, let’s discuss some guidelines and precautions.

A good starting point would be, to begin with, one high-volume set (18-36 repetitions) of 6-10 single-joint exercises. Many people favor multijoint exercises to save time. Consider your fitness level and resistance training history. Single-joint exercises (i.e., bicep curls, squats) are better for beginners to learn proper form, prevent overtraining and target specific muscles. For the more experienced exerciser, multi-joint moves (i.e., squat to overhead press) can be effective and efficient.

If you’re wondering which technique to choose, choose the one that fits your time availability and fitness level.

Gradually work up to four sets if you have the time and adjust well. Remember, your routines should be customized, maybe 3 sets will be enough for you. Find a Certified Personal Trainer to safely guide you and be sure to pay attention to your body’s cues.

Adequate recovery time will be a crucial component for achieving your goals—plan for a total of 48 hours of rest for the muscle to recover fully. If you’re not sleeping well, you will hinder your progress. Make sure you implement a relaxing bedtime routine for a restful night’s sleep.

The Methods

Let’s get into how to execute this high-volume training safely and effectively. Following are the two researched-backed methods; Cluster-set training, and Redistributed-rest.

Cluster-set Training: This training method is a good choice if you’re new to resistance training. This method involves a rest period after every third or fifth repetition of each set. For example, if you’re working with 3 sets of 15 repetitions, take a pause of 10-30 seconds after every fifth repetition. A traditional training program would take a rest period of 30 seconds after completing one set with no pause in between repetitions.

The mini-recovery between reps prevents excessive fatigue which can affect exercise form. It’s important to maintain form to ensure you target the appropriate muscles, this will also allow you to safely add additional weights.

Redistributed-rest Training: This method involves resting 5-12 seconds after each repetition, with 1-2 sets of 18-36 repetitions. Research showed increased muscle force while being able to maintain proper body mechanics, this is a safe approach for increasing repetitions. I like this technique for more taxing multi-joint exercises.

My Training Routine

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I’ve racked up a decade and a half of experience in the fitness field. I respect and admire science, but that doesn’t disregard my intuition. In other words, take time to tune into your body.

I believe in a comprehensive fitness program that cross-trains with different methods to prevent plateaus and excessive wear and tear on the joints. I would utilize volume training by weaving it in and out of training phases.

In Summary

Volume training has been shown to preserve lean muscle mass and reduce body fat in women over 40. When introducing this method, begin with one high-volume set (18-36 repetitions of 6-10 different exercises), and gradually add sets if you’re adjusting well. Choose single-joint or multi-joint exercises according to your available time and fitness level. Allow 48-72 hours of recovery before your next resistance training session, ensuring muscle soreness is gone.

In addition to physically recovering, it’s critical to get an adequate amount of quality protein with essential amino acids and stay well hydrated. If you’re seeking a personalized approach to nutrition, visit Jen Scheinman, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Jen will help you discern the fads from facts and guide you through your unique needs.

Schedule a complimentary virtual consultation with me if you need help figuring this all out and adjusting it to your unique needs. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or blog topic suggestions.

Thanks for stopping by!

Stand tall Breathe deep,
Corina Miranda-Risnes


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