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Menopause Fitness: Do You Have To Count Repetitions?

fitnessinmenopause menopausefitness resistancetraining Dec 15, 2023
resistance training in menopause

Is counting repetitions during your resistance training really necessary? It can be but is not absolutely necessary. If you feel strongly about counting repetitions, continue doing so. It is indeed a very useful tool to measure progress and gives you parameters to set your goals. But counting repetitions is not the bulletproof method to get the most out of your resistance training. If you have ever tirelessly counted each repetition during a workout, only to wonder if there’s more to effective strength training, then I have good news for you. While counting reps is a common practice, it might not be the golden ticket to achieving optimal muscle strength and growth, especially if you’re hyperfocused on a specific number and not paying attention to how your body feels. I see way too many people in the gym going through the motions in counting repetitions but clearly not exhausting their muscles, which is the biggest factor in muscle growth and strength increases. If you don’t challenge your muscles enough, they won’t have to adapt by growing.  This is particularly crucial for women in menopause because it is accompanied by accelerated muscle loss. 

The Myth of Repetition Counting
In gyms worldwide, it’s common to hear the steady count of repetitions. This approach, deeply ingrained in fitness culture, suggests a precise number of reps is key to achieving fitness goals. It is true that there are general guidelines for repetition ranges depending on your overall goal, such as lower repetitions for strength and higher repetitions for muscle growth. However, this belief can be misleading. Adhering strictly to repetition counts may lead to a mechanical, less mindful workout, potentially overlooking the true benefit of each exercise. 

Listening to Your Body: The Importance of Muscle Fatigue
Muscle fatigue, the point at which muscles can no longer maintain the required force output, is critical in resistance training. Training to the point of fatigue ensures that muscles are effectively challenged, paving the way for growth and strength. Studies have shown that muscle growth is more about how hard you work your muscles rather than how many times you work them. This approach empowers you to listen to your body and adjust your training based on how your muscles feel, not just a predetermined count.

Anatomical Perspective: How Muscles Grow and Strengthen
Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, occurs when muscle fibers are stressed beyond their current capacity, leading to microscopic damage. This damage triggers a repair process, resulting in stronger and larger muscles. During resistance training, pushing muscles to fatigue is essential for this process. Without adequate challenge, muscles simply won’t adapt and grow. It is essential to pick a resistance or tempo that makes you fail. Failure is good!

Menopause and Muscle: The Accelerated Need for Strength Training
As we age, a natural loss in muscle mass occurs; it’s called sarcopenia. It is normal, and everyone goes through this, but during menopause, this process is accelerated. Research shows that estrogens, especially estradiol, play a key role in muscle preservation. That's why the muscle mass is greatly affected during menopause. This makes strength training not just beneficial but essential. It becomes critical to prioritize resistance training and muscle-building efforts before, during, and after the menopausal transition. Muscles are essential for overall health. They are essential for everything, from getting up in the morning to the last thing you do before you go to sleep. The stronger your muscles are, the better your quality of life. Focusing on muscle fatigue rather than repetitions allows for a more efficient and effective workout, combating the accelerated muscle loss associated with menopause. It’s about quality over quantity - ensuring each movement contributes to maintaining and building muscle strength. 

Listening to Your Body
Embracing a workout regime that focuses on how your muscles feel rather than how many reps you can do can help you get the most out of your resistance training. It encourages a deeper connection with your body. If your menopause experience is similar to mine, connecting with my body is often quite challenging because I often feel it's not listening to me and responding how I would like it to. Spending more time truly feeling my workouts rather than focusing on metrics has helped me be kinder to myself and my body, and I've seen more results in strength and muscle development. 

Counting repetitions has its place, but it's not the be-all and end-all of effective strength training. I count repetitions depending on what my goal for the day is, but my goal is always to reach failure rather than merely complete the repetitions.  Counting repetitions just for the sake of counting without paying attention if your body is being challenged will not be as effective and that's the big difference! Focusing on muscle fatigue and challenge offers a more meaningful, impactful approach, particularly for women in menopause. This method encourages you to tune into your body’s needs, pushing your muscles to adapt and grow stronger. Remember, it’s not about the number of reps; it’s about making each rep count.

What's your experience with counting repetitions? Do you do it or not? Are you confused by it? Email me with any questions or comments at [email protected]