Menopause Fitness Moment: Strength Training ToolboxJan 15, 2023
By now, you’ve heard repeatedly that resistance training is a must, and indeed it is. Resistance training is at the core of everything I teach my clients and what I structure my own workouts around. It is crucial to your health, your longevity, and your quality of life. If you’ve missed the piece I wrote in November about the importance of muscle during menopause, go here to read it. I have always loved strength training, so it’s not easy to get me to do it, but I understand that if you’re just starting, all the information out there can be very confusing and overwhelming. It may even make you a little paralyzed and not motivated to start. So in this article, I will share three of my favorite types of resistance training, what they are, and how to implement them. I hope that it will give you a little variety and motivation to start exercising and to keep it fresh and exciting. Nothing is more detrimental to a workout than boredom. Let’s keep it interesting by mixing it up.
This is one of my absolute favorite ways to train. It allows you to target more muscles in a shorter amount of time. To find out why shorter exercise sessions might be more beneficial during menopause, read my blog on keeping workouts under 40 min here.
What is superset training?
In its most basic format, superset training combines multiple exercises back-to-back with little to no rest between them. After you’re done with each set, you take a longer break (1-3 min). There are many ways to perform supersets, such as combining the same muscle groups, opposing muscle groups, movement patterns (push/pull), upper body/lower body), etc. An example for lower body/upper body would be 15 squats followed immediately by 15 bent-over rows. Another example could be performing 15 bench presses immediately followed by 15 bent-over rows. This would be a push/pull example.
How to use supersets
Here is an example of an upper/lower body superset, which is great if you’re looking to get a full-body workout in:
Perform each exercise 10-15 repetitions without rest between exercises and then take a 90 sec break before doing the set again. Do each superset 2-4 rounds, depending on your fitness level.
Set 1: DB Squat/DB Bench Press Set 2: Romanian Deadlift/Bent-over Row
Set 3: DB Lunges/DB Bicep Curl
What is high-volume training?
Most basic resistance training programs consist of one exercise performed three times for a certain number of repetitions. For example SQUATS: Do 12-15 squats three times which yields a total of 36-45 repetitions of that exercise. In comparison, with high-volume training, you will either do more repetitions per set (for example, 25-30 repetitions versus 12-15) or more sets (for example, seven sets versus three). Either way, the result is more volume/repetitions. As you progress, you up the intensity by adding more resistance or weight. The higher volume will challenge your muscle endurance, and the higher intensity will target your strength and hypertrophy/muscle growth. This is a great combination to build more muscle and strength.
How to use high-volume training
To highlight what this would look like, here is my high-volume/high-intensity routine for leg presses:
Week 1: 3 sets (25, 20, 15 repetitions)
Week 2-3: 4 sets (25, 20, 15, 10)
Week 4-5: 4 sets increasing the weight by 10% (25, 20, 15, 10)
Week 5-6: 5 sets (25, 20, 15, 10, 8)
Week 7-8: 6 sets increasing weight by 10% (20, 15, 10, 10, 8, 5)
Week 9-10: 7 sets (20, 15, 15, 10, 10, 8, 5)
Week 11-12: 8 sets (20, 15, 15, 10, 10, 8, 8, 5)
Note: If you’re new to this type of training, ease into it and progress very slowly. Always give yourself plenty of rest to recover, or you’ll be asking for injury. Pick a weight that you can do for the number of repetitions. Increase weight if you can do more, and decrease weight if you can’t complete the number. There are many variables within this programming. The numbers, weights, and exercises I chose worked well for me. You will need to find what’s right for you.
What is unilateral training?
Unilateral training means using only one arm or leg at a time, while bilateral training uses both. Bilateral is the most-used type because it provides more stability and therefore tends to be “easier.” I say easier because it provides less of a balance challenge, but it’s definitely not easier if you increase the weight. Bilateral movements are also the best and safest way for beginners to build a solid foundation before moving on to more challenging moves. I love using unilateral training because I like to include balance challenges in my workout. Maintaining good balance becomes much more important as we age, so including it in your resistance training is a great way to keep up your balance skills. Another benefit of unilateral training is that it increases your core engagement. By loading only one side of your body, a lot of stabilization has to occur. The muscles involved in stabilizing the spine, pelvis, and kinetic chain, include the deep lumbar spine stabilizers (also known as “postural” muscles), abdominal muscles, posterior muscles of the lower- and middle back, and hip muscles. You can read more about the importance of core training here. It is important to note that not all unilateral movements present a big balance challenge. For example, doing a 1-armed shoulder press while sitting will not be as challenging as standing on one leg while performing the same exercise.
How to use unilateral training
You can turn almost any traditional exercise into a unilateral exercise but here are some of my favorite ones. I’ve also
- Single-leg DB curl
- Single-leg Romanian deadlift to single-arm shoulder press
- Single-leg BOSU side lunge
- Single-leg overhead shoulder press
- Side lunge to high knee
Time Under Tension Training
I like to throw in this type of training to mix things up when I need an extra challenge. Nothing will humble you more than to slow down a movement.
What is time under tension?
This type of training focuses on how much time a muscle is under tension or strain during an exercise. Two ways to accomplish a time under-tension approach are:
(1) Increasing the number of repetitions. You read about that earlier in the high-volume training section.
(2) Setting a goal for the total time it takes to complete a set, which I cover below.
Research has shown that women have a greater degree of fatigue, meaning that we need more volume or time under tension to reach failure during an exercise than men. This is another reason why time under tension training might be a perfect addition to your current exercise regimen. What’s clear is that extended amounts under tension may contribute to more significant muscle hypertrophy/growth.
How to use time under tension training
There are many ways to count the time you spend under tension, but in the end, you should aim for a specific range for each set. Evidence from the research indicates that slow lifting movement (6 s up and 6 s down) performed to fatigue produces more significant increases in rates of muscle protein synthesis than the same movement performed rapidly (1 s up and 1 s down)
- The sweet spot for muscle hypertrophy, aka growth, is around 60 seconds.
- If you want to focus more on strength, the time under tension appears more effective in the 10-30 second range.
My favorite way to use this approach is to use the same amount of time for the eccentric (muscle lengthens/i.e., lowering during a biceps curl) as the concentric (muscles shorten, i.e., lifting during a biceps curl) phase.
For example, during a biceps curl, I count 4 seconds up, 1-second pause at the top, 4 seconds down, and 1-second pause at the bottom. This count brings my time under tension to 10 seconds per repetition. Since my goal is hypertrophy, I would complete six repetitions per set (6 x 10 seconds = 60 seconds). That said, I like to increase my time to 90 seconds based on my theory that women benefit from more time under tension.
- Use lower weights. It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to control the speed of a movement.
- 60-90 seconds per set
- 3-6 seconds per repetition
- Focus on counting during both the eccentric and concentric phases of each repetition
And there you have it! A toolbox full of fun resistance training types that will help you make this year your strongest year yet. I love to hear your experience and thoughts on this and any other blog, so do reach out.