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Strength Training & Menopause: What To Expect

For most women, the idea of impending menopause is scary. We spoke to post-menopausal readers who gave us some surprising news about lifting after the menopause…

Menopause 101

The menopause refers to the stage in a woman’s life where her ovaries stop releasing eggs, and she naturally stops having periods (not because of medical treatment). This most commonly occurs between the ages of 45-58. But the menopause can be described as three stages:

Perimenopause: this can begin up to 10 years before the menopause, and is when the ovaries gradually start to produce less oestrogen. Towards the end of the perimenopause, estrogen levels drop more quickly.

Menopause: classed as the point at which a woman has not had a period for 12 months consecutively). The ovaries have stopped releasing eggs, and oestrogen production is extremely low.

Post menopause: this describes life after the menopause (2 years without periods). Symptoms can differ greatly from woman to woman (and can be affected by hormone treatment, of course). Some women still experience some menopausal symptoms. Low levels of oestrogen place postmenopausal women at increase risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems.

We already know that resistance training, being active, and eating well can reduce health risks, improve body composition, protect bone health, and boost mental wellness as we get older.

But what’s the truth about training through (and after) menopause?

We wanted to find out how menopause affects women who want to continue training, lifting, and maybe competing too. So we asked them. And what they told us was surprising… surprisingly positive. We hope it will help you.

How Might Menopause Affect Your Training, Strength, Body Comp Goals?

We spoke to powerlifters, bodybuilders, pole athletes and women who love to lift. What they told us about their experiences with the menopause might surprise you.

“Surprisingly, I’ve gone from strength to strength – literally. Without the monthly emotional ups and downs, and the physical pain that used to accompany my period, I feel like I’ve really been able to focus on my training. In fact I’ve trained to become a Trainer and have started my own business, all since menopause. I now lift weights, which I didn’t do before. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, I feel better about myself, and I feel much more in control of my body now.”

“I actually started weight training because of the menopause. My Doctor warned me that the low dose hormone replacement therapy I went on would probably cause me to put on weight. That was like a red rag to a bull! I started lifting weights, addressed my diet, and I’m now hooked on lifting! I’ve had good strength gains, and huge changes to body composition. All during the menopause. I’m physically stronger, and very confident now.”

“I feel just as strong – if not strong, in some ways – than I did before menopause. I started Pole Dancing for fitness when I was 45… and I now teach it! I added in weight training to my workout routine after menopause and love it.”

“Menopause knocked me for six, I was lethargic, and my previous workout routine fell apart. This led to loss of strength and muscle. It was a spiral! I eventually went on low dose hormone replacement therapy and felt ready to get back to exercise. I tried running and power walking but it wasn’t enough for me in a mental sense. I got back in the gym, and it felt like starting from square one. But I noticed one incredible thing: my focus was higher than ever. I’ve never felt like this before. My mental focus is clear, I feel better in every way, I guess I’ve learned so much about my body now that I feel in control of myself. I’ve even signed up to my first powerlifting competition.”

“I train for powerlifting. I actually think my training has improved with natural reduction in hormonal fluctuations. I feel that it lets me train more consistently. Hormones don’t have such an effect on my ability to make weight. And I no longer have that added concerns about getting my period at the time of a competition. Because I’ve continued training, I’ve been able to maintain my physique (even increasing muscle fullness at a time when some women might expect their physiques to deteriorate!) All of that has been very positive for my mindset and emotions.”

“In the early days of menopause, I did have a sense of losing my ‘womanliness’. I hadn’t expected to feel a loss of something when my periods stopped. Training helped me deal with these emotions and kept my relationship with my body stronger than it might have been.”

“My training was largely unaffected by menopause. The desire to train, my love of training, and my strength remained. But I have noticed it’s more difficult to lose body fat and be lean. My sweet tooth has disappeared, though! Training has helped me stay stronger and in much better health than menopausal women who don’t train. Strength decreases after a certain age, but my family Doctor tells me I am well above average in terms of strength, health, body composition.”

What Aspects Of The Menopause Were Challenging?

“The night sweats are real! Mine were frequent, and severe. I also had aching joints (but nothing unbearable).  I had phantom period pains for the first two years but they never lasted too long, and I didn’t need to take any medication. But I realize not every woman shares my experience: some of my friends have bouts of physical sickness, food intolerances and need hormone replacement therapy.”

“I was surprised by my emotions. I would feel tearful for no apparent reason, suffered severe mood swings, and was sometimes really down for an hour or so. But the after-effects can be positive. I have more empathy for people now, I’m more sympathetic to people’s needs, and I’m probably more patient with other people in the gym!”

Is It Difficult To Work With A Different Set Of Hormones?

“Yes, I struggle to keep my weight where I like it to be, but my diet could be better! My emotions post-menopause are much better than before. I feel more stable, calmer, and more self-assured. Training helps with that. I feel happy in myself.”

“I used to be able to lose a couple of pounds quite easily – not any more! But on the plus side, I can build my strength quite quickly and muscle memory is good. One surprising effect of menopause is how it affected my confidence about learning new skills in training. I’m not as courageous as I used to be, and I fear injury a lot more.”

What’s Your Best Advice For Strength Athletes Approaching Menopause?

“There’s lots you can still achieve after menopause. I feel so much stronger than I expected to. But be wary of comparing your progress and ability in training to younger women. That could lead to emotions about lost youth… and we don’t want to go there!”

“Training will bring about – or help maintain – changes to your body, and you’ll feel powerful. The ageing process can be really challenging. Lifting will help you keep ahold of your mojo!”

“You might find Doctors very focused on dates and what’s ‘normal’. Speak to other women going through the same thing if you can. Everyone’s experience is different.”

“Keep doing what you enjoy. The benefits of training – particularly with weights – through menopause and beyond are massive. Not just for bone health, strength, body composition, but for your confidence and mental wellbeing, too. It’s easy to be negative about a changing body. But it’s got you this far, so give it a chance! Things change, but that’s not always a bad thing.”

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