Strength Training for Women During Different Stages of Life
Strength training and resistance training offer a countless number of benefits to adult, healthy, non- pregnant women. There’s no debate about this. When balanced with cardio and interval workouts, strength training provides core stability, muscle strength and tone, improved athletic performance (even for cardio-centered sports), and improved stabilization for the joints and spine. Resistance training can support posture and circulation, elevate the metabolism and even help with sleep and stress management.
But these unquestioned benefits all apply to strength training for women in the prime of life, or the years between 20 and 60. Can resistance training and strength training for women offer the same benefits to children, adolescents and the elderly? What about strength training during pregnancy? And at these life stages, should women and men be following the same basic strength training principles, body mechanics, and lifting techniques?
Strength Training for Women: Childhood
From birth to the age of about seven or eight, the bones of both boys and girls are still adding new cells and mineral deposits at the epiphyseal plates, or growth plates. Research on the growth plates of the arms and legs suggests that extreme heavy lifting can interfere with this deposition process. So prior to age seven, little boys and girls should not be lifting excessively or strength training using adult approaches to muscle mass development.
But during these early childhood years, very light strength training can be a fun way to build confidence. And just as we indoctrinate our children into the world of healthy eating by setting a good example and encouraging them to try healthy foods, we can’t go wrong by introducing them to the gym and encouraging them to see resistance training as fun.
A lifelong healthy habit of strength training for women can begin as our daughters, nieces, and young friends accompany us to the gym and experiment with light strength training and low reps. By the time boys and girls reach the age of eight, the growth plates are fairly well established and more ambitious resistance training can begin.
As you introduce your young child to resistance training, try to keep the experience upbeat and fun. Allow children to face lifting challenges in a supportive, safe, and encouraging environment and you’ll help them build great memories and positive habits.
Strength Training for Women: Adolescence
Girls between the ages of 12 and 19 are often engaged in serious sports with rigorous training regimens, and while knowledgeable coaches can steer this training in a positive direction, not all sport-specific performance plans are perfect. Especially during activities that are cardio-focused, like running, swimming and dance, strength training often takes a back seat to rehearsal and laps. But cardio workouts should be balanced with at least three sessions per week of resistance training and strength training.
If your daughter is heavily invested in a performance-oriented training regimen, keep an eye on her schedule and make sure she’s spending adequate time in the weight room. At the same time, teens who aren’t involved in an organized physical activity should be encouraged to spend at least 30 minutes per day in vigorous motion, and at least ten minutes of that time should involve some kind of resistance training.
As with young children, teenagers engaged in resistance training and strength training are exposed to great opportunities to build self-esteem and confidence. And resistance training allows teens to enjoy the flexibility and strength that are unique to this fleeting chapter of our lives. These youthful bodies and feelings of invincibility won’t last forever, so while they’re young, it’s a good idea to provide girls and boys with the satisfaction of facing and overcoming physical challenges.
Strength Training For Women: Pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body changes shape and our center of gravity shifts. Pressure on the cervix and stress to the heart and artery walls can also lead to complications that can threaten the health of both the mother and the unborn child. At the same time, resistance training during pregnancy still offers the same basic health benefits that it does at any other stage of life. So it’s best to weigh the risks and talk to your doctor before engaging in a resistance training plan or changing any aspect of your existing strength training plan while pregnant.
Remember that every pregnancy is different. Even if your doctor signed off on your resistance training regimen during your last pregnancy, your current pregnancy may not be following an identical pattern. And don’t plunge into a strength training program based on general advice provided by anyone (trainer, friend, coach) other than your own doctor or midwife.
Strength Training For Women: Age Sixty and Above
The lifelong benefits of strength training for women often become very clear in the later years. A regular consistent habit of cardio workouts balanced with resistance training can help build the bone density and muscular tone that can keep our joints stable and prevent fractures as we approach age sixty and beyond.
If strength training for women (and men) begins in youth and carries us steadily through the prime of life, our bones have strength and mineral density that will hold up as our calcium reserves later become depleted. But even if we begin a strength training regimen after age sixty for the first time, we can still reap the benefits of muscle tone, circulation, stability, better sleep, and a greater sense calm and well-being.
If you’re over the age of sixty and you’ve been engaged in resistance training for years, congratulations! Check in with your doctor periodically to make sure your strength training goals stay aligned with your overall health and blood pressure, and keep up the good work. If you’re just beginning a strength training plan, check with your doctor first and then feel free to head for the gym. It may be a good idea to connect with a reliable trainer who understands the body mechanics of older athletes.