In 2022, the World Health Organisation shared some eye-opening statistics: only 32% of women manage to hit the recommended exercise minimum to maintain good health –  that’s 150 minutes of moderate paced exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity if you’re really going for it. And here in the UK, it turns out that women are even less likely to get their workout on than men. But here’s a thought: what if we looked at exercise as our secret weapon? Not just for keeping those dreadful menopause symptoms in check or warding off menopause weight gain, but as a boost for our health and longevity. The right exercise really is the key to a better menopause experience, and beyond. Maybe it is time to bump up exercise on your list of priorities.

The key? Strength training. 

In this article, we’ll take you through all you need to know about strength training during the menopause: what it is, why it is important, the benefits and how to get started. We’ve even thrown in our favourite strength training exercise for menopause.

What is strength training?

Strength training, weight training and resistance training are the same thing.

Strength training is exercise that involves pushing, pulling, or exercising using any kind of resistance (weight)

Typically, you will need to use some sort of equipment in order to provide you with that resistance to exercise with. 

This can be in the form of resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, the resistance machines you see in the gym, barbells, and even some fancier equipment like sandbags and TRX (the list could go on).

 

Why strength training is important during menopause

Strength training is the powerhouse of exercise for perimenopause, menopause, and even postmenopause.

From preventing osteoporosis to stop breaking bones if we fall, maintaining and growing muscle mass keeping us mobile, to keeping our metabolism and hormones in check – strength training is incredibly important during menopause.

 

Strength training future-proofs your bone health

During menopause you will experience a decrease in estrogen levels which causes your bones to weaken, your bone density decreases and your risk of osteoporosis goes up. 

According to the NHS, osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones even further, making them fragile and more likely to break. The sad news is, osteoporosis doesn’t usually get diagnosed until you have a fall and have your bones examined. As if we needed any more to contend with during menopause!

Strength training future-proofs your bones because it applies a controlled stress to the bones, which forces your body to stimulate bone-forming cells to increase bone density. 

 Essentially, when it comes to maintaining your bone health during menopause, strength training replaces this job of estrogens. 

The earlier age a woman goes through menopause, the greater the chance she will experience

Maintaining and increasing muscle mass

As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass. This is a condition known as sarcopenia. 

For menopausal women, the rate that you lose your muscle mass is accelerated. Yet again, down to the decline in estrogen and hormonal changes.

The average adult loses 3-8% of their muscle mass every decade after the age of 30, which then increases to 5-10% after the age of 50. This is very damaging to your health now, but even more of a concern for during and after the menopause transition.

Strength training combats muscle mass loss by a very specific process; by creating microscopic tears in muscle fibres which then repair and grow.

Maintaining, and adding muscle mass is vital for your long-term health, and as you progress into your maturer years. With sufficient muscle mass, every single aspect of your health will improve!

Did you know that the larger muscle mass you have, the more efficient your body will be at burning calories?

Which leads us on nicely to our next point!

 

Keep your metabolism in check

Your muscle is metabolically active. Meaning it burns calories at rest, unlike our fatty tissue. 

By increasing your muscle mass through strength training, perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal women can boost the rate at which your metabolism burns energy (calories). 

If you are someone struggling with weight gain during menopause, ‘menopause belly’ or the ‘middle aged spread’ (we hate those terms!) strength training will help to manage your weight and where your body deposits fat more effectively. 

Leading women’s health researcher Dr Stacy Sims says strength training triggers hormones that increase abdominal fat burning. With the right application and persistence, say hello to better metabolism and goodbye to continued menopause weight gain. 

 

Mood and cognitive function

Regular strength training can have a profound effect on how you mentally and emotionally experience menopause. 

 When you strength train, your body releases hormones called endorphins. 

The release of endorphins after exercising has been described as exercise-induced euphoria because of how endorphins can lower your perception of pain and reduce your stress levels. 

Think of strength training as a natural mood lifter for menopause. 

Maintaining a routine of exercise including strength training can help to combat feeling low, depression, anxiety and even mood swings which are common to experience during menopause.

 

The benefits of strength training during menopause

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases. Think diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and more (This is one of our favourites!)
  • Improved joint health. Strength training strengthens the muscles around your joints, reducing joint pain and stiffness
  • Better sleep quality. Regular strength training can improve all aspects of your sleep, but the greatest benefit is to your sleep quality
  • Boosts energy levels during menopause. Energy levels increase after strength training! This is partly due to the endorphin released as explained earlier, but it is also a phenomenon that is experienced by women. 
  •  Enhances self-esteem and confidence. If you know, you know.

 

How to get started with strength training during menopause

  1. Consult with professionals
  2. Start slow
  3. Create a routine that works for you
  4. Try making it a little harder

Consult with professionals

This comes in two parts.

Before starting any new form of exercise, or training programme, you need to speak to your Doctor. It is important that you get the green light and confirmation that you are medically able to begin strength training. 

Speak to an exercise or fitness professional who can help you when starting out. This could be a PT in your gym, go for a consultation at the local weights gym, or hire a coach to help you start out. Any one of these professionals can assess you and give you a personalised routine that is specific to your needs and level of understanding. 

These can seem like really big steps but they are necessary. Your safety and having a plan that is suitable for your health and fitness level during menopause, is paramount.

As a menopausal woman starting strength training, having a structured workout plan is essential because it ensures a balanced approach that safely builds strength whilst supporting your hormones and helping to prevent injuries.

Start slow

Slow and steady wins the race. We cannot stress this enough. 

Many women have never seen the inside of the weights section at the gym, and many haven’t tried strength training before either. That is completely okay!

So, you need to start slow.

Try 20-minutes of strength training and see how you feel. 

A few days later, try it again. 

Ease yourself in and build your way up to longer, or more intense sessions.

 

Create a routine that works for you

What works for one person, will not work for someone else. You need to find a routine where strength training slots in well for you. 

For the best results, you want to do strength training three to four times per week. But when you’re starting out, any number of strength training sessions will benefit your menopause.

Work out where in your week you can fit your sessions in, and be realistic. 

Perhaps you feel lacklustre on a Friday after a full week of work? Plan one of your strength sessions to be done with a friend, or even a class at your local gym or crossfit gym. This way you are able to complete the strength session easier.

Perhaps you could dedicate some time to strength training when your partner is out for a round of golf every other weekend. Think of it as your me time. 

Or it could be as simple as one day on, one day off. Switching one of your spinning classes for a 20-minute stint on the resistance machines. Whatever works for you, begin to do that.

Try making it a little harder

Strength training being beneficial for menopause only works when we challenge ourselves. 

As you become more comfortable with strength training exercises, gradually increase the intensity of what you are doing. 

There are multiple ways to do this:

  • Add a little more weight 
  • Increase your number of reps
  • Add another set
  • Try another movement that is more complex or challenging

The key to strength training during menopause is to challenge yourself. 

Not only does this help your menopause symptoms and overall health, but it keeps things interesting. No-one wants to be doing boring exercise!

 

The best strength exercises for menopause

Here are some of our favourite strength exercises, tailored for menopausal women. Make them harder as you get more confident doing them:

No equipment strength exercises for menopause

Kneeling press up

Areas worked: Upper body

Exercise Tip: Keep your hands about a hands-width wider than shoulder-width apart and use your knees to stabilise you

How to make it harder: Pause for 3 seconds at the bottom

 

Bird Dog

Areas worked: Pelvic floor, core strength, balance, shoulders and glutes

Exercise Tip: If extending your opposite arm and opposite leg at the same time is too hard, try doing your arm first. Hold it still whilst you bring your leg up

How to make it harder: Add an ankle and/or wrist weight

Make sure you do both sides!

 

Bodyweight squat

Areas worked: Lower body

Exercise Tip: Start the movement by moving your hips back, then bending your knees, and don’t allow your knees to fall inward

How to make it harder: Go a little lower than what would be a seated position

 

Equipment strength exercises for menopause

Squat and press

Areas worked: Whole body

Exercise Tip: Press the dumbbells above your head, as you are standing up from the squat

How to make it harder: Pick a heavier set of dumbbells

 

Overhead marches

Areas worked: Core strength, pelvic floor, hip flexors and upper body

Exercise Tip: Brace your core and pelvic floor throughout the exercise and try not to allow your lower back to cave in

How to make it harder: Hold each knee in the air for 5 seconds 

Make sure you do both sides!

 

One-arm row

Areas worked: Upper body

Exercise Tip: Bring the weight up and in toward your hip 

How to make it harder: Increase the number of repetitions that you do

Make sure you do both sides!

Frequently Asked Questions

You may be wondering…

Is strength training safe for women?
Strength training is very safe for women, it is as safe for women as it is for men. There is no difference!
Will strength training make me look bulky?
No! This is a very common misconception that women have about strength training. It is physically impossible for a woman to be as muscular as a trained man, naturally. This is only achievable with the use of steroids. Strength training does not make women bulky or masculine.
What if I have never lifted weights before? Can I still do it?
Yes! You can still strength train if you have never lifted weights before. Like when you start anything new, you need to start easier than your potential capabilities and test it out. Start with 1kg dumbbells or lighter weights and work your way up from there.
Are there specific strength training exercises I should avoid to prevent injuries during menopause?
You should avoid lifting too heavy right away, this is a very common way to pick up an injury. There are no specific strength training exercises to avoid in particular, however we recommend you speak to your Doctor or make an appointment with an exercise professional to discuss your medical history and previous exercise experience to find out what you may need to avoid or be mindful of. If you are a member of a gym, a qualified personal trainer may also be able to help.
Do I have to join a gym, or can I do effective workouts at home?
You don’t have to join a gym to do strength training. You absolutely can do effective workouts at home! You will need to invest in some equipment in order to workout at home however, so this is something to consider.
How long does it take to see results from strength training during menopause?
This is like asking how long a piece of string is. That is near-enough impossible to answer. It depends on many factors, however with consistency (that means sticking to it for more than 8 weeks) you should begin to see some changes.
Can strength training help with menopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings?
Yes! Strength training has been shown to help with many menopause symptoms, including hot flashes and mood swings.
Can strength training help with weight management during menopause?
Absolutely! Leading women’s health researcher Dr Stacy Sims says that strength training triggers hormones that increase abdominal fat burning, as well as managing your weight overall too. So give it a go!

References

Where we got our information for this article

References
Harber, V. J., & Sutton, J. R. (1984). Endorphins and exercise. Sports Medicine, 1, 154-171.

Isenmann, E., Kaluza, D., Havers, T., Elbeshausen, A., Geisler, S., Hofmann, K., … & Gavanda, S. (2023). Resistance training alters body composition in middle-aged women depending on menopause-A 20-week control trial. BMC Women’s Health, 23(1), 526.

Kovacevic, A., Mavros, Y., Heisz, J. J., & Singh, M. A. F. (2018). The effect of resistance exercise on sleep: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews, 39, 52-68.

Nash, Z., Al-Wattar, B. H., & Davies, M. (2022). Bone and heart health in menopause. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 81, 61-68.

Sims ST, Kubo J, Desai M, Bea J, Beasley JM, Manson JE, Allison M, Seguin RA, Chen Z, Michael YL, Sullivan SD, Beresford S, Stefanick ML. Changes in physical activity and body composition in postmenopausal women over time. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Aug;45(8):1486-92. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828af8bd. PMID: 23439422; PMCID: PMC3715578.

Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 Jul;7(4):405-10. doi: 10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2. PMID: 15192443; PMCID: PMC2804956.

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity#:~:text=Globally%2C%2028%25%20of%20adults%20aged,intensity%20physical%20activity%20per%20week

https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/health/diet-and-exercise/physical-activity/latest/

https://www.drstacysims.com/blog/want-to-burn-belly-fat-lift-weights

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