By Humairah Irfan

Weight Training- The Most important missing link for women over 40

Do you ever see strong women lifting heavy weights and wonder… “I can never be that strong” or “I can never lift such heavy weights?”

But did you know that if youre over 40 years old, strength training is one of the BEST things you can do for your body?

Maybe you still feel strength training is not important, and just going on walks is good enough for your health.

Allow me to shed some light on strength training and how it can totally transform your body, health & your older body into a young-feeling, strong woman!

What is strength training?

Strength training or resistance training is any type of training in which the muscles work against some form of resistance. These types of movements or exercises impose an increasing demand on your muscles and central nervous system, causing an adaptation. That “adaptation” is your body getting stronger.

When you repeatedly stress and rebuild, stress and rebuild, you end up gaining muscle and increasing the efficiency of your neural pathways. All that to say, you are able to more efficiently perform the same (or similar) task in the future.

Strength training is really valuable for optimal health. Benefits can include:

  • Increased muscle growth, strength, power, recovery, and endurance.
  • Increased integrity of bone and connective tissues.
  • Increased metabolism.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity.
  • Reduced rate of injury.
  • Reduced lower back pain.
  • Slowing of age-related declines like strength and bone loss.
  • Prevention of osteoporosis (a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue) and osteoarthritis (a common form of arthritis where the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time).

Strength training can be especially vital in helping us stay active, prevent falls, and enjoy a better quality of life as we age.

There’s also a psychological component.

Strength training can be incredibly empowering because it shines a spotlight on all the things our amazing bodies are capable of, rather than on what our bodies look like.

So many times I’ve heard clients say that they wish they were taught strength training when they were younger. I totally get that. We don’t find weightlifting in our Muslim communities. We may feel that it’s just something other or ‘white’ women do. Even the women that do go to the gym, mostly stick with classes or cardio machines. Trust me, you’re missing the biggest benefit your body can get. It can make you feel stronger, more confident, and more willing to “take up space”. With some practice, strength training can transform from feeling like something you “should” do to being something that gives you life! Trust me on this!


What do I need for strength training?

Usually, a complete set of dumbbells is a great starting point, but there are many other options as well. Such as:

  • Exercise bands
  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Barbells and plates
  • Kettlebells
  • Sandbags
  • Medicine balls
  • Suspension straps

How Often Should I Train?

When trying to figure out how often you should strength train, there are a few things to consider.

The amount of exercise you do should allow you to do the following:

  • Feel in control of your hunger and appetite (i.e., cravings).
  • Recover enough from each training session to allow you to train again by the time the next session rolls around.
  • Feel generally good and energetic (not overly sore or exhausted from exercise).
  • Participate in other obligations and activities in your life (e.g., family, career, social, leisure).

I usually recommend starting with 3-5 training sessions a week. That leads me to define this word: TRAINING.

I have witnessed a huge mindset shift in my ladies when they stop calling it ‘exercise’ and start calling it ‘training’. A training plan has phases and progressively gets challenging using various progression & muscle-building techniques.

So moving forward, I want you to try using the word training instead of exercise and see how that makes you feel!

When you’re training, you’re working on performance, results and actual changes. You’re invested in your training program and you’re constantly progressing.

When you’re exercising, it feels more casual, more optional, with variable intensity when in fact, it shouldn’t be.

If you havent been exercising at all, its probably best to start small while you work on making training a part of your regular routine. This will help ensure that your new workout routine isnt too overwhelming, either physically or mentally.



Do I Need to Do Any Other Exercise If I Strength Train?

Strength training and cardio have different goals. You will definitely benefit from incorporating both in your weekly routine along with some mobility work as well.

There’s never a downside to staying active!


What Kinds of Movements Should I Do?

Exercises typically fall into one of six major movement patterns. A well-rounded strength training program includes movements from all six categories. Though you don’t have to do all six on the same day, make an effort to incorporate movements from each category throughout your training program.

The six major movement patterns are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Lunge
  • Upper-body push (push-ups, shoulder presses)
  • Upper-body pull (rows, pull-downs)
  • Core (rotation; anti-rotation; anti-extension; anti-lateral flexion; and hip flexion with neutral spine, hip, and spine extension)

The above compound movements provide the biggest bang for your buck by recruiting several different muscle groups at once. As a result, they use more energy, which also means that youll burn more calories doing them.

When you are new to training, you experience strength gains and see physical changes relatively quickly. Strength training is a brand new stimulus for your body, which will respond quickly as a result! “Beginner’s gains” are a beautiful thing!

For most exercises, you can start with 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

You want to also use an appropriate weight for each exercise. It wont be the same for all. Basically, you want the 8th to 10th repetition for each set to be slightly difficult in order to get those muscle gains.

You don’t want to only exercise and neglect recovery.

When we talk about “recovery,” we’re mostly talking about three things: nutrition, sleep, and stress management.

Together, these things help your body repair itself after exercise and get stronger. With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to maximize your recovery:

  • Eat plenty of nutritious foods and get an adequate amount of protein. 1–1.5 grams per pound of lean body mass is a good place to start.
  • Be certain that you are getting plenty of high-quality sleep each night.
  • Incorporate some ways to decrease chronic stress into every day. A 5- to 10-minute leisurely walk, a quick meditation, or a few deep-breathing exercises can fit into the busiest of days.

Your recovery is just as important — if not more so — than your actual training sessions.

What’s the Best Way to Get Started Right Now?

The answer? Try my sample workout plan.

Here are two sample workout plans you can use to train twice per week. To put this into practice, here are the basic steps:

  • Start with an active warm-up
  • After your warm-up, start by consecutively completing all the sets in exercise 1a, (resting 60 to 90 seconds between each set).
  • Then, move on to the next set of exercises, alternating between exercises 2a and 2b until you’ve completed all your sets.
  • Do the same for exercises 3a and 3b.
  • Remember to rest 60 to 90 seconds between each movement.

Here’s your workout plan!

Workout One

1a. Goblet squat: 3–4 sets x 6–8 reps

2a. Lat pull-down: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps

2b. Hamstring walkout: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps

3a. Shoulder press: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps per side

3b. Standing Pallof press: 2–3 sets x 6–8 reps per side

Workout Two

1a. Push-up: 3–4 sets x 6–8 reps

2a. Romanian deadlift: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps

2b. Band pull-apart: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps

3a. Double arm wide row: 2–3 sets x 8–10 reps per side

3b. HI Plank: 2–3 sets x 3 reps (hold 10 seconds)

How Do I Stay Consistent?

When it comes to keeping up a strength training program (or any health or fitness change, for that matter), some days will be easier than others. So what makes the difference between “falling off the wagon” and making patient but persistent progress?

In my experience, it comes down to two key things: coaching and community.

The combination of a coach who’s in your corner and a supportive group of people who are there to celebrate your wins, share your struggles, and help you stay inspired… that is a magic combination right there.

While helping hundreds of thousands of women over the years, I’ve learned that when it comes to staying consistent, nothing compares to the magic combination of coaching and community. I myself have a separate coach for fitness, and another for my nutrition, a third for my business and a fourth for my marriage and relationships. I also have a Qur’an teacher. OK, I know that sounds like a lot because as Muslim women we’re not used to spending our personal development. I’ve learnt though, just how we spend on our kids, it’s also important to nurture ourselves as well. In some areas of our lives, we need more help than others. And improving ourselves is also a sunnah worth following because as mothers we are raising the next generation of Muslim leaders.

So seek out supportive people, join together with friends, or find a coaching program that speaks to your needs and goals. You’ll be stronger for it.

About the Author

Humairah Irfan, the All Day Energy Coach!

I help busy Muslim moms lose weight without giving up their favourite ethnic foods with my “Triple Your Energy in 90 Days Habit Change Program”. DM me the word “Change” to learn more! Follow @humairah.irfan   and  @hienergyfitness.