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The menopause series: movement

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

The British Menopause Society states that the most common age of onset of moderate to severe hot flushes are 45 to 49 years old, with a median duration of 8.1 years. It’s certainly a marathon not a sprint for most of us, so it’s worth learning how to work with your body to get the most out of your training.




With the changes of estrogen and progesterone, our body needs exercise stress to make up for the responses which those hormones had previously stimulated. We no longer have the benefits of anabolic (building of muscle) stimulus from estrogen. As such, we need to lift heavier weights and do high-intensity workouts to get that same stimulus. As a result, traditional training methods and programming are less effective when we are in those phases. This article has been written with Cat Benger, our resident Triathlon Coach and Pilates instructor and will hopefully share with you the magic formula to counterbalancing these changes.


Incorporate HIIT into your weekly plan

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps to manage the changes to our body composition. It includes a balanced mix of jumping and movements in directions / planes not just forward and backwards. This gives the body multi-directional stress. These bouts of short, high heart rate intervals will also help to preserve our ability to execute efforts at the top which in turn will help us maintain our speed and overall goal of maintaining our performance potential.


It’s much more fun - and motivational- if you join a regular group HIIT class either on Zoom or in person. The vibe of the group will always inevitably push you harder.


Here's an example HIIT session you can do - just use the time you have available and reduce rounds accordingly. The shorter the time, the harder you need to work to make them effective.

Beginner

Warm-up & stretch*

20 x squats

20 x jumping jacks

10 x push ups (on knees)

20 x ab curl ups

20 x lunges

1 min x marching/jogging on the spot

1 min x rest

Repeat for 4 x rounds

Cool down/stretch*

Advanced

Warm-up & stretch*

20 x jump squats

20 x jump right/left/jumping jack (lateral)

10 push ups to high planks to side planks (rotational)

20 x V-ups

20 x jumping lunges, (alternate legs)

1 min shuttle sprints

Rest x 1 min

Repeat for 6 x rounds

Cool down/stretch*

* If you need some inspiration, check out our On demand section for a quick warm up and cool down.


Ramp up your strength & resistance training

We lose power production with the decrease in our estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, so weight training is required to increase your bone mass and to help to preserve power production and strong muscle contraction.


A few benefits of strength training are as follows:


  • Builds and maintains muscle mass.

  • Makes your joints stronger and more stable.

  • An effective form of low-impact cardio exercise.

  • Supports weight loss and weight management.

  • Improves your cardiovascular health.

  • Protects Bone Health - strength and density

  • Good for posture/postural muscles.

  • Improves your mood and mental health.

  • Aids with injury prevention.


Don’t panic If the concept of ‘strength training’ terrifies you, this is normal. Jumping straight into lifting heavy weights is not sensible, in any case. It's far better to start out on your journey doing movements using your own body weight for resistance.


Here's a selection of very effective body weight strength and conditioning movements you can look to include in your programme, we suggest mixing up the variations and the tempos to continually challenge your bodies:


Squats: Basic, sumo, pulse (vary tempo)

Lunges: Forward, back, lateral (side), curtsy split squats.

Glute bridges: Double, single, weighted, pulses.

Planks: Full/half/side/dynamic (e.g. plank jacks and climbs).

Bicycle crunches: Standing or lying

Inch worm walk-outs to press ups

4 point kneeling exercises: supermans/donkey kicks

Dead bug: Extending out opposite arm and leg from supine tabletop position

Calf raises: For extra intensity, do them on a step (toes on step, heels hanging over)


Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles

Exercises such as squats, glute bridges, and bird dog are also great for your pelvic floor. Yes, this is yet another area that weakens as we age! Pilates is excellent for pelvic floor strength.


Endurance

Endurance sport/training (think longer, slower steady rides and runs) burn body mass and muscle, but as our hormones decline it’s harder for our bodies to maintain and preserve our levels of muscle mass. But don’t give up - you can combat it with a few smart changes to your training programme. For example, you can switch out a steady ride for a ride with short interval/hard efforts.


From Cat's experience of training endurance athletes in this age bracket she's found the most effective way to coach them is to use a template pattern of:

2 weeks ON (mix of easy, moderate and hard sessions)

1 week LIGHT / de load


This approach can take a bit of planning but actually appears to work well around a busy work schedule and family life. Once you are in your groove with it you can look forward to reaping your rewards.


Recovery

Our bodies inevitably find it increasingly challenging to recover from exercise as we get older, and in particular those necessary harder sessions, A good approach here is a mix of "on" and "de load" weeks. It i a great way to ensure we get the rest and recovery the mind and body requires.


Remember, it is when we are resting we are allowing the good stuff is happen. A few of the great things that are happening when we take the foot off the gas: our muscles are repairing and actually getting stronger. This is known as protein muscle synthesis and can only happen during rest.


Rest allows the cells in your muscle to replenish with the fuel they need for you to perform in your next workout. Just like your muscles take a hit and need some rest, so do your tendons.


Rest also gives your nervous system a break! Its your nervous system that connects the brain to your body and it is through this connection that signals your muscles to contract. So your brain body connection gets stronger. Down time allows your hormones to balance out, in particular cortisol. The rest and recovery periods give your cortisol the opportunity to settle back down to its base line.


Rest and recovery periods reduce your risk of injury and is good for the soul and you ward off mental fatigue. Some time out allows you the opportunity to do other leisure activities and increases your motivation so you are ready to hit it again!


Flexibility and mobility

As we age, our flexibility and mobility declines so this is also another area that is worth focusing in. Pilates classes are amazing for strengthening core stabilizing and postural muscles, and improving alignment and balance. Similarly yoga is great for maintaining flexibility, but with more emphasis on breathing and mental health.


Summary

The changes that occur to your body through the menopausal phases can be significant. But with some planning and a balanced exercise programme, you can go a long way to counterbalance these and keep in fine fettle. Nutrition is a big part of this too and we cover this in a separate article.

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