Published: Friday, October 17, 2008
Bad enough that women typically lose five to seven pounds of muscle in their 30s. Throw in menopause a few years later, and the scenario gets even worse. The sad fact is, women have a harder time staying strong and fit than men.
“If you eat a steak and a guy eats a steak, the male body is going to absorb more of the protein to build muscle than the female body,” said certified strength and conditioning specialist Michelle Roots of Core Conditioning in Surrey, B.C. (core-condition.com).
“That’s because males have more testosterone production and testosterone is needed to build muscle. At the same time, estrogen production is decreasing in women after menopause and it’s believed that estrogen also plays a role in building muscle mass in women.”
Now an Austrian researcher says that mid-life women who lift weights v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y can better delay age-related muscle deterioration. They will get stronger, faster.
Alexandra Sanger compared menopausal women aged 45 to 55 doing regular weight training versus SuperSlow training, which was developed in 1982 as a safer training method for older women with osteoporosis. Instead of doing the standard two or three sets of eight to 10 repetitions of an exercise, in this method, you do just one set of four to six repetitions taking, say, 10 full seconds to curl your bicep in and four seconds to uncurl again.
You can’t use momentum to cheat, and you’ll work really, really hard. But there’s a problem. All that slowness is just plain boring.
“You might fall asleep while you’re doing it,” Roots joked.
On the bright side, though, you have all the time in the world to get your technique down pat.
Fighting muscle weakness isn’t just about vanity. Strong muscles are necessary for every day life.
Sanger’s research is a good wake-up call about what happens in menopause, Roots said. “Mid-life is the time when muscle deterioration becomes more apparent. It starts around age 30 and by 45 you start to really notice. The knee pain starts coming. The balance starts to go. The low back pain begins.”
The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you’ll burn at a resting state, and the greater your chances of gaining weight, losing strength, falling or getting hurt.
So should mid-life women try the slow method? Until more and larger studies confirm Sanger’s findings, Roots recommends adding just a little slow training to a more conventional workout.
There is not yet a lot of research on strength training for mid-life women and the slow method is tediously hard work, said Roots who also has a kinesiology degree.
Get into a regular strength training routine first, Roots said. Once you’re comfortable with that, change one exercise to the slow method. When you’re comfortable with that, maybe add another. Slow training will cause more muscle soreness. The bicep curl is probably the easiest exercise to try first. Raise to a count of 10 and lower to a count of four.