From Struggle to Strength: Transforming Midlife Through The Power of Exercise.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Do you want to learn how to make exercise fun and fulfilling during Menopause and beyond? If so, here’s some good news for you. I’ve overcome the struggles of Menopause and midlife and transformed my life into a time of strength and fulfilment through exercise. In this article, I’ll share the exercise secrets that have worked wonders for me. By the end of this article, you will have a clear roadmap of what to include to become stronger, have fun and save time on what is no longer working.

In this article, I’ll walk you through these three crucial exercise adjustments that every midlife woman will benefit from:

  1. Strength Training, why it’s more important now and how to incorporate it into training
  2. How to rethink cardio to trigger performance and improve body composition
  3. Get your bounce back the benefits of a small amount of plyometrics for protecting your bones and keeping you bounding into life for longer.

I will also discuss alternatives that make exercise safer for your pelvic floor.

Firstly, exercise is not just about losing weight or getting in shape. It’s also about boosting your mood, reducing stress, and improving your health and well-being. Exercise has been a powerful tool for me to combat the physical and emotional symptoms of Menopause. One of the most essential exercise secrets is finding an activity you enjoy and can stick to. Whether it’s strength training, swimming, jogging, or dancing, the key is to make it a regular part of your routine. Finding exercise, you love will help you stay motivated and ensure you get the full benefits of exercise. 

Another key to success is adjusting your exercise in line with what research shows works for midlife women. Don’t get stuck doing the same thing you have done for years. Mix it up with different types of exercise, such as strength training, cardio, and plyometric exercises. These proven exercises will challenge your body and keep things interesting.

Now let’s dive into the detail of each adjustment so you can create a roadmap of fulfilling, fun exercises that will serve you during Menopause and beyond.

Strength Training

Why is it crucial to include strength training during the menopause transition?

Now as we get older, our muscles naturally become weaker. By the time people reach age 55, they are typically about 20% weaker than they were when they were younger. Menopause can make this even worse because of declining estrogen. The hormone estrogen helps our muscles stay strong and healthy. It is like the superhero for our muscle stem cells.

But here’s the thing -during Menopause, there is now naturally less estrogen in a woman’s body. Declining estrogen means the muscle stem cells don’t get the superhero hormone they previously had, and muscle weakens and becomes smaller. Researchers have found that when they looked at muscle stem cells in women before and after Menopause, they saw a 30-60% drop in the number of these cells. That’s a significant drop!

So, to keep our muscles strong and prevent them from getting weaker during Menopause and beyond, we must incorporate strength training. Strength training is when you do exercises that make your muscles work harder, forcing them to adapt, create more fibres, and strengthen. 

Strength training is like giving your muscles a superhero boost; it stimulates those cells and replaces the strength-building stimulus we lose as estrogen declines. Building true strength requires increasing your muscle’s maximum force in a single contraction. To improve this, you need to lift something heavy enough to send a message to your brain that you have serious work to do and need all the muscle fibres possible, please! By learning how to do this, you get those nerves firing and establish a neuromuscular connection that helps you recruit as much muscle as possible in each contraction and produce explosive power.

How can I incorporate strength work into my training?

Let’s start by defining strength work as lifting six reps with as much weight as possible for you. Lifting weights in this way will be the goal you’ll work towards. It’s worth emphasising that building strength takes time, and being patient with yourself is essential. It may take months to build up to heavy loads, especially if they are new to weightlifting.

Warm Up

Always include a warm-up routine before each lifting session to prepare the body for the workout. As a suggestion, start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio (e.g., brisk walking, cycling) to increase blood flow and raise body temperature. Follow the cardio warm-up with dynamic movements, such as leg swings, arm circles, and lunges, to mobilise the major muscle groups.

Phase 1: Start with Moderate Loads

Begin with moderate loads to build a foundation of muscular endurance. Having this foundation will help prepare the body for heavier lifting. I recommend 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps for each exercise during this phase. Remember to choose weights that allow you to complete the desired reps with proper form while still challenging yourself (the last two reps should be very difficult).

Phase 2: Gradually Increase Intensity

After at least eight weeks of working with moderate loads, it’s time to increase the weight and decrease the reps to focus on strength development. I recommend progressing to five sets of five reps for each exercise. Advancing in this way will allow for heavier weights and more significant strength gains. Using proper form during this phase is vital, and continue to challenge yourself with increased weight.

Phase 3: Further Progression

When the five sets of five reps become comfortable, it’s time to aim for 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps for each exercise. Adjusting your workout this way will continue challenging the muscles and stimulating further strength gains. Remember that slowing down and prioritising proper form and technique will mean you get the most out of your exercise and prevent injuries.

What types of exercise do I include?

Compound exercises are great for building strength and engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Examples are squats, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, and rows. You can start by using dumbells or kettlebells, and as you master these moves, you could advance to barbells.

Please note that it’s always advisable to consult with your GP or certified trainer before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

Your Cardio Rethink

High-intensity power training becomes crucial once you hit Menopause to prevent muscle loss and weakness with age. It may seem counter-intuitive to begin kicking up your cardio when society often tells us to slow down and take it easy at this stage. But the research suggests otherwise.

It’s not about going to extreme boot camps and going “full-noise” for sixty minutes. This kind of cardio needs a rethink because, during Menopause, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise. So, the wrong intensity could set you up for a vicious cycle of storing belly fat, which produces more inflammation and stress. Deep belly fat has four times more cortisol receptors than the regular fat below the skin. 

When you reach menopausal years, it’s essential to incorporate the shortest, sharpest form of HITT (High-intensity interval training): SIT (Sprint Interval Training).

SIT workouts are super-short, 10-30 seconds sprint efforts, and the research for their effectiveness in peri and postmenopausal women of all ages is compelling. Researchers in one study compared two groups of older postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes, with an average age of 69. 

Group A performed SIT training by alternating eight seconds of sprinting on a stationary bike with 12 seconds of easy pedalling twice a week for 16 weeks. 

Group B performed 40 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling twice weekly for the same period.

Both groups gained muscle and lost fat, but only in Group A the SIT women shed stubborn belly fat. And it gets even better than this because not only does SIT trigger the performance-boosting body composition changes that our hormones used to help us achieve, but it also strengthens and increases the amount of energy-producing mitochondria, improves insulin sensitivity, and lowers fasting blood sugar levels, all of which are excellent for overall cardiovascular and metabolic health.

How often should SIT be performed?

Sprint intervals are powerful, and the key here is doing it sparingly. Generally, two – three sessions a week are enough. Monitor yourself to ensure you have recovered sufficiently, and give your body the extra time to bounce back. It’s OK to drop back a session if required.

How do I know if I’m going “full-noise” in my SIT?

There are many ways that you can effectively perform SIT training. The aim is to raise your heart rate to above 80% of its maximum. To work this out, subtract your age from 220 and find 80%.

For example, 220 – 51 (age) = 169 (maximum heart rate), 80% of 169 = 135 bpm 

Therefore, our 51-year-old needs to get her heart rate above 135 bpm for SIT to be effective. You can use your perceived exertion as a guide if you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor or Fitbit. Your effort should feel like a 9-10/10: a hard effort and heavy breath breathing. You aim to reduce your effort to a 2/10 during the recovery bouts.

What are some popular ways to perform SIT?

Pick an exercise that works for you; if you’re a runner, that could be a series of hill repeats, or if running is not your thing, what about sprint intervals using a stationary bike, rowing machine or my favourite, Kettlebell swings? 

Here are some recommendations for the interval timings:


Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata created this exercise protocol that now bears his name. Their versatility means you can perform these super-short intervals on virtually any exercise equipment. Perform: 20 Seconds of work (as hard as possible), then go easy for 10 seconds. Repeat this eight times for a total of 4:00 minutes.


Similar to the above but 40 seconds of work with 20 seconds rest. Repeat three times.


This workout equalises the work-to-rest ratio and increases the challenge with 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Work your way to 3 repeats.

Get your bounce back!

There are numerous benefits to plyometrics; these exercises incorporate jumping, hopping, or bounding. These exercises create impacts that generate physiological changes and help build bone, which is especially important during the menopause transition. Additionally, plyometrics trigger epigenetic changes in your genes, stimulating muscle cells to improve power, composition, and integrity. These improvements lead to better contractile strength and response and reaction time. Plyometrics also improve mitochondria function and insulin sensitivity, which is essential for menopausal women. 

To get started, try a simple squat jump. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width, feet turned out a little, and extend your arms straight in front of you. Squat down, extending your arms behind you until you drop to a comfortable depth. Then, quickly extend your legs and jump into the air, landing softly and immediately dropping into another squat. Repeat 8-10 times and start with one set, working up to two. Here are a few more moves you can try out: Jumping Jacks, Side hops, switch-leg lunges, and mountain climbers.

Plyometric exercises are high-impact, and let’s be clear if it’s not something you are already doing, then you need to work up to it. There are some contraindications to consider; for example, plyometric work is terrific if you are injury and leak-free, but when you are compromised, or at risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, the outcome can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. 

It can be challenging to protect your pelvic floor when it comes to high-impact workouts involving jumping and bounding. However, there are ways to maintain pelvic floor strength and enjoy these exercises. For example, try doing side taps instead of jumping your feet out wide when doing jumping jacks. You can also have your feet together and squat and stretch your arms up in a jumping motion without lifting your feet off the floor. 

Running or jogging can be stressful on the pelvic floor, so try marching on the spot and lifting your knees with big arm swings instead. When it comes to kicking, it’s best to lift and kick your leg without the bouncing action, and you can incorporate an alternate arm action for a more intense workout. 

Finally, low-impact exercises can be just as intense as high-impact ones if you focus on using the larger muscle groups of the thighs and buttocks. Just remember to bend your knees a little more with each move to get the most out of your workout.

In conclusion

These exercise adjustments have transformed my life during Menopause, and I believe they can do the same for you. By incorporating these secrets into your routine, you can become stronger, have fun, and save time on what is no longer working. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but it’s paramount that you learn how to time your breathing and use your pelvic floor muscles at just the right moment during strength training to protect your pelvic floor health. Therefore, at Menopause, working with a pelvic floor-safe exercise instructor on the best way to work up to strength and impact exercises is crucial. Don’t give up hope – get moving and start feeling better today!

What have you changed about exercise now that you’ve reached Menopause? I’d love to hear your views in the comments.

Like this article? Check out How Fit Are You? 5 Simple Tests You Can Do At Home.


Dupuit, marine, Florie Maillard, Bruno Pereira, Marcelo Luis Marquezi, Antonio Herbert Lancha Jr., and Nathalie Boisseau. “Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Body Composition in Women Before and After Menopause: A Meta-Analysis.”

Collins, Brittany C., Robert W. Arpke, Alexie A. Larson, Cory W. Baumann, Ning Xie, Christine A. Cabelka, Nardina L. Nash, et al. “Estrogen Regulates the Satellite Cell Compartment in Females.”

Vetrovsky, Tomas, Michal Steffl, Petr Stastny, and James J. Tufano. “The Efficacy and Safety of Lower-Limb Plyometric Training in Older Adults: A Systematic Review.”

Pelvic Floor First – Continence Foundation of Australia “Modifying Exercise Programs”

Sharon Tomkins

Sharon is a New Zealand qualified Health Coach and Personal Trainer, as well as an ICF Certified Coach and Accredited Coaching Supervisor. Sharon was awarded the 'Health & Wellness Coach of the Year' 2022, by The Health Coaches Australia & New Zealand Association.
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