Guide to Training in Perimenopause

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In this post:

  • Perimenopause explained
  • Symptoms you may notice
  • Helpful tools for addressing stress, weight gain and aches and pains
  • Why overtraining diminishes your results
  • Training strategies that yield the best results
  • The importance of upping your protein intake in perimenopause
  • The importance of eating enough, period
  • Sample training schedules for perimenopause
  • Access my perimenopause training

Perimenopause may feel like it “creeps up on you” in your 40’s, and makes you feel like the things you did before “don’t work the same anymore.” This is true – it is a transition! And it’s something to know about and work with so you can make the most of this unique time in your life.

Your hormone cycles are shifting, and your body is responding differently to your training and nutrient intake – but you can navigate it and continue to build strength and vitality using the information and tips I have for you in this article.

During perimenopause, the fluctuation between two key hormones – estrogen and progesterone – is no longer running on its repeating sequence. In our cycling years, these two have a symbiotic balancing relationship with each other and impact our body in many different ways.

To understand where we are in perimenopause, it’s helpful to take a look at our regular cycle, illustrated below:

From our period to ovulation (follicular phase), we have more estrogen in our system – which meant we were more able to build muscle, recover more easily, and sleep better.

From ovulation to our period (luteal phase), progesterone levels surged, and raised our basal body temperature slightly, increased inflammatory markers and may have made sleep a little less deep for a couple of weeks, elevated our hunger and impacted our mood.

But at some point in our lives, approximately 5 years before menopause (though this can really vary) our cycle starts to sputter and slow down.

As you can see below, the fluctuations in the purple (progesterone) and orange (estrogen) lines are not on the same even tempo as before. And this impacts how we feel and how our bodies respond to our training and nutrient intake, sleep quality and heat tolerance.

Estrogen and progesterone affect our body in so many ways, and the disruption to the regular amounts of them in our system is a big part of the symptoms we may start to notice like:

  • hot flashes
  • poor sleep
  • mood imbalances (higher anxiety, more instances of depression)
  • weight gain
  • muscle and bone density loss.

Some of these symptoms can be addressed and mitigated by working with your doctor to test your hormone levels and use some type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease the transition symptoms. Adding back some of the hormones you are losing access to can help relieve some of the discomfort (this is a strategy I have used with my doctor’s guidance off and on).

Adaptogenic herbs are also promising for supporting the body’s stress response and hormone levels, in some cases helping to balance these levels. I have had good success in using them myself (with my doctor’s support). You might enjoy the article I wrote where I feature six adaptogenic herbs and go over their properties.

You can also look into supplements like DHEA, a commonly available supplement that supports your body as a precursor to testosterone and estrogen (I recommend working with a doctor on dosing and determining if this is appropriate for you).

This is just scratching the surface of that conversation, and like anything you’re ingesting that can potentially alter your body’s chemistry it’s important to have the data from your hormone tests and work with a practitioner to make adjustments over time, as it’s unlikely you’ll stay in the exact same place.

Stress levels are important to pay attention to, as constant stress can impact our HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. This is how the body regulates our hormone balance in response to stress, which can increase the levels of cortisol in our system causing more fat storage and muscle breakdown. Be mindful of your caffeine consumption and stay hydrated.

Getting more residual movement in throughout the day (like walking) is a piece that will help with fat loss. Low impact movement is a big part of our overall daily energy expenditure and walking and moving more is a supportive piece of your long-term health and self care.

You could consider developing a “walk after eating” practice where you go for a 10-15 minute walk after dinner (or any meal, but if you are at work during lunch or too busy at breakfast, dinner might be the best time to make it a habit). Walking after eating has the added benefit of supporting digestion and regulating your blood sugar (which means it’s easier to lose body fat).

I got very committed to walking more as I hit perimenopause myself. While I get to walk my dog as a regular practice, during my busy work day, it’s harder for me to fit in a walk after lunch. I got a simple compact stepper device that I not only use during the day, I also walk on it at night, sometimes also while watching a show. If you can’t get a fancy “walking desk” at work and your time is limited, you might consider something portable and compact for your job as well.

Developing more proactive self-care practices may not sound like the fast track to fitness in perimenopause, but I assure you it is an essential component.

Understanding that the body is changing and that we won’t “bounce back” as quickly from an injury, or build strength as quickly has made me personally really think about self-care and consistency.

As the E2 (estradiol) estrogen really gave us the edge in muscle adaptations, once our resilience starts to wane, it’s important to incorporate other aspects. I have embraced the pieces of my training that I used to sometimes skip, like warming up, cooling down, stretching more and really leaning into my yoga practice (fortunately, I have a helper for that, lol!).

When it comes to our training, this is the part that I hear so many women saying: “I’m exercising more, but it’s not having the same effect that it used to!” They’re gaining weight and finding they can’t get it off the way they used to, which is understandably frustrating.

The most common mistake I see is women training more and eating less – which has the opposite effect to what they’re hoping. It leaves them depleted, tired and in a greater muscle breakdown state that the body can’t repair or recover from effectively.

Remember: when you are exercising, you are creating an inflammatory response that the body then repairs after your workout (when you refuel and rest). You are breaking down muscle when you exercise, creating micro tears in the tissue. During our recovery period, we can impact the rebuilding and synthesis of new tissue by eating the right food and giving our body time to repair.

Training too much contributes to more inflammation in your body as the body tries to keep up with the repair from your workouts with less fuel – causing more muscle breakdown and more fat storage.

My advice is to shift the tempo and type of training you are doing to support more muscular adaptations and challenge yourself effectively when you train. What I mean by that is to make your workouts more challenging when you do them, then rest and fuel more intentionally around them (I’ll give you a schedule below).

There are two specific types of training that will help you improve your muscle and bone density, and lose body fat: resistance training (either against gravity or with weighted objects) and high-intensity interval training (explosive cardio, plyometrics, tabatas, sprint training – all of these can be types of HIIT).

Resistance training is incredibly beneficial for your body, and what amount of resistance is right for you depends on what you’ve been doing before. If you’re mostly doing bodyweight training, now is the time to explore how you can make that more challenging and start to either add some weighted objects and/or explore more single side variations to put more emphasis on strengthening.

If you’ve been doing some training with equipment, now is the time to get more specific with the way you approach it. If you can start to work within rep ranges – say 8-12 – you give yourself a ceiling of how much weight is appropriate for you and a benchmark to get stronger from. So if you choose a weight amount for a biceps curl and you can do 20 reps with it, go heavier. Find a weight amount that makes it very hard to go past 12 reps, but that you can do at least 8 with. You will need to do some experimenting but try different things out.

Once you get comfortable there (you’re easily able to hit the lower end of the rep range), consider increasing the resistance to more of a 6-8 rep range. For those who are experienced and using barbells, you can also work your way into a 4-6 rep range with many moves, just build up to that safely and make sure you’re training on an aligned body.

Once you start challenging yourself more specifically and really fatiguing the muscles that you train, you need to then be patient and give your body recovery time so the muscle can repair and grow back stronger. For that to happen, it needs the nutrient building blocks of protein and carbs – which is why we don’t want to skip meals around our workouts.

High intensity interval training or HIIT is short-burst cardio. Plyometrics, jumping, sprint training, interval training, etc – all helps get your heart rate up for a short duration helping to efficiently mobilize fat. Rather than long sessions of repetitive impact on your joints, short-burst training is highly efficient and yields better results in the long run.

I hear from a lot of runners who start noticing more aches and pains over time. That is a sure sign their body is not able to recover – either because they’re not resting enough to handle the inflammatory burden created by their training, and/or they’re not eating enough protein to support the repair process their body goes through after their training session.

I would advise anyone in perimenopause – regardless of the type of extended cardio they’re doing – to consider shifting their focus away from long, slow distance training to more resistance training and HIIT a few days a week. If the long, slow distance is something you really enjoy, work it in more strategically rather than making it the only way you’re training.

We want to create an effective stimulus to our muscle tissue that creates an adaptive response, and then support that with the building blocks needed to repair and the recovery time needed. Because we no longer have the same amounts of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone to drive lean mass development, we need to increase our training stimulus in other ways.

In order to harness the fat-burning and muscle-sculpting potential of any training at this stage of life, you need to come to your workouts rested and fueled. If your body is still recovering from its last workout or you’re depleted of nutrients or energy, you will just create more inflammation on top of the inflammation and stress your body is already handling. This is why you might start to feel more aches and pains than you used to.

Here’s the other piece of what will get your body to respond to your training: eat more protein. If you don’t have enough amino acids (from protein) circulating in your system throughout the day and your body needs to use them, it breaks down your muscle tissue to access the aminos stored there.

Your body needs enough amino acids from protein for muscle protein synthesis (repairing and rebuilding the tissue you break down during a workout), not to mention enzyme and hormone function, brain health and your immune system.

When your body can’t find the amino acids it needs circulating in your body (say from your last meal), it breaks down your muscle tissue to access the amino acids that are stored there. This is a big part of why a lot of women start to lose muscle during perimenopause. Not only were they unaware of their protein needs before, they are unaware of how their protein needs change (and actually increase) in their 40’s and beyond.

We don’t absorb the amino acids as easily as we age, which means we need more to do the same amount as before. Active women under 40 can make do with 20-30 grams per meal, but active women over 40 should aim for more like 30-40 grams per meal. This will give your body the building blocks it needs for all of the things amino acids are needed for, and help preserve muscle tissue.

This is one of the reasons why a lot of women in this life stage start to see such a change in their body composition – they lose muscle simply because they’re not eating as much protein as their bodies need to maintain their muscle tissue.

We want to include protein with each meal we eat, and pay attention to fueling around our workouts to optimize our body’s ability for tissue repair and muscle protein synthesis (using wholesome supplements like the Whole Betty protein powders I make or other high-quality products can be really helpful and make life easier).

What about carbs and fat?

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which can be used for immediate energy, or sent to the liver and muscles and stored as glycogen. Your body needs this fuel for energy, performance in your workouts and recovery too. When you don’t have that ready energy source, your body will break down your muscle tissue, something you want to avoid.

Fiber is an important component in whole food carbohydrates that slows the release of sugar into the blood, which gives you more steady energy, supports your healthy gut bacteria and immune system, and supports an optimal digestive flow. Fiber rich carbs from fruit, vegetables and whole grains are more satisfying and digest more slowly – plus they won’t trigger an insulin response like high-sugar processed food will – so make them your go-to energy source.

If there was ever a time in your life to be mindful of sugar consumption, it is now. Protein can help with that if you struggle with cravings – it is the most satiating nutrient (even more than fat or carbs) and eating enough can help balance out your cravings. One of the impacts that too much sugar can have is lowering our testosterone. Alcohol consumption does that as well, so be mindful and aware that this can contribute to greater bone and muscle loss as testosterone levels diminish.

I don’t recommend a no-carb or low-carb diet for any length of time. Long term carbohydrate deprivation leads to a complete depletion of your body’s storage glycogen levels, depresses your immune system, reduces your exercise tolerance, decreases metabolic function, and a host of other issues.

Fat helps fuel your muscles for low to moderate intensity activity. Healthy fat in your meals is also very satisfying, and can help you feel full when you include it in balance with other nutrients. It also helps slow down how quickly food exits your stomach. This helps keep your blood sugar levels stable which prevents an insulin spike that can trigger fat storage.Keep in mind that some vitamins that your body really needs like A, D, E and K are all fat soluble, and can’t be absorbed without the presence of dietary fat.

Having enough healthy fat in your diet provides you with lasting energy in your workouts and daily activities. Along with glycogen (how your body stores glucose from carbohydrates), fat is burned during exercise and low impact activities to spare the vital amino acids from protein in your muscle tissue.

A startling statistic I learned in my research was that a huge percentage of female athletes suffer from LEA, which stands for “low energy availability.”

In a nutshell, LEA is defined as having limited energy available to support your normal body functions once your energy expended through exercise is subtracted from your total dietary intake energy.

In other words, if you’re not eating enough, your body can’t sustain normal functions on top of your workouts. When active women don’t eat enough, this has an impact on their reproductive health, their bone density, mood, ability to build lean muscle, and more.

Fueling around your workouts is going to allow for adaptations and energy output, and help you preserve the lean mass you have so you can build more. If you just focus on 3 meals a day that include enough protein for your needs (alongside your carbs and fats) this can be pretty simple.

Eating more protein is not going to bulk you up or make you a bodybuilder – it’s going to tighten you up and “tone” you up because it is providing the building blocks that support your muscular tone. And remember, more muscle means more efficient fat burning.

Try My Dinner Plan for tasty easy meals, “smart” grocery lists done for you and 6 months worth of eating plans!

In the past you might have been able to get by with 5 days a week of training, skipping meals, and not see any change in your body. But as hormones change, the way our muscle tissue and fat cells respond to everything changes – including what we eat, how we recover and how hard we work.

But it’s not the “hopeless aging process” that many may allude to. I see it as an exciting transition period and a new door to walk through in life. Yes, we’re leaving some things behind. But there are also exciting things ahead! We can adapt (we’re great at that!) and respect our bodies by focusing more on self-care, timing our workouts and recovery days better, and nourishing intentionally to set ourselves up for success.

So to recap, taking strategic recovery times sets you up for greater effort and greater restoration periods between workouts to better stimulate muscle protein synthesis as hormones begin to become slightly erratic. And eating enough protein becomes a non-negotiable.

The way I suggest you approach your training is to play around with a 3-day or 4-day workout week. I would sequence my training in one of two ways (depending on what works best for your schedule, energy, and intensity of your training days):

4 Day split:

  • M- workout (example: upper body focus)
  • Tu – workout (example: lower body focus)
  • W – REST
  • Th – workout (example: full body focus)
  • F- workout (example: speed work, HIIT training)
  • Sa – REST
  • Su – mobility, yoga or other self care activity

3 Day split:

  • M – workout (example: HIIT+ full body strength training)
  • Tu – REST
  • W – workout (example: HIIT + lower body strength training)
  • Th – REST
  • F- workout (example: HIIT + upper body strength training)
  • Sa – REST
  • Su – Mobility, Yoga or other self care activity

BOTH of these splits are highly effective for us during this life stage and into post menopause, and provide more recovery so we have more power output potential in the workouts we do – as long as we’re also fueling, sleeping and managing stress effectively.

Inside Rock Your Life, for example, I’ve got over 50 challenge programs for which I’ve created these training splits. There are 3 different tracks: one for anyone to use in conjunction with their natural cycle, and 1-2 others that follow the 3 and 4 day splits.

All of my programs incorporate strength training plus explosive cardio. I have everything from bodyweight training to home workout equipment (dumbbells and bands) to full-on barbell weight training. There are low-impact challenges, and support for those beginning or rebuilding.

Rock Your Life is an amazing fitness program, and it’s designed for women of all ages. 

How to join: New members can grab a 30-day trial to Rock Your Life, my online fitness studio – no commitment to stay, no contract. Full access to everything in Rock Your Life! Returning members use the returning members button, and welcome back!

What is Rock Your Life: My online gym studio where I host all of my challenges for member access 24/7! It’s the gym that never closes, and the one you can take with you everywhere you go. 

Enter the online gym with your login and password, and enjoy instant access to:

  • Class library with over 1000 classes of all types so you can get a head start on your fitness goals for 2024!
  • Challenge programs – over 50 different challenges for women of all ages that you can start anytime as a member, including 30-day challenges, 14-day, 21-day, 7-day and 5-day challenges of all types of training to sculpt and strengthen your body and mind! 
  • Healthy recipes to inspire you with new ideas for easy cooking and fueling your body with the building blocks it needs to thrive
  • Top-tier support in our private women’s fitness community online or via email – our members are our VIP’s! 

Click here to access Rock Your Life!

“Took some more progress pictures and I am so pleased!! I never thought I could have muscle def again at almost 50 years old!! Betty Rocker, you have changed my life!” 

Remember, consistency with your workouts along with your healthy eating, sleep and stress management – and applying guidance for YOUR LIFE STAGE – whether it’s your regular cycling years, perimenopause or postmenopause is what creates a healthy, strong physique and lasting results – and we’ll support you with all of it in Rock Your Life!

Take a look at Voni’s amazing progress and the results she had once she started following the guidance and challenges inside of Rock Your Life!

“1 year ago I pressed play to day 1 of Betty Rocker’s Make Fat Cry free 30 day program. I almost died by the way.  Today I am on day 5 of my 11th challenge.

What I found was a health program that I LOVE! Thank you coaches! After the 30 day challenge, I joined you here on Rock your Life and as a result met the greatest bunch of inspirational ladies ever! Thank you rockstars! And of course a 1 year #rockiversary called for progress photos.

Sharing progress photos because I experienced so much inspiration from others sharing theirs. I ALWAYS used them as motivation and NEVER for comparison. Here is to motivation and inspiration!”

Wherever you are on your journey, let us support you!

Click here to access Rock Your Life!
(returning members use the returning members button and welcome back!)

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