‘Why I Started Strength Training For Weight Loss At 49 Years Old’

Growing up, I never considered myself athletic. I’m very tall—about 5’11”—so in high school, people tried to recruit me for the basketball and volleyball teams, but I never played. In my 20s and 30s, I’d go to the gym on and off for a bit of basic strength training, but never enough to build a muscular physique. My weight also fluctuated a lot and I tried every diet multiple times. I started my fitness journey at 49 years old at the height of the COVID pandemic in August 2020. I had slowly gained about 40 pounds over the previous five years. Part of it was perimenopause; as my hormones changed, I didn’t always feel like doing anything, so I was more lethargic. The weight piled on and, when the pandemic hit, we were home eating pizza all the time. The late-night binge eating was real. I had an aha moment one day: I realized my wedding rings were no longer able to fit on my finger because my fingers had grown larger, and that was it for me. I made a decision at that point to change my life, and I haven’t looked back.I started following people on Instagram around my age who were bodybuilding and counting macros. Watching other women in my same age range and beyond having success, like Joan MacDonald, I was able to believe it’s possible.I found an online company called Macros Inc. and was set up with a coach who calculated my macros in a deficit (prioritizing protein for my activity, height, weight, and age) and sent me videos of how to do exercises. (It was a pretty hands-off system—my macros and workout never changed over the eight-month period, and I could message my coach via Whatsapp, but I never had calls with her.)Before, I was mostly eating carbs, so I completely changed my dietary habits and started eating five times a day. Using the videos, I started lifting light dumbbells and using resistance bands at home five days a week for two upper-body days and three lower-body days, which I did for the next eight months, increasing my weight as I progressed.In the beginning, when I was in a fat-loss phase, I would also get on the treadmill for 30 minutes, five times a week, and focused on staying in my fat-burning heart-rate zone.I developed positive habits specific to my goals. I got into a routine schedule of meal prepping, going to the gym, and embracing the lifestyle. I read books and journaled about how my life would look if I achieved my goal—the process was compelling and motivating.I would also do what I call “mental reps” every night, which are are as important as physical reps when you’re trying to build strength and transform. My binge-eating habits didn’t just go away when I decided to lose weight and embark on this journey—I had to break those habits. I would stop and really consider whether I was actually hungry and whether it was worth it to eat more. Unpacking my motivation and really shifting my mindset made this journey sustainable. You have to figure out your Why. For me, I was turning 50 and didn’t want to feel like I had no energy. I wanted to feel vibrant. After eight months, I lost 50 pounds. Around that time, gyms reopened, and that’s when I began working with The Wonder Women, a program developed by Michelle MacDonald, CSCS, who also has a coaching platform called The Wonder Women. I learned how to bodybuild in a gym. “I was turning 50 and didn’t want to feel like I had no energy. I wanted to feel vibrant.”I had never used a barbell or done a bench press or done a squat or a deadlift, but I started learning, lost weight, and gained more muscle. That’s when I truly fell in love with bodybuilding. I competed in my first competition 27 months after I began working out.Instagram has been a great way for me to build community. Being around other women that support one another has been a key to my success. I’m hoping to compete in bodybuilding again next year and I’m currently training. I’m training with Jean-Jacques Barrett (who is also Michelle’s husband) at Tulum Strength Club. Right now, my programming is more glutes-focused because that’s my body part that’s lagging in strength. But we’re also trying to build out and grow my shoulders. I have two upper- and three lower-body days per week, and I don’t currently do cardio because our focus is on strength and muscle retention.My training blocks change every four weeks, alternating between a higher volume and lower weight block, and a lower volume, higher weight block—I train for hypertrophy.Right now, my block is high volume, lower weight, and on my first day of the week, I focus on quads and glutes with moves like squats, seated leg curls, Romanian deadlifts, and Smith machine hip thrusts.The next day, I’ll work chest, shoulders, and triceps by doing bench presses, dumbbell flat flys, seated dumbbell chest down lateral raises, face pulls, and cable lateral raises. On the third day, I work hamstrings and glutes, with deadlifts, sumo leg presses, back extensions, standing hamstring curls, and smith machine hip thrusts.The next day, I work my back, biceps, and delts with smith rows, chest supported rows, machine shoulder presses, face pulls, and dumbbell lateral raises. On the last day, we train glutes and light back: barbell good mornings, dumbbell pullovers, back extensions, hip thrusts, side lateral walks in a squat position, and smith machine reverse lunges.My favorite move is the bench press—right now, I’m up to 110 pounds. I also love cable work, dumbbell lateral raises, and anything to work my shoulders.From the beginning, I’ve had a step goal of 10,000 steps a day, and I still do that. My biggest goal that I’ve achieved on my journey? Competing. Bodybuilding really is a journey. For months, it takes at least four hours of your day to prepare. I went into a caloric surplus, or a “build,” to build muscle quicker. I purposefully gained about 12 pounds at the beginning of last year in five to six months to build more muscle. I also did a cutting phase and reduced my calorie intake over time, and then my muscles started to show. The whole process was outside of my comfort zone, and I was so proud of myself.I’m the proudest of my squats. I have poor mobility in my back. I didn’t even think I could do a squat; for the first year I didn’t because I couldn’t get my arms to the proper position on the bar, but now I’ve learned a different way to do them. I almost cried when I did my first proper squat. It was a big goal I had finally achieved. Now, I squat 165 pounds for three reps. My goal is to hit 200 this year.When I got into fitness, I didn’t know it would lead me to changing my whole life. I just wanted to lose weight and look a little bit more muscular, but it has rocked my entire world. I went from working in executive recruiting to starting my own fitness and nutrition coaching company.I want women to know that they can do what I’ve done. There is nothing special about me—I have no special athletic abilities, but you have to be consistent and disciplined and you have to want it. We get to choose how we age.


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