Skip to content Skip to footer

How to train around the menopause for greater health and happiness

Do you lift weights? If you’re a women over the age of 18 and under the age of 80 leading exercise physiologist and women’s fitness expert Dr Stacy Sims wants you to add resistance training and plyometric work to your exercise programme so you can build stronger bones, improve insulin resistance, fight back against the menopause, ward of cognitive decline and much more
Dr Stacy Sims, PhD
Dr Stacy Sims, PhD

Dr Stacy Sims, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist who aims to revolutionise exercise nutrition and performance for women. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers, and authored female-focused performance optimisation books, Roar, and Next Level, which challenge the existing dogma around exercise, nutrition, and health for women. She regularly speaks at professional and academic conferences, including those by USOC and USA Cycling. She lives in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. Follow her on X and Instagram. Visit drstacysims.com.

Dr Stacy Sims: Menopause training made simple

Unfiltered met with leading exercise physiologist and women’s health expert Dr Stacy Sims to discover her science-backed advice and insight on how women can better train, eat, recover and life to perform at their best.

This transcript on the best supplements for women has been taken from our video interview with Dr Stacy Sims. It has been edited for clarity and brevity. You can watch the full video interview here.

You’ve popularised the slogan “Life heavy shit!” to encourage more women, especially those older than 30, to start lifting weights. Why is resistance exercise such an important part of menopause training?

It goes beyond just the, you know, getting and maintaining lean mass and trying to change body composition to a positive scope around perimenopause.

When we look at it for longevity and a brain factor, we know that if you’re doing aerobic exercise, you can increase speed and get better brain tissue.

But resistance training it’s more about the neural pathways. So if we’re looking at attenuating Parkinson’s, attenuating Alzheimer’s, dementia, we need the resistance training because it’s creating new neural pathways.

If you’re looking at how your central nervous system has to respond to the load, how it has to learn the pathway for muscle recruitment, it’s all in the benefit of better neural pathway and then we get better proprioception, better space and time [awareness].

And so when you get older, if you happen to step off a curb wrong, your falls risk has decreased significantly. And if you do fall, you have the strength from lifting as well as [greater] bone density, to not break a hip.

So I tell women who are older it’s not about this training block right here. Or, you know, in six weeks you’re going to be able to deadlift X number of kilos.

It’s about what you want to do when you’re 80. You want to be independent, you want to be walking, you don’t want joint replacements. You don’t want to be living in a frailty, so resistance training is an absolutely bedrock. 

You’ve put plyometric training front and centre of your menopause training programme, Menopause 2.0. Why?

When we look at plyometrics, again, it’s the eye of maintaining muscle integrity because the first thing that goes beyond strength is also power.

So we’re see a decrease in muscle quality. We’re seeing a decrease in the absolute amount of muscle fibres. [We lose] that explosive rebound and the fast accessibility of muscle fibre, and those central nervous system neural connections.

But it’s also creating a stress where the body thinks “I need to hold on to this tissue and I need to make sure that it’s very viable”.

When we’re talking about muscular strength and power, plyometrics are great for that. And it’s such a strong stress to the body that it indicates better like glucose control and better blood glucose uptake without the reliance so much on insulin.

As women get older, especially late perimenopause, early post-menopause, there’s more insulin resistance. So this is why it’s really critical. And I’ll tell people, look, you don’t have to be doing a box jump up 30 inches, right? We can do low. We can do low-depth box jumps. We can do counter-movement jumps. You can do battle ropes if you don’t want to jump.

It’s explaining the power-based aspect of plyometrics because it’s not about the high jumps that people think about when they hear plyometrics, which causes the massive pushback I get. I hear that “my knees and hips won’t let me”. It’s like, OK, well, we need to strengthen everything around the joints because we know there’s greater inflammation and an increase in osteoarthritis around perimenopause. But if we start low and work our way up – just the same as we do with heavy lifting – you’re going to be able to do the plyometrics. That’s why it’s part of my menopause training approach.

How difficult is it to get women to understand and appreciate the important of weight training and plyometric training?

It can be, yeah. But I always put it in the training terminology of undulating periodisation, knowing that there’s going to be a fall back and then a step forward.

So the fall back usually occurs in more of a deload, so it is incorporated and we’re like, “OK, here’s the training set. We start at the bottom and we work our way up and then we take a step back and this is normal adaptation”. And when people understand that they’re like, “OK, I can see now this is where I’m going to fall back. And now I can get frustrated. But it’s all part of the long game of where I want to be in three months, six months, 12 months”. And then they get it.

Where should women start of they’re short of time? What’s the most important piece of the menopause training puzzle to maximise their health and fitness?

It depends really on where they are in their life journey. If we’re looking at early- to mid-30s and they’re not having any kind of overt symptomology of being in perimenopause, so they’re still responding really well to training, then resistance training is the bedrock, but it can be mixed up, So it can be a CrossFit type class in which there is some heavy lifting but also conditioning within the same 45-minute session.

Or you can look at it as having two weeks of intensity and resistance training, so short, sharp stuff, and then one week in which we’re gonna do more steady state training, in zone 1 or zone 2, with some recovery and mobility work.

What about women in perimenopause: how should they exercise?

When we start getting into perimenopause, this is where we we really need to have that focus on resistance training, complemented with sprint and plyometric training.

So a session could be in and out of the gym or your garage in 35 to 40 minutes. This is where you’re looking at doing a couple of compound movements, following the three-to-five reps per set game, and then finishing [the session] with maybe 5 x 30-second high-intensity work, going as hard as you can, then recovering for one minute [between rounds]. So you’re getting that little bit of metabolic high-intensity work at the end of a heavy lifting session.

So you’re really confusing the central nervous system from recruiting heavy power to all of a sudden [needing] that explosiveness. They complement each other so it can be short and sharp three times a week. That fits in a lot with time management.

If you only have 20 minutes? OK, well, just focus just on heavy lifting. And I say that as I’m sitting here in my jeans and T-shirt because I just did that. I missed getting to the gym so I did my heavy bench and push press in the garage in my normal clothes in just 20 minutes.

Listen to our full audio-only podcast interview with Dr Stacy Sims on Spotify

Leave a comment

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates

[yikes-mailchimp form="1"]