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A Decade-by-Decade Guide on Strength Training for Women

Here’s how to tailor your workout program based on the specific needs you have at every stage of life.

Female physiology expert and Tonal Advisory Board member Stacy Sims, PhD. shares how women should tailor their workout program at every age.

You’re not the same person you were 10 years ago, and you’ll be different another 10 years from now. Your body changes, and your strength program should, too. 

“Resistance training is key in how you prepare for longevity and maintaining lean muscle as you get older,” says female physiology expert and Tonal Advisory Board member Stacy Sims, PhD. 

By following the physiological changes that happen throughout your lifetime, you can tailor your strength training to best suit your needs and support your overall health. Here is an expert-backed strength training guide to help you be your strongest at every age. 

In Your 20s 

How to strength train for women in their 20s.

You’re most likely in peak condition, or at least close to it. Your body can tackle any challenge you throw its way, and your muscles recover quickly (don’t take this for granted!). This is the time to set a foundation for the rest of your life–focus on proper technique during lifts, muscle imbalances, and fueling for exercise. That work can help reduce injury in the long-run and set up healthy habits for life. 

“In your earlier reproductive years, it doesn’t matter what kind of training you’re doing, you can do some heavy lifting, some hypertrophy training, or a combination of the two,” notes Sims. “You just really need to keep building that muscle and stay strong.” 

Now’s the best time to cycle through different goals on Tonal–from programs geared toward “Get Lean,” “Improve Fitness,” or “Build Muscle,” you can develop your muscles to handle anything. Try different workout modalities on Tonal to find which one you enjoy the most, pay special attention to Form Feedback on the trainer, and include mobility and flexibility workouts to refine your technique. 

In Your 30s 

How to strength train for women in their 30s.

As careers and family life intensify for many women in their 30s, exercise may end up taking a backseat. This is a key period of time, though, when prioritizing yourself is even more important than before. One way to do it: Develop a habit of strength training. It’s a time-efficient way to stay active and get fit without dedicating hours to cardio, “because if you get into your 40s and you don’t have a history of resistance training, it’s really difficult to build muscle mass,” says Sims. Operation build mass begins now.

You may also notice you’re feeling extra tired between intervals or after a tough workout session. Research shows you might not recover as quickly as you did in your 20s. Build recovery into your plan by tacking on some warm-up exercises before your workout and taking some extra time to bounce back between sessions if you need to. 

When you’re short on time, you can jump into a “Quick Fit” class on Tonal, or utilize the hypertrophy programs like “Go Big or Go Home” to get the most big bang for your buck in strength and hypertrophy. Squeeze in a warm-up workout before your main session and cycle in some yoga, recovery, and Pilates workouts to ensure you stay injury-free and feeling fresh. 

In Your 40s

How to strength train for women in their 40s.

If you find your body is changing in your 40s, you’re not alone. Women often find their body composition changes, and the exercise and nutrition regimes they followed before no longer produce the same results. 

That’s because you produce less progesterone and become more estrogen-dominant, which can affect mood and stress levels. Higher stress means higher cortisol levels, which can impact your waistline and higher estrogen levels blocks a major muscle-building pathway. It doesn’t help that life may also be stressful with kids, aging parents, or work. 

One of the best ways to tackle stress without batting an eye–strength training. It can counteract body composition changes, maintain muscle mass, and apply external stress to the body to reduce internal stress levels overall. Intensity matters, too. “Lifting heavy and doing high-intensity work gives the body the stress that those hormones provide as well,” says Sims. 

Explore Tonal’s “Build Muscle” programs and think about including Eccentric Mode to boost your strength gains. Consider joining the vibrant Official Tonal Community to connect with other members and your coaches to maintain motivation. You can move alongside friends and loved ones with Partner Workouts, join forces with community members via Virtual Group Workouts, or try Family Fitness, fun-sized workouts that get the whole household moving together.

In Your 50s

How to strength train for women in their 50s.

Just because your hormone production might be slowing down, doesn’t mean you have to. Risk of cardiovascular disease starts to edge up as you age, but Sims found in her research that women in this age group who adopted resistance training with some high intensity significantly reduced their total-body inflammatory responses, a major boon for heart health

Your bones can get in on the benefit action, too. When you strength train, your bones adapt to the increased stress–a reaction called Wolff’s Law–to maintain bone density. This is extra important now as it reduces your risk of osteoporosis which can also creep up around this time.

Watch your real-time data on the trainer and try to boost your power during big movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows to get those really important spurts of intensity. Don’t shy away from Power HIIT classes and heavy weight lifting in this phase to maintain your current muscle mass and build strength. Remember, high-intensity is relative to your current fitness level, so it should feel hard for you, but you don’t have to do what you did when you were 20 years old. 

In Your 60s

How to strength train for women in their 60s.

More than half of Americans experience symptoms of osteoarthritis such as soreness and stiffness, particularly when reaching 60 years or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the best ways to relieve the symptoms? Research shows exercise, and strength training in particular.

Even if you’re just getting into strength training, you’ll still see major boosts in performance. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that adults 65 years or older, can increase their strength anywhere from 25 to over 100 percent after participating in regular strength training. 

And there’s no need to shy away from lifting for fear of injury. Tonal allows you to safely participate in strength training from home with Spotter Mode that reduces the risk of injury when you simply can’t reach that last rep. Progressive overload, necessary for strength gains at any age, is programmed for you in programs and digital weight adjusts as you get stronger. And an expert coach–like Tony Horton who recently celebrated his 63rd birthday–leads you through every rep to demonstrate proper form.

In Your 70s and Beyond

How to strength train for women in their 70s and beyond.

If Silver Sneakers is your jam, great, but you don’t have to be locked into jazzercising your way through this phase of life. Septuagenarians may find more time on their hands, so this decade  is the perfect opportunity to rededicate yourself to fitness. With new goals like maintaining your balance and avoiding falls, strength training will support you by bolstering neuromuscular connections—meaning your body is more efficient at recruiting muscle tissue even if you don’t see bigger muscles. 

Sims recommends continuing to push your personal threshold of strength with challenging strength sets and to ensure you’re taking enough time to recover between sets. The benefit of Tonal is that you have Form Feedback correcting your form, digital weight adapting over time based on your strength gains, and the ability to make small weight adjustments to lifts that you normally wouldn’t be able to do in a traditional weight room. 

The bottom line: Strength training has its benefits for any woman at any age. Just like how your priorities change over the decades of your life, your strength training can change based on your needs too. And remember, it’s never too late to start exercising, learn a new skill, or challenge yourself. Never stop striving for your strongest self.  See other workout ideas for women here.

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, injuries, or concerns should consult with their healthcare provider before trying a new exercise or nutrition regimen.

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