5 Things You Should Know When Working With (Peri)Menopausal Women

The title of this blog post assumes it is directed at Personal Trainers and Fitness Coaches, but really this is a great resource for YOU!! Yes YOU – the crazy woman sat reading this post who feels like her world is falling apart and that nobody understands her, that’s YOU! I want you to know that I understand what it is like to not feel right, to not feel normal, to not feel like you are reaching your potential, but think nobody will understand you, nobody else gets it! Well I am here to tell you, that I understand and I want to make it my mission to make others understand it too. Am I right?!

So, welcome to Part 2 of my Menopause series.

Let’s just run through some of the feelings that a peri-menopausal or menopausal woman might be experiencing. Knowing that these feelings can start in their 30’s and run into their 50’s and beyond – which just happens to be the staple of gym users in North America, so it’s time we truly started understanding this demographic.  Also understanding that there isn’t a true line in the sand drawn between peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause, it is more of a continuum than an on-off switch.

 

Lesson 1: Menopausal Symptoms Change from Day to Day.

Due to the fluctuating hormones in a menopausal woman body, there really is no way knowing how they will feel from one day to the next. Fatigue, memory loss, irritability, muscle and joint pain, migraines, hot flashes, insomnia, to name but a few might just appear out of nowhere making them feel less than adequate to even make it through the day. An inexperienced trainer probably doesn’t know anything about this, honestly if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have told you menopause was just in their heads. Well the fact is, it’s not in their heads, the pain is real, the symptoms are real and they need to be treated as such.

 

Lesson 2: Learn to Read Your Clients

Paul Hynes, a strength coach from Bang Fitness here in Toronto, has worked with many women who are at this stage of their lives and he has learned that being compassionate and taking the time to listen, empathize and understand where they are at right now are keys to having a successful session.

Here is his 4 step approach for women he trains.
  1. Be proud of them for showing up. This may seem like a small thing to acknowledge, but it could be the difference between them staying for the session or walking out the door feeling defeated.
  2. Coaching them to “Exercise self-compassion,” especially if they are comparing their performance today to previous workouts without realizing that it’s not realistic to do so. Illustrate the point that training is not a linear process and that it’s important to remember that doing your “best” means doing your best today.
  3. Self Care –  Normalizing the situation/their feelings.  Women can be way too hard on themselves,  so creating a welcoming, safe environment where you can have open discussions/dialogue is crucial for helping them understand that what they are feeling isn’t crazy.
  4. Focus the training approach on things that matter for long term success. Getting tired for tired sake is not a great approach. While respecting how much energy they have that day, ensure that the session focuses on making them stronger in a safe manner.”

I love this approach. It makes sense and it is respectful to his clients and their needs.

Lesson 3: Menopause Makes You FAT

Yes I used the F word in this article. Who gives a FUCK!

The fact is this is a huge problem for women in their 40’s, who realise that their body isn’t as forgiving as it once was and they may now be carrying a few pounds more than usual.  This problem is insurmountable to them as are most of the symptoms of menopause,  yet  the stats show that nearly 70% of women gain weight between the ages of 40-59, so this is a normal part of ageing and they need to be guided through this difficult time. Nutritional guidance and intelligent exercise plans to build lean muscle.

Krista Scott Dixon of Stumptuous and Precision Nutrition, explained that as we age, our ovaries produce less estrogen. However, fat tissue also produces estrogens, so our bodies will tend to put on some extra fat to keep up that estrogen supply.  This means that for hormonal health, we need some fat on our bodies, and probably more than many of us would prefer (say goodbye to your abs).
But not too much fat. Since the estrogens and other hormones and chemical messengers produced by body fat can also cause problems if we have a lot of it (for instance, the form of estrogens produced by body fat can act on breast tissue, increasing our cancer risk), we want to keep our body fat to a healthy range.
Above that healthy range (for most women, this is probably something like 30% body fat or more), our risk of chronic inflammation and diseases like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes goes up. Below that healthy range (for most older women, likely around the low 20%s), we start to see problems with hormonal health and bone density.
So this is an especially crucial time to adopt good nutrition, build lean body mass, and manage stress to help ourselves stay in a healthy range of weight and body fat.
But be sane and realistic. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to look like an 18-year-old magazine cover model. Your body has other plans for this stage of your life, and that’s OK.
[Tweet “We need to accept that our body is smarter than us, it has been evolving for over 2000 years – it knows what it is doing!! @stumptuous “]

Lesson 4: The Invisibility Phase is Real!

This is a time of a women’s life where they can feel worthless. I have coined it the Invisible Phase.  Without realizing it life is passing them by, maybe they have given up careers for their family who are now moving on, leaving them feeling lost and without purpose.  Another main factor is the potential weight gain and fear that they no longer look their best, this can be a real worry for them.

Susan Kleiner, a renowned Sports Nutritionist states that data shows us that most women worry about their shape and body composition due to fat gains. We know that the biggest impact their percentage loss of  metabolism is their loss of lean body mass, at a rate of 10% per decade. Now if they have maintained or build lean muscle mass  over the decades prior, then we know that the metabolic rate does not lower by the conventional data and therefore fat gains are not as high.  So it’s clear here that building lean muscle mass is part of the solution.

More nutritional advice to come in the next article in February.

Lesson 5: Creating the Appropriate Workout Environment

What would you do if you client walked in and started crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason?

What would you do if your client snapped at your or was irritable at every cue you gave them?

What would you do if your client complained of aches and pains that seem so insignificant to you, but are clearly an issue for them?

If you work with women 35 – 50 years old, then you should know that these are very normal circumstances, so you need to know how to deal with them.  I will finish this article with some more advice from Paul, who understands that it’s important to acknowledge these feelings and adjust the session as required.

As a trainer things to be aware of are:
  1. It’s necessary to realise that HIIT training/boot-camp style workouts are not always appropriate ways to train. If your client is feeling beat up before they workout, then the goal isn’t to leave feeling more beat up – Aim to leave a session feeling better than before.
  2. Pay attention to their body language: Are they usually chatty, yet today they seem quiet or providing clipped answers? Are they avoiding eye contact?  Recognize these signs, create an open forum for discussion and adapt the workout to meet them where they are at. Creating a safe, open environment by displaying unconditional positive regard will take the pressure off of them feeling like they have to be at a certain level and in turn, may help them feel like they can be honest and share what’s going on.
  3. Make sure to focus on what they do well during the session and coach to their strengths. Giving them specific feedback that highlights the “small wins” can be a game changer and will lead to them feeling more confident and capable in the long run. We can teach clients to be more aware of how their thoughts can influence their actions by highlighting areas where they are already winning!”.
As a client things to be aware of are:
  1. Self-care; decompression, brain dumps, doing stuff that makes you happy, fulfilled and that encourage mental energy growth – YOU TIME!
  2. BE smart with your training money: Don’t waste it on things that make you feel beat up
  3. Try to enjoy life and know you will get through this phase.
[Tweet “Spend as much energy on the things that help you decompress and put things into perspective.”]

 

Was this article helpful? Are you a trainer, do you have clients that fall into this category?  Do you go to a personal trainer and do they recognize your needs?
Please leave me your comments below. I was overwhelmed with your comments last time, and know we need to keep talking about this subject.

 


 

5 Comments on “5 Things You Should Know When Working With (Peri)Menopausal Women”

  1. Your posts on menopause are very helpful for me. I’m a pretty new 46 year old trainer who is trying to learn as much as I can on this subject for myself and my clients. I see the young trainers at my gym who don’t seem to have a clue about how older women are dealing with different issues. I look forward to your next post and I always get great ideas from your workouts. Thank you! P.S. I bought my first DVRT bag after I saw your post on IG about them having a sale ????????????????

    1. Shauna, can I firstly apologise for not responding, I have transferred over the platform of my website and somehow missed a few. Since your comment I have created a space on facebook called Menopausing So Hard and would love you to join us if you haven’t already. http://www.facebook.com/groups/menopausingsohard
      secondly, so happy you have the sandbag, do you like using it? I am writing so much more about menopause and now have a podcast on this site that you might find useful. Thanks

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