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Effectively fight against the effects of menopause through resistance training, even at low intensity

by P. Debraux | 18 May 2021

menopause, menopausal women, resistance training, fitness, sport, health, muscle mass, sarcopenia, intensity, low, frequency

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of the menstrual cycle and the decline in estrogen and progesterone production. It starts on average around the age of 50 years old, with perimenopause usually beginning after the age of 40. Insufficient progesterone and estrogen can lead to numerous psychological and physiological disorders (depression, insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, decrease in basal metabolism, etc.) including an acceleration of bone mineral density loss and muscle atrophy.

Physical activity, exercise and resistance training in particular help to alleviate or even eliminate some symptoms. This is the case for osteoporosis and muscle atrophy. International recommendations for physical activity advise in addition to regular cardiovascular activity, the practice of at least 2 weekly muscle strengthening workouts, the prescribed intensity being greater than 60% of 1RM. This is indeed a minimal intensity generally recommended to improve hypertrophy and gain muscle strength. However, certain related health problems can make training at such intensities difficult and painful, especially in postmenopausal women who are sedentary and physically inactive. Fortunately, we now know that in young people it is possible to achieve positive results even at low intensity. Is it the same in postmenopausal women ? Are two weekly sessions sufficient ?

The Study

To answer these questions, a team of North American researchers compared two workouts with high repetitions, of the same volume (load x sets x repetitions) but whose weekly frequency varied : 2 or 3 workouts per week. And they observed the impact of these workouts on muscle mass, maximal strength, and muscle endurance. For this, the research team recruited 38 postmenopausal (last menstrual cycle for at least 52 weeks) women over 50, and untrained (no resistance training for at least 24 weeks). They were distributed randomly in one of the two experimental groups :

  • HRRT-2 (n = 19) : 2 sessions / week, 3 x 20-30 reps. to muscle failure
  • HRRT-3 (n = 19) : 3 sessions / week, 2 x 20-30 reps. to muscle failure

During each workout, the participants performed 4 exercises on machines : seated knee extension, elbow extension, seated knee flexion, elbow flexion. The rest between each set was 2 minutes and the load was systematically adjusted to allow muscle failure between 20 and 30 reps. The training protocol lasted 8 weeks.

Finally, to assess the impact of these two workouts, the researchers measured the muscle thickness in the flexors / extensors of the elbow (approximately 2/3 between the acromion process and the olecranon) and the flexors / extensors of the knee (about 3/4 between the greater trochanter and the lateral condyle) ; maximum strength (1RM) on each of the 4 exercises used in the protocol ; and muscular endurance for the 4 exercises at 50% of 1RM (evaluated before the procotole). And finally, all the participants recorded all their caloric intakes over 3 days, before and after the study.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this study show that low-intensity training with high répétitions to failure significantly increases muscle mass, maximal strength and muscle endurance in postmenopausal women, regardless of the weekly training frequency, as long as the total volume is equal. Indeed, the researchers observed no statistical difference between HRRT-2 and HRRT-3 after the 8 weeks of training.

These results support previous findings in younger adults, trained or not, which show that whatever the protocols used, when the training volume is equalized, the gains in hypertrophy and in strength are the same. Likewise for the number of repetitions, even if the chosen range is not the best for the gains in maximal strength, concerning muscle hypertrophy, it is possible to obtain identical results in comparison to more classic ranges such as 8-12 repetitions.

Practical Applications

Postmenopausal women over 50, sedentary and physically inactive can greatly benefit from strength training to fight the harmful effects of the stop of sex hormones production and its consequences on the body physiology. Thus, in just 8 weeks, it is possible to increase muscle mass and strength at the rate of only 2 sessions per week, using relatively light loads, limiting joint pain and the risk of injury. It also means that the equipment needed to be able to train at home or anywhere is minimal : a few elastic bands, one or two dumbbells or kettlebells, and voilà ! These results also have a real clear impact on the lives of many people : greater muscle mass and maximal strength will contribute to improving the quality of life.

Obviously, this study does not give any indication of the minimum training volume necessary to observe significant improvements. In addition, no comparison is given with a group of postmenopausal women training at higher intensities to see if any pain appears that may compromise training and potential gains. Regarding the volume, in general, the higher it is, the more important the results. But it would be interesting to see if an optimal training volume exists for this audience.


  1. Grzyb K, Candow DG, Schoenfeld BJ, Bernat P, Butchart S and Neary JP. Effect of equal volume, high-repetition resistance training to volitional fatigue, with different workout frequencies, on muscle mass and neuromuscular performance in postmenopausal women. J Strength Cond Res Article in Press, 2021.

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