Holistic Therapy

Barbell medicine:  the prescription for women over 40 to get lean, build muscle tone

By Natalie Rivier, RHN                  

Are your workouts not giving you the results you want or the results they once did?

If you’re over 40 you’re not alone. Women often wonder why, even though they’re eating well and exercising, their bodies are changing even though they haven’t changed anything.

Here’s why.

Estradiol, the strongest form of estrogen, produced by the ovaries over the course of a woman’s reproductive/menstruating years, starts to decline throughout the 40s and eventually flatlines once menopause is reached, typically sometime in the early 50s on average.

Estradiol is an anabolic (building) hormone.  That means it has a dramatic impact on the development of lean muscle. It also helps us cope with stress so its decline makes us more susceptible to elevated cortisol, a potent stress hormone. Cortisol is a very necessary hormone in times of acute stress, but chronically elevated levels lead to high blood sugar, which inevitably leads to weight gain, especially around the belly.

With dwindling sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) we need to find a way to reproduce the same kind of stimulation in the muscle cells that estrogen used to.

Lifting heavy weights provides that stimulus.

Unfortunately, if women lift weights at all, there is a tendency to lift lighter weights for high repetitions like picking up a five-pound dumbbell and lifting it 20 times. This type of lifting will build muscular endurance, but that’s not what we we’re looking for at this stage in the game.  We need muscle strength!

To truly build, or even maintain, muscle post 40 the repetition range when lifting weights should be between 1-8 reps.  Imagine how much weight you could lift if you only had to lift it three to four times? A lot!

And the most effective way to load the body with a lot of weight is with a barbell.  Barbells allow us to progress our way to full body strong.

Barbell lifting not only builds muscle, but it also builds bones, improves balance and stability, increases metabolism, burns fat, improves mood, and makes you feel like a complete badass!

If you’ve ever watched people in the weightroom and that you don’t look like any of them you’re not entirely wrong.  There is still a stigma around women lifting heavy weights.  In fact, as we age, we’re taught to take it easy, slow down, and be careful.

This narrative needs to go because it’s misleading, misguided, and honestly not helpful for women’s overall health and wellbeing.

I’m not saying you should walk into the gym and pick up hundreds of pounds if you’ve never done it before, but research has found that sports like powerlifting and CrossFit that include lifting heavy weights have a relatively low risk of injury compared to other common sports like soccer, football, and running.

While it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, learning to lift weights doesn’t have to be scary. Many gym communities are extremely welcoming to newbies and are happy to help them learn the ropes (or barbells).

One key toward feeling comfortable in the gym is finding a good coach. Coaching is crucial for beginners, but it’s also valuable for even the most experienced athletes to improve their technique and make progress.

If you’d like to learn more about lifting heavy weights and get off the boring treadmill check out

H2C: Hesitant to Confident with a Barbell: Launch Your Journey to a Lean, Strong, Feminine Body in Just 4 weeks! 

H2C is a full step-by-step experience of how to lift weights using a barbell safely and effectively so you can get lean, build muscle, and be badass.

From the very first moment you join you’ll be getting constant wins, building momentum in the gym, and you’ll know exactly what your workout is and what you’re working toward.

Find out more here.

Natalie Rivier’s journey

My health and fitness journey started in my teens. It was a grade 10 gym class that inspired my love of fitness. It was a special gym class called “Fit 4 Life”. There were only 9 girls in the class. Our teacher explained that we were going to focus on individual activities versus team sports. I could not have been happier. I never excelled at sports. I didn’t play many as a young child so I lacked things like coordination, body awareness and agility.

Fit 4 Life involved 3 weeks of daily cycling to start. Our parents were instructed to drop our bikes off at school and leave them there. Cycling came easy to me. Living in a small rural town, it’s the only way you can independently get anywhere!

The next three weeks were running. I remember the first day I could make it from the front entrance of the school to the road without stopping. The next day I ran a few more steps, and the next day a few more, and by the end of the three weeks I could run 25 minutes straight without stopping. It was so empowering.

The following three-week block was designated to the high school weight room. I had never lifted weights before but after the first lesson I was hooked. Nothing had ever made me feel so powerful and liberated. It was totally my jam!

Since that day I have gone to the gym on a regular basis no matter what else was going on in my life. It’s been a constant in my life. I have grown physically and mentally by leaps and bounds and I continue to set personal goals for myself. Some of them I crush in a matter of days or weeks while others take me years; however, I know one thing – I am better than yesterday and Fit 4 Life sure lived up to its name!

Along the journey I became a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, yoga instructor, stand up paddle board instructor, pole fitness instructor, CrossFit Level 1 coach, aerial yoga instructor and probably a few more that I am forgetting. Empowering others to get moving was, and is, a passion of mine, but at the age of 25 something went wrong with my health. I sought out the help of many doctors and specialists but none were able to figure out my problem.

One day while searching the internet for vitamins or foods that could help with my symptoms, I came across the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. To this day I have never felt so certain that this was the path I needed to take. That instant I walked into my boss’ office, quit my job, and registered for school. The only way to solve my illness, I concluded, was to learn how to heal myself. I studied at the school from 2002-2003.

Upon graduation I was hired to teach sports nutrition among other courses. After a year of teaching the owner offered to sell the business to me. I loved the school and what it had taught me so much I never wanted to leave. It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to own it – it had literally changed my life!

Now I’m in the last half of my 40s I have become so passionate about making the unique female transition through aging as smooth as possible. I help active women maintain high energy and a healthy body composition through personalized nutrition and exercise plans so they can stay lean, maintain muscle, and be badass after 40.

Become a badass. Find out more here.

Subscribe to our free Alive and Fit E-News!