Women have less muscle mass and more body fat than men. While this is a major evolutionary advantage in surviving shipwrecks, it is a significant disadvantage when you're trying to get into your skinny jeans. Especially after menopause, women need to do resistance training to maintain muscle mass. Resistance training also strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Because women have only small amounts of androgens, or male hormones, you won't develop the huge bulging muscles of male weightlifters; in fact, even if you don't lose weight, the toning from resistance exercise will help you lose inches.
A complete workout program requires both strength and cardiovascular training. Strength-training exercises break down muscle fibers and over the 48-hour period after your workout, your body rebuilds new, stronger muscle fibers. Because your strength gains are actually during the recuperation period, allow rest days between your workout days rather than working out for three consecutive days.
To get the most out of your three days a week, combine cardiovascular exercise with weight training by doing cardio circuit training. In traditional weight training, you do multiple sets of specific exercises with rests between sets. In a cardio circuit, you move directly from one weight machine to the next, using different muscle groups, and sustaining a heart rate in the aerobic range of roughly 60 to 70 percent of your age-adjusted maximum heart rate.
Warm-up and Cool Down
Warm up and cool down with 10 to 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at moderate intensity on a stationary bicycle, treadmill or elliptical trainer. Either your warm-up or cool down should be on a treadmill, walking or running, depending on your fitness level, for the bone-strengthening benefits of weight-bearing moderate-to-high impact activity.
For each exercise, use a weight that you can lift with good form for between eight and 12 repetitions. As you get stronger, you will need to increase the amount of weight you use in each exercise.
Your circuit should move from larger to smaller muscles, alternating muscle groups. A typical sequence might be bench press, leg press, lat pull down, leg extension, fly and reverse fly, leg curl, upright row, crunches, triceps extension, hip abductor and adductor machine, and bicep curls. If you have time, add a second or third circuit for additional weight loss and strength gain.
Avoid peak times at health clubs when doing cardio circuits, as you don't want to waste time waiting for machines. If the machine you want is occupied, consider changing the order of your circuit, for instance, by switching lat pull downs with upright rows, or do exercises like jumping jacks, skipping rope or jogging in place to keep your heart rate up while waiting.
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.