April 11, 2022
The Best HIIT Workouts for Menopausal Women
These short, sweet (and preferably to a good beat) intervals can work metabolic magic in midlife.
By Selene Yeager
By now you’ve been “hiit” over the head many times with all the benefits of high intensity interval training. Short bursts of extremely high intensity exercise also known as HIIT has been one of the top exercise trends for so many years it’s safe to say it’s here to stay.
Anyone who has ever trained with a coach for a triathlon or distance run or who has done CrossFit knows these workouts well. But even if you don’t officially “train”, these intervals are worth working into your routine. And if you used to train, but ditched the intervals for long steady stuff, they’re well worth putting back into your rotation, especially now.
Why HIIT is Good for the Menopause Transition
HIIT is particularly good for women in the menopause transition. For one, it improves insulin sensitivity and lowers fasting blood sugar levels, which is good for your overall cardiovascular and metabolic health, especially during the menopause transition when blood sugar can be harder to manage.
It also strengthens and increases the amount of your energy-producing mitochondria; increases your stroke volume (how much your blood your heart pumps per beat), improves your fat-burning capacity, and helps manage visceral (deep belly) fat, which increases during menopause.
By putting a high demand on your muscles, HIIT sends a message to your brain that you need more human growth hormone (HGH) and increases testosterone, which helps menopausal women regain the muscle mass they need for producing more power for sport and for life.
Short Intervals Are Happy Intervals
The best part of high intensity interval training is that even though it’s really hard, it doesn’t have to be a suffer-fest. Unless you’re following a specific training plan for competition, your intervals don’t need to be long. In fact, it’s better to keep them short. When you start stretching your intervals past 60 seconds, you can get greater increases in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol in itself isn’t a bad thing, since it gives you a surge of energy, but you don’t want those stress-hormone levels to stay elevated longer than necessary to get the job done, especially in menopause when cortisol can already be elevated.
The sweet spot for menopausal intervals is 30 seconds or less, which is also the intensity people often find easiest to maintain and actually enjoy, because psychologically you know you can do anything for 10 to 30 seconds and it’s over shortly after you start.
There are lots of ways to do short HIIT workouts. Common protocols include equal amounts of effort and recovery; longer effort with shorter recovery; or short effort with full recovery. Here are a few to try. Work them into your routine once or twice a week.
20 On / 20 Off
After a warm up: Go all out for 20 seconds. Recover for 20. Repeat 6 to 8 times. Cool down as needed.
30 On / 60 Off
After a warm up: Go all out for 30 seconds. Recover for 60. Repeat 5 to 6 times. Cool down as needed.
After a warm up: Go all out for 20 seconds. Go all out for 20 seconds. Repeat 6 to 8 times. Recover for 5 minutes. Repeat another set.
20 On / 4 min Off
After a warm up: Go all out for 20 seconds. Fully recover for 4 minutes. Repeat 8 times. (These are good to work into a longer ride, run, swim, row, etc.)
Whatever protocol you go with, add music! It not only boosts performance, but also makes you enjoy the intervals more. In a study of women and men performing 30 second Wingate Anaerobic Tests, (which are stationary cycling sprints against resistance that are so hard the tester often places a trash can by you, “just in case”) the participants hit higher peak and average power outputs when they listened to a personal playlist than when they hammered the intervals out in silence. They also said they enjoyed the efforts more. For a little earbud inspiration, check out The Feisty Life playlist on Spotify.