Maria Luque, PhD, is changing the conversation about training mid-life women
There is money in menopause, but personal trainers and gyms aren’t meeting this massive market with the respect it deserves. This is one of the many take-home messages from Maria Luque, Phd, an Austin, Texas-based personal trainer, fitness and menopause expert, and health science professor.
Luque, owner of Fitness in Menopause, says that even though “menopause is having a moment,” she doesn’t see personal trainers rising to meet the challenge in sustainable, smart ways that nurture clients. This translates into flat results, disappointment and a veritable hamster wheel of misinformation about a demographic that many personal trainers would benefit greatly from serving.
This niche is growing, and it reveals many pain points and opportunities. The annual global economic impact of menopause, between productivity loss and healthcare costs, is estimated at $150 billion, according to Bloomberg. In 2030, the menopausal population will be 13.15 million, comprising nearly half of the entire female population. There are 75 million women in the U.S. who are in the transition, with 6,000 entering menopause every day.
Although the opportunity is clear, Luque says personal trainers and coaches are dropping the medicine ball when it comes to providing programs that meet women where they are.
“Women need sustainable solutions that address menopause as the multi-layered challenge it is and not a disease that needs to be cured,” Luque says.
Athletech News spoke to Luque to get her perspective on this massive market and thoughts on how personal trainers can stake a claim with programs that focus on quality of life instead of quick fixes.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length
Athletech News: Why did you choose menopause fitness as a niche?
Maria Luque: I chose this path because my doctoral dissertation centered around menopause and its impact on quality of life. While getting my PhD, I found myself surrounded by middle-aged clients, most of whom were either going through menopause, perimenopause, or transitioning to post-menopause. They were experiencing significant challenges, and I was beginning to realize that my usual fitness approaches no longer yielded the same results. That’s when it struck me that there must be a different way. So, I seized the opportunity to align my dissertation research with this critical topic.
ATN: What mistakes do you see personal trainers make when attempting to serve menopausal clients?
ML: I’ve noticed that this particular segment of clientele, women in midlife and beyond, has been treated much like everyone else. It’s as if a one-size-fits-all approach is applied, treating a 20-year-old woman the same as a 20-year-old man. Sadly, many trainers follow this very linear approach to fitness, assuming that men set the standard for training. However, as we enter midlife, attempting to train women the same way we do younger individuals just doesn’t cut it. The hormonal landscape has changed significantly, and this approach does them a disservice.
What’s crucial for trainers to understand is that menopause is not a linear journey; it’s more like an up and down roller coaster ride with many unknowns. Trainers need to be flexible and adaptable. They might have a plan in mind, but if a client comes in saying they haven’t slept in three days, pushing them through an intense workout isn’t the solution.
I encourage trainers to approach movement as a buffet rather than a fixed menu. If high-intensity workouts and cardio were your main entrees, it’s time to add some variety that can address specific needs, like improving sleep or reducing muscle aches. Trainers should encourage clients to assess their bodies and emotions each morning, almost like taking a daily inventory. This flexibility and fluidity in designing workouts can greatly enhance a woman’s experience during menopause and improve her quality of life.
ATN: Let’s delve into client barriers. What are the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered when finding and serving clients?
ML: There are several barriers, with the most prominent being that many women still view weight loss as the ultimate goal during menopause. They seek the same solutions they always have, so for someone like me, who aims to shift their perspective and improve their experience, it can be challenging. I’m upfront about not guaranteeing weight loss, but I promise to help them feel better, which may eventually lead to weight loss. Setting these realistic expectations is crucial because women often come in with unrealistic ones.
The second barrier is the belief that they have no control over menopause. Consequently, they’re not actively seeking genuine solutions. They fixate on superficial aspects like weight loss and fail to address the broader picture. It’s like trying to hit a single target with a sniper rifle when menopause is a multifaceted challenge, akin to a game of Whack-a-Mole.
The third barrier is the proliferation of misinformation about menopause and the quick fixes being peddled. Many women are sold on the idea that a program, diet, or product can magically solve their menopausal challenges. Sadly, this prevents them from making real, lasting changes.
ATN: Can you provide an example of how you tackle these challenges and share any unexpected ones that caught you off guard?
ML: When someone reaches out to me, I engage in a lengthy consultation to set realistic expectations. It’s crucial for me to gauge if I’m the right fit for the client, and vice versa. I don’t take on clients randomly; I want to ensure we’re a good match. During this initial conversation, I often find myself addressing common myths.
One of the main misconceptions is that they believe they’ve been doing everything right and that they’re in complete control. They feel bombarded by external factors, especially through social media, which constantly feeds them conflicting advice. The key is to help them step back from this chaotic information overload. Once they grasp this, you can sense the relief, and they become more receptive.
This shift in perspective is crucial because many women come to me feeling unheard and frustrated by past experiences. When they finally feel validated and part of the solution, it’s a pivotal moment.
ATN: Are you considering expanding your coaching services?
ML: I’m on the verge of relaunching my updated coaching program. My plan is to create a “coach the coach” program to train other coaches in my approach. This way, I can extend my coaching reach by hiring personal trainers who can do what I do. There’s a significant gap in the market, and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to meeting the demand. However, there’s progress being made.
ATN: Are there enough personal trainers serving this market?
ML: There’s been a surge in new programs and certifications specifically focusing on menopause. I was among the first to create one, but now there are larger organizations and experts with extensive knowledge in endocrinology and comprehensive menopause certifications. These courses delve much deeper into the subject than I think is necessary for most trainers.
However, there’s still a lack of willingness among some trainers to invest in this education. They may not fully comprehend the need for a different approach when training women in menopause. But things are changing slowly. As more trainers realize the market size that remains underserved, they’ll recognize the immense opportunity in becoming an expert in this field.
ATN: What essential business advice do you have for personal trainers looking to serve this audience?
ML: There’s a significant missed opportunity in the fitness industry, especially for larger gyms. Many gyms have successfully created programs targeting specific demographics, like CrossFit-style group workouts. However, there’s a vast, underserved demographic of midlife women who have specific needs related to menopause.
There’s a tremendous amount of money in this demographic. The economic impact of menopause is substantial and women experiencing menopause often miss work due to symptoms. Therefore, there’s a huge opportunity to develop wellness programs specifically focused on menopause.
Gyms could create programs that emphasize wellness, quality of life, and symptom management, rather than just weight loss. Marketing these programs effectively, with appealing names and descriptions, can help attract and cater to this demographic. Additionally, workplace wellness programs could also benefit from including menopause wellness as part of their offerings.
Addressing the unique needs of midlife women during menopause in a respectful and compassionate way can not only be financially lucrative but also fulfill a significant societal need without resorting to predatory practices. It’s about genuinely serving and understanding this demographic and improving their quality of life.