These routines will keep your body moving and help fight the aches and pains of advancing age
Are you in your 40s? Do you wish that you could still run as far or lift weights like you could when you were 21?
While you might not be able to reclaim the endurance or strength of your early 20s, that doesn’t mean you should retire from exercise.
In fact, studies show that working out, especially resistance training, is one of the primary factors that can determine life quality and independence in later years.
And the earlier you start, the better.
Here’s some of the best exercises for people in their 40s, along with a workout plan that will help you build lean muscle, burn fat and feel confident in the gym.
Full body routines vs. split routines: What’s best if you’re over 40?
In general, the two most popular types of workout programs are a full-body routine and a split routine.
A full-body routine includes exercises that work all the major muscle groups and indirectly activate most of the secondary muscles.
Squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are compound movements common in a full-body workout because these exercises hit multiple muscle groups at once.
Squats involve lowering your hips from a standing position and pausing before returning to standing. It engages the thighs, hips and back, and is good for strengthening the body core. They can be performed with or without additional equipment, such as barbells.
Deadlifts are typically performed with a barbell. Bending at the knees, you lift the bar from the floor to your hips before lowering it back down. This exercise engages the hamstrings, hips and back.
Bench presses, sometimes called a “chest press,” involve lowering and raising a barbell while lying on a specially designed bench. It strengthens the arms and upper body.
They’re all great exercises for building strength, increasing lean muscle mass and burning calories.
A split routine, on the other hand, is a program where you train different muscle groups on different days. For example, you might do chest and triceps on Mondays, back and biceps on Tuesdays, and quads and hamstrings the next day.
This type of program is great for targeting muscles that are weaker or lagging. It can also be more time-efficient if you don’t have a lot of hours to spend in the gym each week. Split routines tend to be ideal for those who have at least a year of consistent training.
Benefits of full-body workouts
When it comes to exercises for people who are in their 40s, there isn’t necessarily one “right” answer. Both full-body routines and split routines can be effective depending on your goals and current fitness level.
However, if you haven't been in the gym for months — or years — and you feel like you’re back at the beginning, full-body workouts offer everyone the most benefit in one sitting.
These workouts will help to develop and strengthen neuromuscular connections, which means your body will get better at communicating with itself. Most people say that a few months after starting full-body workouts, they feel better and more comfortable in their bodies. This is all thanks to these stronger neuromuscular connections.
Whether you want to look like the next bodybuilding superstar or to feel more confident poolside, full-body workouts promote symmetrical total-body muscle development.
Full-body workouts are incredibly effective for increasing your maximal strength. This is the amount of weight that you can lift for a specific number of repetitions, usually the one-repetition maximum. More importantly, muscular strength is based on the use-it-or-lose-it principle: Studies show that resistance training is one of the best ways to prevent age-related loss of strength and muscle loss.
Full-body-focused strength training has been shown to improve markers of cardiovascular health such as blood pressure and resting heart rate. These exercises burn fat while toning muscle — it’s truly a win-win.
A well-designed full-body workout will target each major muscle group evenly, ensuring there are no muscle overcompensation issues. Full-body workouts also allow you to build a strong fitness foundation with the most important exercises, and this helps to lower your risk of getting hurt. Combine this with a daily stretching session for even more benefits.
Over-40 workout plans
Convinced and ready to get started with a new workout program? The focus of this program is going to be simultaneously building lean muscle while burning fat. It is paced for steady improvement that allows for both progress and an extremely low level of injury risk because it allows for plenty of rest and active recovery.
The exercises selected have been shown to target the greatest number of muscle groups at once. The selected exercises are easier on the lower back and joints.
There are two full-body workouts, which are labeled as Workout A and Workout B. You will alternate these workouts from day to day. Depending on your experience level, you can select three or four full-body days as follows:
3-day full-body workout program
- Monday: Workout A
- Tuesday: Rest/Active recovery
- Wednesday: Workout B
- Thursday: Rest/Active recovery
- Friday: Workout A
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest/Active recovery
4-day full-body workout program
- Monday: Workout A
- Tuesday: Workout B
- Wednesday: Rest/Active recovery
- Thursday: Workout A
- Friday: Workout B
- Saturday and Sunday: Rest/Active recovery
Exercises for people over 40
Now that you have your schedule, let’s dive into the workouts, complete with sets and reps. For each exercise, aim for 65% to 75% of your one-rep maximum, and only allow yourself to rest for 60 to 90 seconds.
If you need more detailed instructions, demonstration videos are widely available on the internet.
- Hex bar squat: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
A “hex bar,” also known as a “trap bar,” is a barbell bent in a hexagon shape. It allows a person to stand “inside” the bar while exercising. It also has two handles for gripping.
To perform the hex bar squat, stand inside the hexagon. Bend down until your knees are pointing straight ahead and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Grab the bar handles. Point your chest out. Lift the hex bar off the ground until your knees and hips are straight. Then slowly lower it to the ground, keeping your back straight.
This exercise uses your shoulders, legs and back.
The hex bar squat uses a specially designed barbell to make deadlift-style exercises easier to perform.
- Barbell rows: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
Barbell rows work your back, arms and hips. To perform this exercise, stand with the weighted bar close in front of you. Bend at your waist and take the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your hips elevated, elbows in and back straight. Pull the bar up to your chest. Hold momentarily and slowly lower it to the ground.
Barbell rows strengthen your back and help improve posture.
- Leg curls: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
Leg curls are typically done with exercise equipment, although there are similar at-home exercises. They work the back of your leg, including your calf muscles.
To perform this exercise, position your body face-down on a leg-curl machine. Stretch your legs. Imagine that you’re exercising your bicep. However, you will be working your leg muscles. Bend at your knees, putting your ankles as close to your butt as possible. Keep your hips down. Hold the position for a moment, then release. Don’t forget to breathe. Engaging your toes can improve the effectiveness.
Leg curls work your hamstrings and calf muscles.
- Dumbbell incline press: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
This is another exercise that requires equipment — in this case, an incline bench and two dumbbells. It’s good for working your upper chest, shoulders and arms.
To perform a dumbbell incline press, sit on the bench with your back and shoulders pressed firmly into the elevated portion. Keep your feet on the floor. The incline should be around a 30-degree angle. With a dumbbell in each hand, put your hands at shoulder level. Slowly lift both dumbbells up over your head while keeping your wrists straight. Keep your elbows tucked as you slowly go back to the starting position.
The dumbbell incline press is a good way to strengthen your chest, arms and shoulders.
- Rear delt fly: Two sets of eight to 12 repetitions
This exercise helps build strong shoulders — especially the backs of your shoulders. These muscles are known as rear delts or deltoids. You’ll need a set of dumbbells.
Start with your feet slightly apart, bending your knees. Pick up two dumbbells with an overhand grip. Bend forward with your back flat, keeping your body at about a 45-degree angle. Spread both arms out to your sides. Raise the dumbbells until they’re even with your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower the dumbbells.
The rear delt fly is great exercise for strengthening your shoulders. It doesn’t need much equipment and can be performed almost anywhere.
- Woodchopper: Two sets of 15 repetitions
This exercise, sometimes called the “oblique twist,” is good for your lower back, hamstrings, abdomen and shoulders. This version is performed with a cable machine. The movement resembles chopping wood with an ax.
Set the machine so that the cable offers resistance that’s not too heavy or light. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart. Set the handle above your shoulder. Use both hands to grab the handle to pull the cable down and across your torso. Rotate your hips as you move. Pause. Slowly let the handle return as you move your body back to the starting position.
The woodchopper exercise strengthens your body’s core as you go through its motions.
- Reverse dumbbell woodchopper: Two sets of 15 repetitions
This dumbbell exercise is like the regular woodchopper, bit with a different starting position. Begin with your shoulders down and the dumbbell near your left knee. Then stand up as you raise the dumbbell in a diagonal motion across your body and above your head on your right side.
It also works your back, hamstrings and shoulders.
The reverse dumbbell woodchopper can be performed using just one piece of equipment.
- Dumbbell fly: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
The dumbbell fly is a great exercise for strengthening your chest, shoulders and arms. It only needs an exercise bench and a pair of dumbbells.
Sit on the bench with each dumbbell near your hips. Lie down on the bench, then raise the dumbbells above your shoulders with your wrists facing inward. Now carefully lower the weights, moving them away from your shoulders and spreading your arms.
Dumbbell fly exercises strengthen your chest, arms and back with only a couple pieces of equipment.
- Romanian deadlift: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
This exercise, named after a former weightlifter who popularized it, targets several sets of muscles at once. It can be done with a dumbbell, barbell or kettlebell.
To perform it, start by holding a kettlebell in with both hands while standing straight. Let your arms hang down. Push back with your butt and bend your knees slightly as you lower the weight. Keep your weight on your heels and an arch in your back. Extend your hips to return to the beginning position.
- Pullup: Three sets of your maximum to “failure” — the number you can do before your muscles give out.
This well-known exercise requires a bar able to support your weight for multiple repetitions. It helps build upper-body strength.
With an overhand grip, grasp a bar that’s above your head. Place your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be able to hang freely. Keep your feet off the floor as you begin. Raise yourself high enough that the bar goes below your chin. Pause and lower yourself back to the starting position while keeping your muscles engaged.
If you have trouble performing traditional pullups, there are modified versions that are easier for beginners.
Pullups build back and arm strength and do not require extensive equipment. Portable bars are available that mount in most doorways.
- Side lunges: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
Side lunges can be done almost anywhere. They are an easy way to work your legs, especially the inner thigh and glutes.
Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your feet pointing straight. Step out and down with your right foot, keeping your left leg straight. Your right knee should follow your foot throughout the exercise. Push your heel into the floor as you return to the starting position. Follow the same form to complete the exercise on your left side.
Side lunges are an easy exercise that strengthens your legs and improves balance.
- Hyperextensions: Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions
Hyperextensions are exercises that move the body beyond its normal motion range. They strengthen the back and core.
This version, which mimics a superhero flying, requires no equipment. Lie on the floor with your arms and leg straight. Keep your neck aligned with your spine. Working your core muscles, raise your arms and legs and inch or two off the floor. Lift your chest as your perform the exercise. Pause for a few seconds and return to the starting position.
Hyperextension exercises like this one engage your core and strengthen your back.
- Cable crunch: Two sets of 15 repetitions
This exercise, also known as a kneeling cable crunch, uses a cable machine to add weight and resistance. It’s great for your abdominal muscles.
Attach a rope handle to the machine’s pulley. Kneel in front of the machine with the rope in your hands. Now bring the rope down to the floor as you stretch your abdominal muscles. Place your forearms and head on the floor as curl your body. Slowly bring the machine back to the starting position.
Cable crunch exercises target your abdomen as you work through the motions.
- Mountain climber: Two sets of 15 repetitions
This exercise requires no equipment can be performed almost anywhere. It works your legs, abdominal, chest and shoulder muscles.
Place your body into a “plank” position, with your hands on the floor and arms and back straight. Bring your right knee up and under your chest. Return it to the starting position and then do the same with your left knee. Repeat. Perform these exercises quickly for a more intense workout.
Mountain climber exercises quickly engage many muscles and can be performed almost anywhere.
A full-body routine is a great workout for people in their 40s. It burns a ton of calories, helps develop total body strength and muscle mass, and improves quality of life. If you’re looking for an effective program that will help you feel better in your skin and get stronger quickly, give this style of training a try.