Exercise for women over 40 | three key strength moves

With age comes wisdom, confidence and beauty (or so we’d like to think…)

exercise for women over 40

Wisdom, confidence and beauty; we’ve got it in spades!

For many women, the 40’s are a magical decade. Our confidence increases. We care less what the neighbours think. We have our own sense of personal style. And we’re more than happy to speak our minds (sometimes too loudly, according to our children…).

While we may be more comfortable in our own skin, often times that skin doesn’t look or feel the way we wish it did.

Seemingly overnight we find that the workouts that kept us fit and energized in our 20’s and 30’s no longer have the same effect. That our bodies take longer to recover from the dietary indulgences of vacation. That keeping up with our kids (and perhaps grandkids) is more exhausting than it used to be. And while the spirit is willing, our joints just can’t handle those ‘balls-to-the-wall’ high intensity moves during each and every workout (hello injuries and the resultant unplanned breaks from exercise…).

What’s a 40+ ‘girl’ to do? Why exercise smarter, not harder.

Include the following three exercises in your thrice-weekly strength workouts to feel and look better, without having to give up the occasional glass of wine or slice of cheesecake!

Three exercises every woman over 40 should be doing (and why)

1. Hip hinges

Hip bridges, hip thrusts and dead lifts are your body’s best friends. They strengthen your largest muscle groups (the hamstrings and gluteals) without the knee pain many experience when squatting and lunging. Strong glutes and hamstrings can improve your posture, reduce lower back, hip and knee pain, and even reduce that stubborn middle-of-the-body ‘menopot’.

exercise for women over 40

Setting up for a barbell dead lift

Even better? Because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, increasing lower body muscle mass via hip hinge movements can accelerate fat loss and help keep it off. Try single leg versions of the above exercises to further challenge your balance; another key component of fitness that tends to decline with age.

2. Push-ups

Looking to increase your upper body strength, tighten your core and tame that back-of-the-arm wobble? Drop and give me 10. When performed properly, a push-up does more than just work the chest. It’s a whole body exercise that requires the coordinated efforts of your arms, shoulders, chest, abdominals, back (both upper and lower), gluteals, hamstrings and calves.

exercise for women over 40

Push-ups from knees (top) and toes (bottom)

Try varying your hand placement (narrow, wide, staggered) and angle of incline (hands on the wall, hands on a bench, toes on a bench) to increase the dimensionality of the exercise. Concentrate on maintaining perfect plank alignment (flat back, tight belly and bum) and increasing the depth to which you can drop before adding more reps. Muscle range of motion shrinks as we get older; don’t hasten it by doing only half the exercise 😉

3. Rows

Combine hours of sitting with excessive front of the body loading (I mean boobs, which, by the way, are a load that gets closer to the floor as we age…). Throw in a past pregnancy or three. And mix with a whole lot of mid-life stress. The perfect recipe for rounded shoulders and forward leaning posture.

Strengthening the upper back is key to standing tall and resisting the effects of gravity. Upright rows, bent-over rows, cable and pulley rows, plank rows; all are great exercises for offsetting our body’s increasing tendency to pitch forward as we age.

exercise for women over 40

Single arm bent-over row

Concentrate on maintaining a flat back (chest out, shoulders back and down), an engaged core (think “tighten your corset”) and a long neck (draw your shoulders down and away from your ears) as you pull the weights towards your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back.

Putting it all together

Regardless of which variation of the three movements you decide on, aim for 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each. Choose a weight (or modification) that challenges you, while allowing you to just complete each set without compromising your form.

Throw in 10 to 15 minutes of cardio intervals (machines are fine, but body weight calisthenics like jumping jacks, jump squats, fast feet on the stairs and burpees can be done just about anywhere) and finish with a slow, static stretch. (Try the stretches in this post >> Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers)

Then get out of the gym and get on with the rest of your day. It’s gonna be awesome!

Do you have a favourite exercise for women over 40 that didn’t make my list?

What is it and how has it benefited you?



  1. Do you have links showing hip bridges and hip thrusts? Are plank rows doing a row in a plank position? (ugh!)
    Coco (@Got2Run4Me) recently posted…Running In Golden Ponds ParkMy Profile

    • I’ll take a look. I’ve certainly shot lots of video of these moves, but they’re all part of my monthly subscriber’s library… They are both common exercises that should be google-able…

      And plank rows; start in a high plank, with dumbbells in your hands, hands under shoulders, legs spread wider than normal. Keeping core engaged and hips and shoulders facing downwards, alternately row one weight up towards your armpit, lower slowly. The focus here is on core, not back so much, and working your anti-rotator muscles!

  2. I was doing two out of three. I will add the hip hinges after reading this. I love squats but need some variation because as you mentioned, sometimes my knees don’t like them as much as I do.
    Stephanie recently posted…We’re UpdatingMy Profile

    • Perfect! Don’t give up on squats entirely though, Stephanie. Sometimes difficulty and discomfort when doing them means we just need to strengthen the supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments! Goblet and plie squats are two variations that many of my clients with knee issues can still manage. Just limit your depth!

  3. These are awesome! I think these are fantastic exercises for women (and men!) at any age. However I definitely don’t see enough mid-life exercisers performing deadlifts and rows at my gym, so kudos to you for spreading the good word 🙂
    Ariana recently posted…Breaking Down a GoalMy Profile

  4. ahh I neeeeed to make this a priority right now…scr*w the boxes and unpacking as resistance training right? 😉
    CARLA recently posted…Fitnessista convinced me to HIIT it.My Profile

  5. Do them all (and then some)- but I love my bench press too! At age 60 I don’t have the sag that many of my younger women friends seem to have as they have lost the support system for their boobies!


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