Once you reach the big "four-oh" milestone, taking stock of your health and fitness goals is natural. For example, achieving a toned and sculpted lower body is a common fitness goal for many people as they age. Fortunately, age is just a number when transforming your physique and embracing a healthier lifestyle. The natural decline in strength and muscle mass that occurs with aging can be dramatically slowed down by staying active and doing regular strength training. We have eight of the best exercises for a lean lower body after 40.
To get you on track with sculpting a leaner lower body, we spoke with Jarrod Nobbe, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews, who shares his top-recommended moves for getting lean at 40 and beyond. "These movements will challenge your core strength and stability through loading patterns for lower-body movements," says Nobbe. "Add dynamic posterior chain exercises and bracing core movements, creating an excellent start on developing a solid and lean lower body. Each movement will be efficient with time while still being challenging and multi-beneficial."
Keep reading for the movements, then check out these 5 Strength Exercises Men Should Do Every Day To Stay Fit.
1. Dumbbell / Kettlebell Front Squats
"When used with dumbbells or kettlebells as a progression leading into barbell front squats, front squats challenge lower body strength, isolating the quadriceps," says Nobbe. "The anterior (front) loading pattern requires incredible core strength and stability, making you focus on bracing the core for excellent strength and core movement."
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height, keeping your elbows up. Next, with your feet shoulder-width apart, lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your chest up and your knees aligned with your toes. Then, drive through your heels to stand back up. Do three or four sets of six to eight reps. Just make sure the weight is heavy enough that performing this amount of reps is difficult.
2. Heel-Elevated Goblet Squats
"This exercise isolates the quadriceps and may be used as an excellent accessory movement or finisher to drive the growth of the quads," states Nobbe. "If you want to increase lean lower-body mass (fat-free mass), look no further than this movement. Raise your heels by two to three inches, maintain control and balance throughout the action, and focus on bracing your core."
Place your heels on an elevated surface while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height. Next, lower yourself into a squat, focusing on maintaining an upright posture and pushing through your heels. Begin with two or three sets of 12 to 15 reps, then add an extra set once your body gets used to the extra strain on your quads.
3. Rear Foot-Elevated Split Squats (RFESS)
The RFESS (or the Bulgarian split squat) is a challenging exercise that calls for you to stand in a split stance with your rear foot on a bench or step. Next, lower yourself into a lunge position, keeping your front knee aligned with your ankle. Then, push through your front heel to stand back up. Aim for three or four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
"The RFESS allows creativity when considering loading and set-up patterns that help develop the core muscles and will enable you to target specific areas of the lower body based on your set-up stance," explains Nobbe. "Unilateral movements like this are proven to increase hypertrophy and early staged developments in strength compared to their bilateral counterparts."
4. Kettlebell Swings
"The kettlebell swing is excellent for improving posterior (backside) chain power and strength," says Nobbe. "Due to the dynamic nature of the exercise, kettlebell swings are great for increasing our energy expenditure and burning extra calories during a workout."
Hold a kettlebell with both hands, and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hinge at the hips, and swing the kettlebell between your legs. Drive your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell up to chest height. This exercise builds explosive power in your lower body and enhances muscle tone. Perform three or four sets of 12 to 15 reps.
5. Barbell Hip Thrusts
"The barbell hip thrust is the king of strength movements when developing the glutes. Just as the squat is the go-to strength movement for the legs, the hip thrust is the go-to exercise for hip strength, allowing you to weigh the movement to increase the intensity. Also, strong glutes are one of the best ways to avoid lower-back injuries." says Nobbe.
Begin by sitting on the ground with your back against a bench or step. Place a barbell across your hips. Drive through your heels, lifting your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Squeeze your glutes at the top, and lower your hips back down. Do two to four sets of five to eight reps for strength gains. For boosting muscle size, increase reps to 12 to 15 per set.
6. Planks + Pull-Throughs
"The plank pull-through uses a plank position while pulling an external object, usually a light dumbbell or change plate, through the plank position one arm at a time," explains Nobbe. "Anti-rotational movements like this one are best known for being more functional than other ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches. This will engage your core fully, in all directions, while promoting strength and stability."
Start in a plank position with your hands directly below your shoulders and a dumbbell placed beside your right hand. Reach across with your left hand, and pull the dumbbell through. Aim for three or four sets of eight to 10 reps per side.
7. Reverse Crunches
"The reverse crunch emphasizes the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement, improving core strength and lean muscle mass quicker," says Nobbe. "The key here is to brace the core by inhaling when performing the concentric (crunching up) portion of the movement and then exhaling as you lower and lengthen the core during the downward phase of the movement."
Lie flat on your back with your legs extended. Bend your knees, and lift your legs toward your chest. Contract your abs, lift your hips off the ground, and curl your knees toward your forehead. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position. Do three to five sets of five to eight reps.
8. Side Planks + Hip Drops
"The side plank with hip drop is my go-to movement for developing the lateral aspects of the core and varying our lateral abdominal movements in the training program. If you can conquer this movement, you are almost guaranteed to see progress in lean muscle mass in the core," says Nobbe.
Begin in a side plank position with your elbow directly below your shoulder and your feet stacked on each other. Lower your hip toward the ground without touching it, then lift it back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Perform 10 to 20 reps per side for three reps.