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5 Most Important Strength Exercises for Women To Stay Lean After 40

It’s not too late in your 40s to achieve a lean, strong body—and maintain it thereafter.

When you reach your 40s, you may find it more challenging to stay fit than you did just a few years back. As unfair as it seems, it happens. Chin up, because there's something you can do about it, and the first step is to include five of the most important strength exercises for women to stay lean after 40 into your weekly routine.

Eat This, Not That! spoke with Michele Canon, NASM CPT and XPRO for STRIDE Fitness who explains, "By the time you reach your 40s, several things happen that make it more difficult (but not impossible) for you to maintain a 30-year-old physique." For instance, it doesn't matter how active your lifestyle is; losing muscle as you age is a natural process. The medical term is sarcopenia, which is age-related loss of muscle.

Canon adds, "Sarcopenia occurs because of a decline in growth hormones, decline in activity, and a decline in muscle protein synthesis. The protein in that four-ounce steak you ate in your 20s is going to be absorbed at a lower rate in your 40s. Additionally, in your 40s, due to perimenopause, there is a shift in estrogen levels that can lead to insulin resistance, which means your body has a more difficult time processing carbohydrates, which can lead to increased body fat storage—especially around your belly, hips, and thighs."

Yikes! What's a gal to do? Listen up and learn some positive news, ladies. It's not too late in your 40s to achieve a lean, strong body—and maintain it thereafter.

Make lifting weights a priority three to five times a week.

two women doing dumbbell workout

The number one golden step to take is to make building muscle a priority. Weightlifting three to five times each week will be beneficial in slowing the aging process, Canon tells us.

"Adding muscle to your frame will decrease the rate of sarcopenia, increase growth hormones, increase your resting metabolic rate, and has protective effects from conditions like type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, heart disease, and osteoporosis," she explains. It's beneficial for women in their 40s to concentrate on large muscle groups, as this will help to increase greater muscle mass while sculpting their bodies.

So, without further delay, check out these five strength exercises for women that Canon says will build the strength you are looking for. She suggests performing 10 to 15 reps for three to four rounds.

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1. Barbell Hip Thrust

barbell hip thrust demonstration

The barbell hip thrust will fire up your largest muscle group and glutes. Your glutes are important for lower back and hip stability, in addition to moving your legs.

To get started with this exercise, you'll need a sturdy bench, along with a barbell or a set of dumbbells. Sit in front of the bench with your legs fully extended. Bring the weight over your hips. With both knees bent, place your elbows behind your body on the bench. Bring yourself up by using elbow pressure and lifting your hips.

Once you're in the proper position, bring your gaze over your knees. Your scapula should be on the bench, your hands should be placed on the barbell, and your elbows should now be off the bench. Descend your hips until they're as low as they can go without touching the floor. Canon continues to instruct, "Firmly plant your feet and heels and drive your hips up so that your glutes and hamstrings are parallel to the ground. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Then repeat. Remember to be explosive with the hip thrust!"

2. Squats

Squats mainly target your glutes and quads. This bodyweight exercise ensures you're able to use your knees rather than your back to lift up heavy items and even get out of a chair on your own.

To set up, hold a dumbbell in each hand, and position your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Slowly descend into a squat as you bend your knees until your thighs reach a parallel position to the floor (or lower). Bring your glutes back, forming a "sitting in a chair" position. Be sure to keep both knees behind your toes and maintain a tall chest. Return back to standing, then repeat.

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3. Rear Delt Fly

rear delt fly demonstration, strength exercises for women

This exercise will target the back of your shoulders and your upper back. "Having strength through this area helps [you] maintain good posture and counteracts the hunched-over position [you] are typically in throughout the day," Canon explains.

You'll need two light to medium dumbbells for this exercise. Stand tall, and position your feet hip-width distance apart. Bend at the hips, and bring your chest over your legs. Begin by keeping your arms straight, allowing the weights to hang directly down in front of your torso. Keep both elbows slightly bent, then bring both arms up on each side, fully extending them. At the very top of the movement, squeeze your upper back and shoulder blades together. Return to the starting position.

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4. Lat Pulldowns

If you like the sound of enhancing your hourglass figure, lat pulldowns are a stellar exercise to work into your routine. "Having strong latissimus dorsi muscles (upper back) gives the appearance of a small waist. Additionally, these muscles assist with pulling the shoulder blades back and down, which makes us appear taller."

You can use a lat pulldown bar or resistance tube to perform this. Using a wide grip, grab the handle.  Then, retract your shoulder blades downward, and pull the bar toward your chest. Focus on squeezing your upper back and shoulders together as you bring both elbows to your hips. Return to the starting position, then repeat.

5. Pushups

middle-aged woman doing pushups

Canon points out, "Being able to do a full pushup (from your toes) is a great goal for all women in their 40s to have. Pushups primarily work your chest muscles and engage your shoulders. You also use so many other muscles as stabilizers throughout this movement such as the core, hips, glutes, and quads."

If you're unable to do full pushups or think they're too challenging, consider starting with a raised surface like a bench or table. Your hands should be wider than a shoulder span width, and your fingers should face forward. Press your body up to a high plank pose. Turn your biceps out, and pull your belly inward. Descend toward the floor as you bring your elbows to 90 degrees, with your chest hovering slightly above the floor. Head back to the starting position, and repeat.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa