There may not be a magical pill to look younger, but there are excellent options in the gym for bolstering strength and muscle mass, diminishing fat, and improving overall functionality and vitality for life. As we age, there tends to be a shift in workout types—leading to older populations focusing more on cardio and less on strength—according to a poll conducted by Garage Gym Reviews. While cardio is great for weight loss, boosting endurance, and of course, heart health, incorporating strength training with a focus on full-body movements into your routine will help you feel younger and develop that lean physique while aiding in a better body composition. That's why I rounded up 10 of my best total-body exercises to look younger.
I've used these exercises over the last decade of coaching to help my clients feel better, ramp up their metabolism, improve mobility, and of course, create a stronger version of themselves. The list starts with compound total-body exercises to improve strength and rounds out with unilateral movements that'll develop lean muscle mass and your core.
Keep reading to learn all about my 10 best total-body exercises to look younger. And when you're finished, be sure to check out the 7 Yoga Exercises a 69-Year-Old Instructor Does To Look Half Her Age.
Squats engage multiple major muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core, providing an excellent strength (and mobility) exercise for your workouts. A bonus is that squat variations rely on full-body activation, helping you maintain and improve lean muscle mass, stability, and mobility as you work through reps of squats. What else do squats help with? Posture and balance! This makes squats one of the most functional movements for life and fitness.
Perform squats by standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees, and lower your body into a squat, ensuring your knees track over your toes. Aim for your thighs to get parallel to the ground, then push through your whole foot to return to the starting position. Knock out three to four sets of eight to 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets. Feel free to explore different variations as well. Barbell, goblet, front, and bodyweight squats are all excellent options!
This exercise is a true testament to upper body strength. The pull-up is an amazing total-body movement that hits on all the functional qualities in the gym that carry over to real life. Pull-ups engage your core and upper body while specifically focusing on your lats, rhomboids, traps, and delts. Pull-ups sit as one of the best compound upper-body lifts in your exercise arsenal.
Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart, ensuring your arms are straight. Squeezing the lats, upper back, and arms, pull yourself up until your chest is at the bar. Lower yourself with control, keeping your lats, upper back, and arms tight until your arms are straight. If you don't quite have the strength to perform a full range of motion pull-up, use controlled lowering, or snag some assistance from bands. Complete three sets of five to eight reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets. If using assisted pull-ups, bump the reps up to eight to 12.
The deadlift is another excellent functional, total-body exercise that not only increases strength but also improves full-body muscle mass. Deadlifts will challenge your hamstrings, glutes, quads, lower back, core, and grip strength!
To set up for deadlifts, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, bend your knees and push your hips back to reach down and grip the barbell (or equipment you're using). Push through your heels, and bring your hips forward to stand up, squeezing your glutes. Make sure to keep your back straight, your core tight, and the bar close to your shins as you move. Carefully return the bar to the floor by reversing the movement. Perform three sets of six to 12 repetitions with 90 seconds of rest between sets.
Pushups are arguably the best total-body exercise that targets your upper-body muscles. They work the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, creating a comprehensive and challenging movement to add to your workouts.
Hitting a few sets of pushups? Start by positioning your hands beneath your shoulders as you assume a high plank position, ensuring your arms are straight. Squeeze your core, and lower your body close to the ground, pause, then push back up. Repeat for desired sets and reps, prioritizing form. Complete three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets. For a bonus, perform your last set to failure.
Box step-ups improve lower-body strength and stability while targeting your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Your options are endless with this movement, as you can easily adjust the box height, use tempos or pauses, and weight the exercise with different variations of holds to keep up the challenge and fun!
To knock out reps of box step-ups, position yourself in front of a sturdy box that's 12 to 20 inches in height. Next, lift one foot onto the box, and push to stand tall. Finish each rep by driving the opposite knee up. Perform three sets of eight to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets. Stay lower in reps if your goal is strength, or go for higher reps if you want to increase muscle mass.
While bicep curls didn't make the list, dumbbell rows still pack a punch for developing chiseled arms and a built back. Rows enhance the size and strength of your lats, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and biceps. Engaging your core with each rep will engage your abs, too.
To execute the dumbbell row, stand with your feet hip-width apart, and hinge forward with a flat back until your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor. Reach out with your non-rowing hand for stability, and support yourself on a bench, box, or rack. Hold a dumbbell in your hand, allowing your arm to straighten. Pull your elbow up along the sides, engaging the back muscles in a rowing motion. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
Want to help out that lower back pain? Try some glute bridges. Consistently performing this exercise in your workouts develops your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core. The variations are endless, and so are the methods to weigh glute bridges. I love using these for clients to train the connection point between the upper and lower body, leading to a resilient and effective total-body exercise.
To perform glute bridges, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Squeeze your core, then push your hips up, squeezing your glutes at the top, maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Slowly lower your hips back down, focusing on controlled movement. Keep your core engaged, and avoid excessive arching when completing your reps. Coach tip: Pause at the top of each rep for two to three seconds to reinforce glute development. Compete three sets of 12 to 15 reps with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
The overhead press is a staple in any program if your goal is to develop a younger-looking physique while improving strength and muscle size. Overhead presses, whether performed with barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells, recruit multiple muscle groups at once, particularly your shoulders, triceps, and upper back. For this workout, you'll focus on a single-arm variation challenging shoulder stability and helping to clean up asymmetries.
For overhead presses, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold the weight at shoulder height with a neutral, full grip. Engage your core, then exhale and press the weight overhead, straightening your arms. Keep your head neutral, and lower the weight back down with control. Repeat for the desired repetitions. Perform three sets of eight to 15 repetitions with 90 seconds of rest between sets.
Engage in loaded carries by walking with heavy weights, like dumbbells or kettlebells, in each hand. This exercise is highly effective for total-body engagement, working your abs and upper and lower back, and enhancing grip strength. Loaded carries offer a functional and challenging core workout, making them a valuable addition to your total-body exercise routine. Use different equipment and carry variations to create a new challenge with each workout.
Start in an upright posture, and squeeze your core. Next, start walking, keeping your shoulders down and back, and avoid leaning excessively. Walk for a predetermined distance or time, ensuring a smooth and controlled pace. Perform three sets of 20 to 30-yard carries, or use intervals of 30 to 60 seconds.
Dead Bug Variations
Dead bugs are a phenomenal ab exercise to improve core stability and strength while targeting your lower back as you engage both the upper and lower body through functional movement. Move through each rep with control and intent to fully harness the positive effects of dead bugs. Just like most movements on this list, variations are endless! Don't be afraid to explore other dead bug exercises once you conquer the traditional movement.
To perform dead bugs, start by lying on your back with your arms extended upward and your legs raised at a 90-degree angle. Engage your core, press your lower back into the floor, and slowly lower one leg and the opposite arm toward the floor. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. Complete three sets of six to eight reps per side.