The Only 6 Exercises Women Need to Get Lean After 30

fit woman doing a kettlebell swing at the gym
Strength training builds muscle and burns fat, helping you lose weight in your 30s and beyond.
Image Credit: RichLegg/E+/GettyImages

You may be pounding the pavement or stepping up the cycling, and while aerobic exercise is a bona fide calorie burner (and an ace at boosting heart health), don't ignore strength training. For many women wondering why is it so hard to lose weight after 30, it's because we become less active with age, and consequently, carry more fat than muscle.

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"When a woman is in her 30s, strength training becomes even more important to promote muscle density and metabolic function," Gina Harney, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Fitnessista.com, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

First, muscle burns more than fat, so the more muscle you add will increase the number of calories you burn during the day, she notes. But there are other perks to picking up weights or performing body-weight resistance exercises: It's a bone builder.

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Bone density peaks in your late 20s, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, so it's important to preserve as much bone as you can. This will safeguard against age-related bone loss, which can contribute to osteopenia and osteoporosis, Harney points out.

"Strength training also supports our everyday movements and promotes balance, stability and posture," she says.

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In general, younger women are less likely to use weights compared to men, as they report generally not feeling comfortable in the weight room, a small March 2020 study in the ​Journal of American College Health​ suggests. So if you're hooked on doing just cardio, it's worth switching things up to focus on strength, too, especially if your goal is to drop pounds.

A September 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis in ​Sports Medicine​ found that healthy adults who participated in at least four weeks of strength training decreased their fat mass, visceral fat and body fat percentage compared to non-exercising controls.

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One thing to keep in mind: There's a common and persistent fear that strength training, especially with weights, will leave you "bulky," and for that reason, many women avoid doing it.

"In reality, it's really hard to make that happen. Women don't have the same steroids as men, and if you're not taking steroids, strength training will not give you bulky muscles. It will give you the appearance of lean, visible muscle tone," Harney says.

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While strength training is an important component of getting lean, you'll need an overall healthy lifestyle for the best results. So in addition to strength training, getting lean after 30 also involves following a well-balanced diet, managing stress, sleeping well and staying hydrated, she adds.

6 Strength Exercises for Staying Lean After 30

Stay in fighting shape with these six muscle-building exercises for your 30s and beyond. Each exercise relies on functional movements, meaning they not only help build muscle but do so in a way that supports everyday activities and prevents injuries. They also target all major muscle groups and get your heart rate up for some cardio benefits, too.

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Tip

While each move is challenging on its own, it can be easily modified for beginners or those who need something lower impact. When an exercise becomes too easy, that’s when you can ramp things up and modify make it more challenging.

The latter part is important: “When you’re building muscle, you want to make sure that you’re challenging your body and increasing the stressors over time to prevent plateaus,” Harney says.

1. Goblet Squat

This move will get after not just your glutes and legs, but it recruits your core and bumps up your heart rate, Harney says.

Type Strength
  1. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it with both hands in front of your chest.
  2. Push your hips back and bend your knees, lowering down until your thighs are parallel to the ground (or as low as you can comfortably go). Keep your chest lifted and your spine upright.
  3. Press your heels into the ground to stand back up and squeeze your glutes at the top.

Modifications and Variations

New to weighted squats? Skip the weight and let your body weight provide the resistance, Harney says.

On the other hand, if you can rip through 10 to 12 reps and feel as if you could churn out more, then bump up the weight until finishing the reps feels challenging. Before increasing the weight, make sure you're doing each rep with good form.

2. Dumbbell Swing

Dumbbell swings are one of the best dynamic strength exercises after 30 because it builds power and strength. Just a few reps will get your heart racing, plus they fire up your glutes, core, hips and lats.

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"This is one of my very favorite exercises," Harney says. Resist using your arms to provide the power for this move — it should come from your legs and core, she says.

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Type Cardio and Strength
  1. Place one end of a dumbbell on the ground a few inches in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, so you form a triangle with the dumbbell and your feet on the ground.
  2. Hinge your hips back and hold the other end of the dumbbell with both hands using a loose grip.
  3. Pushing your butt back and keeping your back flat, hike the dumbbell between your legs.
  4. As you straighten your legs to stand, use power from your hips to pull the dumbbell up to chest height.
  5. Swing the weight back between your legs and under your hips as you simultaneously sink into your hips and bend your knees.

Modifications and Variations

If you're new to swings, consider practicing the hip hinge with a kettlebell deadlift or do reset swings, where you place the kettlebell on the ground after each rep.

For next-level swings, bump up the weight and do single-arm arm swings. Remember to keep your core braced at the top of the swing to fight rotation.

3. Burpee

It's everyone's favorite exercise to hate on (but they secretively love it, of course). Burpees will increase your heart rate and get you out of breath. They also fire up your arm, leg and core muscles, Harney says.

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Type Cardio and Strength
  1. Start standing and then place your hands on the floor in front of you.
  2. Jump your feet back into a high plank, then jump your feet outside of your hands on the ground.
  3. As you stand up, use your legs to jump with your arms overhead. That’s 1 rep.

Modifications and Variations

For a low-impact version of a burpee, step one foot back at a time into the plank position, and step feet back toward your hands before standing up. Raise arms above head, but do not jump.

To make it harder, lower your chest all the way down to the ground from the plank position and push back up.

4. Deadlift

This is one of the most functional movements you can do, as it replicates the motion of picking something up off the ground, Harney says. You'll activate your glutes and hamstrings and get your core, back and shoulders in on the action, too. By targeting these large muscle groups, you'll burn more calories and fat, helping you reveal a more sculpted physique.

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Type Strength
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Hold a weight in each hand in front of your thighs. (Backs of your hands should be facing forward.)
  2. Hinge at your hips and push your butt back to slowly lower the weights toward your feet, stopping at your shins. Maintain a flat back throughout.
  3. Push through your feet to return to a standing position, squeezing your glutes at the top.

Modifications and Variations

If you find that you're rounding your lower back or have trouble maintaining proper form, kick the weights and practice the hip hinge with your own body weight.

For more advanced exercisers, try a single-leg deadlift and hold one weight in your hand.

5. Weighted Lunge

Lunges strengthen your quads (front thigh muscles), which is essential for preventing knee pain and injury with age. Fortifying these muscles is also key to attaining sculpted, rock-solid legs. Adding some load to your lunges with a dumbbell or kettlebell mimics walking up a flight of stairs with heavy groceries, so you'll feel the burn and work up a sweat.

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Type Strength
  1. Hold one weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) with both hands in front of your chest or use two weights (one in each hand).
  2. Step forward with your right leg and sink down into a lunge, forming 90-degree angles with your front and back legs. Step far enough so that your front knee stays stacked over your ankle.
  3. Push off your front foot and step back to return to the starting position.
  4. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

Modifications and Variations

Beginners can skip the weight or hold light weights in each hand.

To take it up a notch, hold two weights in a front-rack position by your shoulders and turn it into a reverse lunge.

6. Plank

Planks are known as core exercises, but they work muscles beyond that. "After about 10 seconds, you'll feel the muscles in your arms and legs start to kick in, too," Harney says. By recruiting several muscle groups at once, you'll tighten and tone up your entire body.

Type Strength
  1. Get into a high plank, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and extending your legs straight behind you.
  2. Tuck your pelvis in to brace your core and squeeze your glutes and quads. Your body should form a straight line from the top of your heat to your heels throughout the entire exercise.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Make sure to breathe throughout the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

Modify by dropping to your knees or coming down to a forearm plank. If you want to add a challenge, lift one hand off the ground. Remember to keep your hips and shoulders square.

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