The Only 7 Exercises Women Need to Get Lean in Their 40s

hispanic woman wearing purple doing dumbbell lunges, one of the best exercises to get lean after 40, outside
The best exercises to get lean after 40 focus on building lean, metabolically active muscle while burning calories.
Image Credit: adamkaz/E+/GettyImages

Strength training is important no matter your age, but if you want to get or stay lean in your 40s, it's a non-negotiable.

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"Age-related muscle loss begins as early as age 30," says certified personal trainer Young McCarthy, CPT, vice president of Jazzercise. That's one big reason why, by your 40s, staying lean can become a lot more difficult.

"A pound of muscle tissue burns up to three times more calories than a pound of fat tissue at rest," she says.

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That means, with the right moves, you can burn calories both during ​and​ after your workouts for more efficient fat loss. Plus, by building lean muscle, you sport some definition, improve your energy and become better equipped to burn calories in all of your workouts.

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But you don't have to devote loads of time to strength training to get lean in your 40s. Doing just a few strength workouts a week can make a meaningful difference. These exercises, courtesy of McCarthy, work several muscle groups at once and get your heart pumping to get you the best results in the least time.

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The 7 Best Strength Exercises to Get Lean in Your 40s

Sprinkle the below exercises into your weekly routine to build lean muscle and lose fat — or combine them into one awesome workout. For a total-body get-lean routine, do these exercises in order for the number of reps and sets listed below. Repeat three times per week.

Move 1: Kneeling Push-Up to Plank

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Arms, Abs, Chest and Shoulders
  1. Get on the floor on your hands and knees. Walk your hands slightly in front of your body with your arms shoulder-width apart, stacking your wrists under your shoulders. Your body should form a straight angle from your head to your feet.
  2. Bracing your core and keeping your shoulders back and down, bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Try to bring your chest to elbow level before pushing back up to the starting position.
  3. Next, extend your legs behind you so that you’re in a high plank. Your body should form a long straight line from your head to your heels. Hold for a second before placing knees back on the floor.
  4. Repeat from the push-up.

This move builds strength in your shoulders and arms while working your chest and core. Sculpting these areas of your upper body helps you gain a more chiseled and defined look. You'll also get your heart rate up, helping you break a sweat.

Variation

  • Instead of lifting both knees off the floor at the same time into plank, step your feet back one at a time. Then bring your knees down to the floor one at a time.

Move 2: Bear Plank to Pike

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs, Arms and Legs
  1. Get into a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under, brace your core and lift your knees about an inch or two off the floor. This is called a bear plank.
  2. From here, straighten your legs and press back into your heels as you lift your hips up into a pike position.
  3. Return to the bear plank without letting your knees touch the floor, then repeat.

Your core gets some serious action with this 2-in-1 move, but you'll also feel a stretch in your hamstrings as you move into the pike. Make sure you're really challenging yourself by creating tension in your core in the pike position. Picking up the pace can get your heart rate up and, in turn, burn more calories.

Variation

  • If the bear plank is too much, skip that step and move straight from kneeling to hips up.

Move 3: Knee Pull to Leg Extension

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs and Legs
  1. Kneel on the floor and extend your right leg out to the side so that your knee and toes are facing forward. Lean your upper body to the left, placing your left hand on the floor directly under your left shoulder. Keeping both shoulders squared to the front, extend your right arm overhead.
  2. Bracing your core, pull your right knee up in front of your body toward your chest as you pull your right arm down near your right hip.
  3. Extend your right leg straight to the side at hip height without letting your foot touch the floor, then repeat.
  4. After completing reps, switch sides.

Your obliques work double-time to keep your body stabilized as you move your legs, giving you a burn all over. Strengthening your side abdominal muscles will also give you longer, leaner lines (read: no love handles).

Variation

  • If keeping your extended leg off the floor is too tough, touch the foot to the floor in between repetitions.

Move 4: Jump to Plié With Relevé

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Stand with your feet together, arms at your sides.
  2. Jump your feet apart so that they’re wider than your hips, landing with your feet turned to the sides and up on the balls of your feet. At the same time, extend your arms to the sides at shoulder height, your fingers up and palms facing the sides.
  3. Jump your feet back together with your arms back down to your sides, then repeat.

Going on your toes forces your thighs and glutes to work extra hard to stabilize and adding a jump will get your heart racing.

Variation

  • For a low-impact option, avoid the jump and start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width, your toes turned out slightly and your arms extended to the sides at shoulder height. From here, pulse up and down.

Move 5: Pulsing Lunge With Oblique Contraction

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Butt, Legs and Abs
  1. Stand with your feet together, holding a dumbbell with both hands at chest height.
  2. Step your right foot forward, landing with your right ankle under your right knee and lowering until your right thigh forms a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  3. Pulse down into the lunge, lifting and lowering just about an inch or two, as you lean your torso side to side with each pulse.
  4. After completing reps, switch sides.

Your legs and core fire up to help you balance with this compound move. Challenge yourself to lunge deeper and make tiny pulses.

Variation

  • If you’re not yet ready for a weighted version, try the move without the dumbbell. Just place your hands behind your head, keep your elbows wide and lean your torso side to side from this position.

Move 6: Lunge With Overhead Press

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Butt, Legs and Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet together with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights in front of your shoulders with your palms facing you.
  2. Step forward with your right foot, lifting your left heel off the floor, as you press the weights overhead. Your arms should be fully extended with your palms facing back and your shoulders pressed down away from your ears.
  3. Lower until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. At the same time, pull the weights down in front of your chest, squeezing your biceps and abdominals.
  4. Press back up to the standing position, lifting the weights overhead, and repeat.

Moving from a lunge to an overhead press in one move is sure to get your heart rate up while strengthening your quads, glutes and shoulders. Working these large muscles helps you shred fat all over, building a leaner physique.

Variations

  • Hold the weights with your palms facing each other or acing forward.
  • Do this move without the weights if they’re throwing you off too much.
  • Use a lighter weight if you're finding it difficult to maintain proper form.

Move 7: Row to Knee Lift

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Back
  1. Stand with your feet together, arms at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand. Place your right heel forward on the floor a few inches, pulling your toes up, as you extend your arms down in front of your body, palms facing back.
  2. Keeping your right foot flexed and bracing your abs, lift your right knee to hip height. At the same time, lift your elbows up and back as you row the weights up the sides of your body.
  3. Lower your right heel back down to the floor, pressing the weight back to the starting position. Squeeze your triceps as you press.
  4. Complete reps on one side before moving to the other side.

Building the muscles in your back can help you create a leaner and more sculpted upper body. The row variation includes some leg work to challenge your balance and muscle coordination.

Variations

  • Do the same exercise without the weights.
  • If balance is an issue, do the exercise by omitting the lower-body work and doing only the row as indicated.

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