7 Exercises for Women in Their 40’s


As we age, we are prone to losing muscle mass.  In our blog this month, I wanted to share some exercises which are good for us all to do, but in particular, as we age, to help us build up muscle and protect us from brittle bones.  These exercises are particularly relevant for peri-menopausal women whose bodies can be vulnerable at this time with hormone levels fluxing.  The exercises I’ve included use big muscle groups; as the muscles are used, the blood carries nutrients to the area, supporting ligaments and tendons – building strength over time.

Strength training over high-intensity training at this point in life is highly advisable.  Exercise should not contribute to higher internal stress, which may result in interrupted sleep combined with a busy life, adding extra stress to the body, particularly on the hormone-producing centres in the body.  

With the following seven exercises, it is important to start with unweighted or very light weights and then progress on to the weighted version to avoid injury. If you already exercise, you can move through to weights immediately. Listen to your body during and after a workout and notice if you feel fatigued or have a mild ache a few days after your workout; if so, you have the intensity about right.  Let’s focus on these movements in a bit more detail.

1. Weighted Squats

Ankles, knees and hips all move to create a squat that switches on many big muscles in one go.  Start with three sets of 10 bodyweight exercises 2-3 times a week and monitor the intensity over a few weeks, then add light weights (2-3kgs) and repeat the monitoring. If you are nervous about adding weights, you can play about with the timing patterns, like slowing the squat down – try to do two counts down, two counts up. This increases the time the muscle is under tension and adds intensity.  We all squat slightly differently due to several factors; the range of mobility at each joint, the length of our legs in proportion to our upper body, the length of our upper to lower leg and the width of our hips. If you’ve struggled with squat depth in the past (and don’t have an injury), it could be that you haven’t found your optimal stance yet.  Finding the right set-up before we start adding weights is important if you want to make the most of this fantastic leg exercise.

2. Planks

The Plank is another movement that uses many muscles: the upper back, chest, shoulder muscles, abdominals (deep and superficial), hip flexors and quads. Building up from a kneeling plank is key if you haven’t done this exercise regularly. As with most exercises, the technique is important, starting with your elbows under your shoulders and pushing the ground away actively; your hips should be roughly the same height as your shoulders in either a full plank or a kneeling version. A common mistake is having your hips too high, making it look silly and not engaging half of the right muscles. Start with 20 -30 seconds and progress over several months to 45- 60 seconds.  I like to add a small movement to mine and my clients to keep it interesting while activating this long list of muscles. A small side-to-side shift or a sawing action can add variety and help the time pass.

3. Weighted lunges

Like a squat, a lunge is a multi-joint movement involving movement at the same three joints, but they are a single-leg action and can be performed in a range of directions, forward, side, back and curtsey. They can often feel a bit wobbly, and the foot position is important to help reduce that instability; maintaining hip width through the forward and back (or reverse) versions is key for technique and stability.  Start with bodyweight lunges through the different ranges mentioned above and master the balance and strength required. Then you can progress to holding weights in one or both hands to challenge your stability.  As with the squats, add weight slowly once you have mastered the technique.

4. Wall Presses

A wall press is like a press-up but is a much more achievable movement for beginners to intermediate exercisers. We will use similar muscles to a Plank, but with a little less intensity, we can control the angle of the wall press and, therefore, the difficulty level. Pick a wall, and you can do a wide press to recruit more chest muscles or a narrow press to work into the backs of the arms. If you can stand on tiptoes, that will intensify the movement again, and aim for a straight body, knees, hips and shoulders in a line as you perform the move.

5. Deadlifts

Also known as a hip hinge, it is a movement that has minimal knee and ankle flexion. Deadlifts involve lifting a weight from the floor up to hip height; traditional deadlifts have a small knee bend and a straight back so as not to create extra strain on the lower back.  This is one move we can do with weight from the start as long as it is light initially. Deadlifts can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, or various styles of barbells. The move focuses on the backs of the legs, the hamstrings, the glutes and the long muscles that run up the spine; these three muscle groups comprise the posterior chain.   The Deadlift uses big muscles and can be progressed to some of the heaviest weights used in strength training, but technic is important to help prevent injury.

6. Rolling C-shapes

One of the best and most functional abdominal exercises around, it uses all the abdominal muscles listed above in the plank but can help us to get up and down from the floor. Lay flat on the floor with your arms up in the air over your chest. Breathe in to prepare and then slowly exhale and start to curl away from the floor one vertebrae at a time until you are sat up. You come back down the same way slowly by curving ( or creating a C-shape) your spine.  If you hit a point where you can’t get up, try a folded towel placed in the small of your back. Gradually over time, you should be able to reduce the fold in the towel and require less support unless you have a naturally occurring lower back curve, in which case you might need the extra support ongoing.

7. Reverse Fly’s

One of the best posture exercises I use with my clients is the Reverse Fly.  This exercise uses the upper back muscles (posterior deltoid, rhomboid, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi) and helps correct our modern-day hunching that occurs with too much time on technology and sitting at a desk a lot (I can feel myself doing this as I am writing).  We can do this move seated or standing, and you can start with the movement unweighted. Lean forwards with a straight spine, and ‘fly’ your arms out to the sides with a slightly bent elbow. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your arms come out to the sides while keeping everywhere else relaxed (especially your shoulders).  Start with three sets of 10 unweighted exercises 2-3 times a week and monitor the intensity, then add light weights (2-3kgs) and repeat the monitoring.

These are just a selection of strength training exercises I use with my clients; they are easy to progress, and I hope you try them.  But if you are feeling overwhelmed, not sure where to start, feeling like you need some guidance or someone to keep you motivated, then please get in touch for a chat.

Sara McDonnell

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