Fact: When your metabolism begins to sputter in advanced age, the single best thing you can do to counteract the resulting effects is to build more lean muscle mass. Why? Well, it’s simple: your muscle cells—unlike your fat cells—contain these tiny hardworking organelles called mitochondria, which are responsible for taking the stuff from your food and converting it into energy. If you have more muscles, it’s a fundamental truth that you will be burning more of the stuff you eat into thin air than you will be storing it away on your midsection.
Now, this is especially true when you reach your fifth decade, when your metabolism really starts to slip. That’s why we’ve isolated the 40 greatest exercises for building up your muscles well into to your forties. They’re easy, they’re safe, and if you make a habit of them, you’ll be shocked at how great you’ll look. And for more great ways to be healthier as you age, know the 40 Habits to Drop by Age 40.
Barbell bench press
This classic exercise is classic for a reason—there are few that will work out your chest as effectively and consistently. Just hold on to the bar, shoulder-width apart, slightly arching your back. Lift the bar from the rack, lower it slowly to your chest, elbows tucking to your sides. Lightly touch your sternum and press the bar back up in a fluid motion. And for more great fitness tips, here’s how to Steal Michael B. Jordan’s Hardcore Black Panther Workout.
Dumbbell bench press
Another way to tackle these muscles is to lie back, holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing toward your feet, beginning with them held at the level of your shoulders. Press both weights straight up extending your arms until they are almost straight (but be sure not to lock them). Lower them back down in a steady motion. And if you’re in the market for more great workouts, test out The Best Full-Body Band Workout Anyone Can Do.
On a flat bench, lie back with a dumbbell in each hand. Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, spread your arms until the weights are even with your shoulders. Flexing your pecs, pull the weights back to their original position. And for more amazing workout #inspo, check out these 10 Amazing Workout Videos from the ’90s That Are Still Awesome.
Incline dumbbell flye
For rounding out your pecs, lay on the adjustable bench at a 30–45-degree angle, with a dumbbell in each hand, your wrists turned so that palms are facing each other. Press both weights straight up, then spread your arms open, keeping your elbows slightly bent until they are shoulder-level. Bring the weights back together over your chest and return them to the original position.
Incline dumbbell press
On the same adjustable bench, lie back with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Press the dumbbells straight up over your chest until your arms are almost straight (but without locking your elbows), then lower back into original position.
Setting the adjustable bench flat or to a maximum of 30 degrees, grip a bar slightly wider than shoulder-width and pull the bar from the rack. Lower the bar to your sternum, tucking in your elbows to your sides as you go. Once it lightly touches your chest, press it back up.
Barbell overhead press
To build your shoulder (not to mention your abs), this is a super effective option. Take the bar from a squat rack, gripping it slightly wider than shoulder-width. Hold it at the level of your shoulders, with forearms perpendicular to the floor. Tightening your abs, press the bar above your head, pushing your head forward as the bar passes it.
Standing dumbbell flye
With arms straight to your side, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Swing the weights up a few inches, creating an “upside-down V shape” but avoid shrugging as you go.
Seated dumbbell clean
Sitting on the edge of a bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Lean forward slightly while keeping your lower back flat. Press the dumbbells up quickly, straightening your body, and turning your wrists so they face forward as the weights go to shoulder level.
Clean and press
Standing, with feet shoulder-width apart, setting the bar on the floor, grip it at shoulder-width. Lift the bar from the floor and as it passes your knees, jump and shrug the bar so it catches at your shoulder level. Finish by pressing the bar straight overhead, flexing your abs as you do.
Grab the heaviest dumbbells you can manage and walk in a straight line with your chest out and shoulders back. Walk as far as you can until you need to set the dumbbells back down.
It may sound scary, but this exercise will have you feeling so good when done right. Lie on a bench with your feet on the ground and grasp the barbell using an overhand grip. Lift it from the rack and hold it above your head so your arms support the weight. Bend your arms at the elbow, slowly bringing the bar to almost touch the top of your forehead. Keeping your elbows in their position, slowly straighten your arms.
Close-grip bench press
Lie on a flat bench, with hands grasping the barbell a few inches apart. Lift the bar from the rack and lower it down to your chest, being sure that elbows remain close to your torso (in order to make your triceps do most of the work). Raise the bar back up and repeat.
Seated overhead dumbbell extension
Sitting on the edge of the bench, grip a dumbbell with both hands, with palms of your hands facing upward and thumbs touching. Hold it overhead at arm’s length. Keeping upper arms close to your head and your elbows in, lower the weight behind your head until forearms touch your biceps, then return to starting position.
Also called the cable pushdown, this workout involves attaching a bar to a high pulley and grasping with palms facing down. Standing upright, use your triceps to press the bar down until your arms are fully extended and the bar touches your thighs. Bring the bar back up and return to starting position.
No equipment required beyond a pair of arms and a floor. Position yourself on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders, arms straight. Keeping your body straight, bend your elbows and lower your body to the floor, tucking your elbows to your sides as you go. Once your chest just about touches the floor, press back up.
Assuming the same pushup position, add a weight plate, sandbag, or some other extra weight to your upper back. Lower yourself to the floor until your chest almost touches, keeping body straight. Press yourself back up, straightening your elbows.
Dumbbell floor press
Lying flat on your back on a mat, grasp a pair of dumbbells in an overhand grip. Plant your feet on the floor and bend your elbows to 90 degrees but not quite touching the floor. Press weights upwards until your arms are almost straight, with shoulders not rising from the floor. Return the weights back down to original position.
Dumbbell squeeze press
Lie flat on the bench, squeezing dumbbells together on your chest, palms facing toward each other. Raise them above your chest until your arms are almost straight. With dumbbells raised, squeeze them together as hard as possible for several seconds. Lower back down to your chest and repeat.
This classic exercise hits a number of muscles, including arms, shoulders, abs, and more. To do it, grip the pull-up bar at shoulder-width apart, gripping overhand (palms facing away from you), letting your body hang. Bend your knees to raise your feet from the floor and pull yourself up, pulling your shoulder blades back and tightening your abs until your chin is above the bar. Steadily return to starting position and repeat.
Hold a dumbbell between your feet or attach a weighted belt around your waist and follow the same routine as the pullup.
Grasp the pullup bar with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width. Follow the steps of a standard pullup, pulling your body up to the bar until your chin is over it.
Hang from the bar using an underhand grip (palms facing you). Bend your knees and raise your body up so that your chin goes over the bar. Hold for a moment then return back to starting position and repeat.
Standing dumbbell curl
Pick up a pair of dumbbells and hold them at arm’s length against your sides, standing and facing forward. While keeping your upper arms against your sides, turn your hands so palms face forward and bend your elbows, curling the dumbbells up to your shoulders. Hold for a moment then return back to starting position and repeat.
Offset-grip dumbbell curl
Instead of centering your palm on the dumbbell, this exercise shifts the weight distribution slightly, making your biceps brachii do a bit more work. Grip the dumbbells so that either your thumbs or your pinkies are against the head of the dumbbell and there is space on the other side of the grip. Follow the same routine as you did with the standing dumbbell curl.
Another slight variation on the curl that gets different parts of your biceps working harder. Holding the dumbbells at your sides, keep your palms facing inward as you curl them until the heads of the dumbbells nearly touch your shoulders. Hold for a second then return to starting position and repeat.
Kneeling single-arm curl
Kneeling on a mat (to keep you from using other muscles to do the work), hold a dumbbell in one hand with palm facing outward. Keeping your upper arm pressed to your side, curl the weight until it comes close to your shoulder. Hold and return to starting position. Do all reps on one arm then pass the weight to your other hand and repeat.
Incline dumbbell row
A good exercise to target some of your back muscles. Lay chest-down on an adjustable bench inclined at 30 to 45 degrees. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and raise them, pulling back your shoulder blades to create a rowing motion as you pull them up to your sides and return them back down.
Alternating dumbbell row
Another good back workout, for this one you bend forward at the hips with a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your lower back in a natural arch. Raise one dumbbell to your side, lower it, then repeat with your other dumbbell.
Standing with your feet hip-width apart and hips bent back, gripping a barbell just outside your knees. Keeping your back flat, extend your hips so that you stand up, pulling the bar up along your body. Keep your eyes on the ground a few feet in front of you as you rise until standing fully upright and staring straight ahead. Slowly lower the bar and return to starting position.
Holding the barbell with a shoulder-width grip and feet hip-width apart, bend your hips back, bending your knees as you lower the bar. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, return back to starting position, ensuring your lower back keeps its natural arch throughout.
Using a squat rack, grip the barbell as far apart as you can comfortably, placing it behind your head on your traps. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, lift the barbell from the rack and take a few steps back, standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your hips back and bend your knees, lowering your body while maintaining the natural arch of your lower back. Straighten your knees back and return to standing.
Position a barbell on a power rack at shoulder height. Gripping the barbell overhand at shoulder width, and raising your elbows so your upper arms are parallel to the floor, take the bar from the rack. Rest it on your fingertips and take a step back, setting your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat low to the floor while maintaining the natural arch in your lower back. Straighten your legs back up and repeat the exercise.
Grip dumbbells against shoulders, standing shoulder-width apart. Squat as low as you can while maintaining the natural arch to your lower back and keeping weights in place. Stand back up and repeat exercise.
Stand behind a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging at your sides. Step up onto the bench, leaving your trailing leg behind you. Complete reps on one leg then switch to your other leg.
Set the machine seat to a comfortable level, with your knees in line with your feet and slightly bent. Remove the safeties and lower the weights slowly until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Press the weights back up and repeat.
With feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, step forward with one leg and lower your body so that your rear knee almost touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Return to starting position and repeat the exercise with your other leg.
Standing with feet hip-width apart, take a step back with your right foot, lowering your body as you did for the walking lunge, so that your rear knee almost touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to it. Return to starting position and complete next rep with your other leg.
Medicine ball chest throw
In a kneeling position facing a wall, hold the medicine ball in both hands at chest height. With as much momentum as you can put in it, throw the ball straight forward. As the ball leaves your hands, follow through with your hands as if you are doing a push up in the air. Pick the medicine ball back up and repeat.
Don’t think we forgot about abs. Lie on your back on a mat, bending your knees and keeping your feet planted. Crossing your arms across your chest and your lower back on the mat, raise your shoulders so you feel a stretch in your abdominals. Hold the raised position for a few moments before lowering back down to the mat. For more on getting fit, check out The 30 Biggest Exercise Myths.
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