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The 3 best exercises for women over 40

EXCERCISE
Anna Jurkovska | Shutterstock
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Buckle up, ladies. This list might surprise you.

I’ve been having some nagging (read: extremely annoying) hamstring and shoulder pain, and one of my friends and fellow trainers keeps suggesting that it might be time to modify my workouts since I’m “not 20 anymore.” Normally I’d brush off his suggestions, but 10 solid days of persistent pain that straddled the border between “sore” and “strained” finally pushed me over the edge.

When I told my dad I was going to have to modify my workouts, his first question wasn’t a surprise. “So no more weights?” he asked. “No way,” I responded. “Weights are more important than ever. Just lower impact — fewer broad jumps, more rowing, maybe a slightly slower pace.” He laughed and shook his head, still unconvinced by my arguments that barbells were more important for women over 40 than for 20-somethings.

It’s true, although it’s certainly not common knowledge. Women need resistance training more after they turn 40 than they do before. In fact, my list of the top 3 exercises for women over 40 contains more than a few surprises. (Spoiler alert: yoga doesn’t make the cut.)

1
Weighted Squats, Deadlifts, and Farmer Carries

Resistance training is crucial for women after 40 to keep 2 vital parts of our bodies healthy: our bones and our metabolism.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density that often leads to increased risk for bone fractures, and the incidence of it increases sharply for women as we age. Although there are many contributing factors, one is a reduction in daily muscular and skeletal resistance — basically, we lift things less often, and tend to shy away from lifting heavy things at all. The resistance our muscles apply to our bones as they pull against them to lift heavy objects is part of what builds and maintains bone density, so lifting weights is essential to avoid osteoporosis — and 3-lb ankle weights won’t cut it. We should be squatting, deadlifting, and farmer carrying at least 20 lbs, 3 times a week. All these motions are functional, meaning we use them in daily life, and functional training reduces injuries in daily activities. Additionally, lifting weights helps build and maintain muscle mass, which is what drives our metabolism.

2
Row

I’m a recent convert to rowing, and I absolutely love it. There’s no better low-impact way to get your heart rate up high, and the motion of rowing puts all your joints through their full range of motion, ensuring you won’t lose range of motion through atrophy and inactivity. Rowing also relies heavily on the posterior chain, which are the muscles that make up the back side of our bodies — muscles that are sadly inactive and underdeveloped in our modern, sedentary lives. It might take a while to get used to the rhythm of the rowing machine, but don’t give up. Soon you’ll be burning calories and building muscle in an extraordinarily short amount of time.

3
Burpees!

I know, everyone hates me for this, but it’s true. Burpees are one of the best full-body functional exercises you can do. Think about it — what is a burpee, really? It’s just lying down on the ground and getting back up again. I can’t count how many women I’ve trained who could not lie down and get back up when they first began getting serious about fitness, but I can guarantee that they’re all more than capable of a full-out, chest-to-ground burpee now. If you can’t jump backward into high plank from a squat position, don’t be discouraged; just step back instead, one leg at a time. Then lie down. Then push yourself back up, step those legs back into your hands, and stand fully upright. If you practice this consistently, you’ll be jumping up and down in no time … and the rewards you’ll reap for your overall health and wellness will be incalculable.

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