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Fight Fat at Any Age: Exercises for Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

  • Andrew Parsons

    Exercises Tailored to Your Age

    At FITNESS, we get more letters asking for the secret to looking and feeling your best at any age than anything else. So we went to the experts to find out how to overcome the biggest hurdle women face — a slowing metabolism, which begins to falter in your 20s, then decreases 2 to 3 percent in your 30s and another 2 to 3 percent in your 40s.

    Our age-specific workout plan by trainer Kathy Kaehler, author of Fit and Sexy for Life, is designed to keep your metabolism humming in every decade with a combo of multi-muscle strength moves and fat-fighting cardio. Give it a try and you'll see a difference in your endurance, power, and flexibility — and in your waistline — in just a few weeks.

  • Fitness in Your 20s

    Your fitness 411: Your 20s is often a time of adventure, so take advantage of this need to explore by trying new types of workouts. "It's the perfect age to power through all types of activities, because your body is highly resilient," says Kaehler. Beware of doing too much, though — overtraining and injuries are your biggest hurdles.

    Your cardio plan: Aim to do four to six days of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for 45 to 60 minutes. "Longer workouts will help you build endurance and burn fat," says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. Switch up your routine — spend 10 to 15 minutes alternating between activities like the treadmill, bike, or jumping rope. Now's also a good time to train for a sprint triathlon, 10K race, or a half marathon.

    Your strength needs: Strength-train one or two days a week, doing two or three sets of each move. "Always lift enough weight to struggle through your last three repetitions," says Kaehler. "If you can easily do 15 reps, gradually increase the amount of weight you're lifting."

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 1

    Side Lunge with Upright Row

    Targets: Shoulders, mid-back, glutes, thighs

    Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing thighs, toes pointing out. Take a big step out to the right side with right foot; bend right knee about 90 degrees and keep it aligned with toes; keep left leg straight. At the same time, lift elbows until weights are at chest level; keep shoulders pressed down. Lower arms and step back to start. Do 8 to 10 reps; switch sides and repeat.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 2, Step 1

    Straight-Arm Press-Back, Step 1

    Targets: Shoulders, arms, back, glutes

    Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding light dumbbells at sides. Sink hips into a squat. Keeping your back straight and abs tight, lean forward from hips, and extend arms in front of you to shoulder height, palms down.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 2, Step 2

    Straight-Arm Press-Back, Step 2

    Press arms toward hips and behind you, so palms face up at the top. Return to start and repeat. Do 6 to 8 reps.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 3

    Dumbbell Cross-Crunch Reach

    Targets: Abs, obliques

    Hold a light dumbbell in each hand and lie faceup with legs perpendicular to mat. Contract core muscles and lift shoulder blades off the ground, reaching right hand toward left toes. Hold for 2 counts, then lower; repeat, reaching left hand to right toes. Do 10 reps per side.

  • Fitness in Your 30s

    Your fitness 411: Family and work commitments often heat up now, leaving you significantly less time to exercise. Solution: Do interval workouts, which burn more calories in less time while preventing boredom. And if you haven't made weight lifting a priority yet, now is the time — your future bone density depends on it.

    Your cardio plan: Aim for two or three days of interval training by running/walking outside or by using any type of cardio machine (bike, treadmill, elliptical). Intersperse 3 moderate-intensity minutes with 1 minute of all-out exertion for a total of at least 30 minutes per session. Or check out circuit-training classes or videos that mix intervals of weights and cardio. And add one more day of about 45 to 60 minutes of steady-paced cardio, such as a brisk walk.

    Your strength needs: Weight-train on two nonconsecutive days per week using moderate to heavy weights; do three sets. "Weight training with heavier weights will help you develop more muscle mass — which is precisely what you're starting to lose," says Olson. "The more muscle you can create now, the more efficient your metabolism will be."

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 4, Step 1

    Plank Push-Up Rotation, Step 1

    Targets: Shoulders, arms, chest, back, core, glutes

    Begin in a full push-up position, abs pulled in and hands in line with shoulders, forming a straight line from head to heels. Do one push-up.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 4, Step 2

    Plank Push-Up Rotation, Step 2

    At the top of the push-up, rotate your body to the left, balancing on right hand and outer edges of right foot as you extend left hand toward sky. Keep your abs engaged to help you balance, then slowly lift left leg an inch or more; hold for 2 counts. Return to starting position and rotate to opposite side. Repeat sequence 5 times.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 5

    Balance Push-Up

    Targets: Shoulders, arms, chest, core

    Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Extend left leg behind you at hip height. Balancing on right knee and right hand, extend left arm behind body and keep extending both limbs throughout the repetition. Slowly lower chest to ground, bending right arm, then straighten arm to return to start. Do 8 to 10 reps on this side, then switch.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 6

    Side-Lying Leg Scissors

    Targets: Front and inner thighs, butt, hip flexors, core

    Lie on right side, supporting head with hand. Bring left hand in front of chest and contract abs. Extend legs, keeping body in a straight line with hips stacked, and lift legs several inches off ground. Bring right leg forward and left leg back without moving hips. Hold for 2 counts, then switch legs. Continue, keeping legs lifted a few inches. Do 15 reps per side.

  • Fitness in Your 40s

    Your fitness 411: You need to stay even more active now with the onset of perimenopause [the period in a woman's life just before menopause]. "As estrogen levels decline, fat storage settles at the abdomen, which makes more fat circulate closer to the heart — a leading cause of heart disease," says Olson.

    Your cardio plan: Focus on 45 to 60 minutes of moderately paced aerobic workouts three to five times per week. To keep your bones strong, opt for mostly weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging. Whatever you choose, though, know that you're helping your head as much as the rest of you. "Aerobic exercise is crucial in your 40s to help relieve stress, improve sleep, and combat potential weight gain," says Kaehler.

    Your strength needs: Strength training is actually more important to your body now than it was 20 years ago. That means lifting weights three times a week, doing two or three sets per exercise. Do the first set at a lighter weight to warm up working muscles, then lift weights heavy enough so the last few reps are challenging. "This helps prevent injuries," says Olson.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 7

    Bridge Chest Press

    Targets: Chest, core, glutes, thighs

    Lie faceup holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in and elbows bent close to chest, knees bent with feet on ground. Lift hips 4 to 6 inches, squeezing glutes. Extend arms over chest; hold for 3 counts, then slowly lower weights back to start. Repeat chest press, keeping hips lifted throughout the set. Do 10 reps.

  • Dorit Thies

    Move 8

    Lunge Kick with Biceps Curl

    Targets: Biceps, glutes, quads, hamstrings

    Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at sides. Lunge back with left foot (not shown), bending right knee 90 degrees. As you stand up, kick forward with left leg while curling weights toward shoulders. Repeat lunge/kick/curl combo for 10 reps on this side, then switch legs.

  • Dorit Thies

    Stay Young at Any Age

    The secret to staying young at any age:

    Whether you're 25 or 55, it pays to stretch your muscles. As you age, less blood circulates to your joints and calcium deposits can form, leading to stiffer muscles and joints. "Take up activities like yoga and Pilates in your 20s and 30s to tune into the mental and physical benefits of these exercises," says Olson. "As you get into your 40s and 50s, stretch daily, and try different styles of yoga to bust stress."