Strength Training For Women Over 40: It’s Not Just For Bodybuilders!

Strength training for women over 40 is vital for a variety of reasons. Yet, many women shy away from it. Why?

Some think it’s just for bodybuilders; others fear becoming too “bulky.” Plus, it can be intimidating walking into a gym (even if it’s in your home) and trying to create a workout routine.

But you can’t just slog it out on the treadmill day after day!

As women age, lean body mass decreases, something known as sarcopenia. Studies have shown that this appears to be more from muscle disuse than just aging alone, and can begin as early as 30! However, regular exercise can help you maintain muscle mass.

Having increased lean muscle mass is important for many reasons. For one, this will increase your basal metabolic rate, meaning that your body will be more efficient at burning calories throughout the day.

Studies have also shown that strength training is important for bone health and reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition, strength training has been associated with a decreased risk of other chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

This is why strength training for women over 40 is so necessary.

Having stronger muscles means not only will you look great and be healthier overall, but you will also be able to do everyday activities more easily. And as a busy mom, this is definitely a plus!

Keep reading to learn more about strength training for women over 40, and start building your new workout routine!

See why strength training is one of the most important things you can do to combat muscle loss and promote longevity!

Strength Training Myths and How To Get Started

There is a common misconception among women that weight training will turn them into some “muscle head.” But since women have lower testosterone than men, lifting weights is not going to give women the same muscle hypertrophy as men.

It will boost your metabolism and give you a toned, strong, healthy physique!

Strength training is also important if you are trying to lose weight. With weight loss, your body will tend to lose fat and muscle.

Strength training will help preserve muscle mass even as you are losing weight. In addition, this increased lean muscle mass will keep your metabolism high, aiding in weight loss.

There is so much information about workouts and strength training exercises that it can be hard to know where to start. But the fact is, it doesn’t have to be complicated!

The key is really knowing how often to work out and the top strength training exercises to give you the best results. The first step is knowing how often to train a week.

A review of scientific evidence has found that strength training should occur at least twice a week and possibly three times weekly to optimize muscle growth.

For women just beginning a new strength training program, you should start with two days and work up to ensure adequate rest between sessions.

The best strength training exercises for women over 40 are moves that are safe and easy to perform but extremely efficient at targeting major muscle groups. This will allow you to get the most out of every workout session without risking injury.

The big thing you want to focus on is how to perform the exercises correctly so that you can move on to more advanced moves as your fitness progresses.

Your strength training routine should target the major muscles in your back, arms, shoulders, legs, and core. This could be spread during the week or combined with full-body exercises and workouts.

Strength Training For Women Over 40: The Top 10 Workouts

These exercises use a combination of machines, free weights, and bodyweight exercises to really challenge your muscles.

Dumbbell Squats

Squats are the ultimate lower-body exercise. This movement targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves to build strong legs. Starting with dumbbells instead of using a barbell will help you master the movement while minimizing your risk of injury.

While holding a dumbbell in each hand, lower into a squat, ensuring your knees don’t track past your toes.
Go as far as comfortable until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.


Don’t let the simplicity of this movement fool you. Push-ups are killer upper body exercises for beginners and seasoned gym-goers alike that work your chest, arms, shoulders, and core. You can do push-ups anywhere and modify this exercise easily based on your current fitness level. If you find the move too challenging, try starting on your knees and working your way up.

Position your hands under your shoulders with your feet straight behind you.
Lower your chest towards the ground, pause, and then extend your arms to push back up.
Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.


Pull-ups may seem intimidating, but they are among the best upper-body exercises and should be in everyone’s arsenal. You can start with assisted pull-ups as you build strength. Learning the movement early on in your training will allow you to build up to eventually performing unassisted pull-ups. Doing pull-ups trains you to synergistically use your back, shoulder, and arm muscles to build up these upper body muscles.

Hang from a bar with your palms facing away at about shoulder width.
Pull your body up while contracting your shoulder blades together until your chest is at the height of the bar or your chin is just over the bar.
Then, slowly lower yourself down.
Aim for three sets of 8-10 reps.

If you cannot do an unassisted pull-up, that’s OK! There are modifications that you can start out with as you gradually build up your strength and work up to performing pull-ups on your own. Pull-up modifications include:

Pull-Up Machine

Many gyms will have a machine with a platform to rest your legs. The heavier the weight you choose to assist you, the easier the pull-up will be. Gradually decrease the assistance until you can do a pull-up without any assistance at all.

Pull-Ups With a Spotter

Have a spotter hold your legs to assist you during the movement.

Negative Pull-Ups

Start by standing under a pull-up bar.
Jump up, grabbing the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
Pull yourself upwards using the momentum from your jump until your chin is above the bar.
Slowly lower yourself.
Slowly extend your arms as you inch closer to the ground.
Aim for 3-5 seconds until your arms are extended.
Let go of the bar and return to the ground.
Repeat for the desired reps.

Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Bicep curls are an excellent way to isolate your bicep muscles and really tone up your arms.

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Bend your elbows to bring the weights up towards your shoulders.
Pause, then slowly lower the weights back down.
Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.

Triceps Push Down

Just like you want to target your biceps, working the triceps on the back of the arm is essential.

Attach a rope attachment to a high pulley and hold the rope with your palms facing each other.
Bring your torso forward at about a 30-degree angle.
Contract your triceps to pull the rope down until your arms are fully extended.
The upper arms should remain stationary, and only the forearms should move.
Hold for a pause, and then bring the rope slowly back up.
Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

Shoulder Press

Shoulder presses will help round your arms and enhance your strength.

Hold a pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench with back support.
Bring the dumbbells up to shoulder height with your palms facing forward.
Push the dumbbells up until they touch the top.
After a brief pause, slowly bring the dumbbells back down.
Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings will work your upper body, lower body, and core. Plus, this move will add a bit of cardio to your workout session.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out, and knees slightly bent.
Hold a kettlebell between your legs with both hands in an overhand grip.
Bend your hips back until the kettlebell is between and behind your legs.
Then, contract your glutes to extend your hips and swing the weight to about chest height.
Let the weight swing between your legs as you bend your hips and slightly bend your knees.
Immediately begin the next rep by extending your hips and bringing the kettlebell up.
Complete three sets of 10-12 reps.

Lat Pull Downs

This exercise really works your lats and is an easy movement for the beginner to master.

Grab the bar with the palms facing forward at about shoulder width.
Bring your torso back around 30 degrees.
Pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back.
Your upper body should remain still, and only your arms should move.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together briefly, then slowly raise the bar back to the starting position.
Perform three sets of 10-12 reps.

Dumbbell Chest Press

Chest presses are another great exercise that emphasizes functional movements while strengthening the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

Lie back on a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders.
Press the weights above your chest by extending your elbows until your arms are straight, then bring the weights back down slowly.
Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps

Elbow Plank

Most exercises listed here require you to engage your core during the movements. But it is essential to try to isolate these muscles as well. The elbow plank focuses on the abdominal and core muscles in the pelvis and trunk.

Lie face down on the floor, resting on your forearms and knees.
Push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes and resting mainly on your elbows.
Contract your abdominals to keep your body straight.
Try to keep your back flat and your butt in line, not sticking up.
Hold as long as you can, initially aiming for 10-20 seconds.
Gradually work your way up to one minute.

Tips For Success

Start with a weight that you can complete the desired number of reps, with the last two being very challenging. If you start a set and realize that the weight is too heavy, stop and use a lighter one. On the other hand, if you finish your reps and find the last two very easy, pick a heavier weight on your next set.

Record your weight and the number of reps and sets for each session. This will allow you to track your progress.

Also, be sure you are getting enough rest between sets, but not too much. For women new to strength training, you may want to give yourself a bit more rest between sets. Start with one and a half to two minutes.

Creating a Weekly Strength Training Routine

When beginning strength training for women over 40, aim for two days a week to start. You can choose three to four exercises from the list above for each day, targeting all your major muscle groups.

Every strength training workout should include a warm-up and a cool-down. This is especially important for women who are just beginning a new program.

A proper warm-up and cool-down will help decrease your risk of injury. Here is an example of what one of your training days could look like:

Warm-Up Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches are superior to static stretches before a workout. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching is better for muscle coordination and power during a workout, while static stretching could decrease muscle power.

Arm Circles

Stand tall with your arms outstretched to your sides and parallel to the floor.
Make small circles with your arms going forward for 10 reps, then backward for 10 reps.
Then, make larger circles forward for 10 reps and backward for 10 reps.

Arm Cross-Overs

Stand with your arms outstretched to the sides and parallel to the floor.
Move your arms across the center of your chest and let them crisscross each other.
Steadily move them back out and repeat, but cross them with the opposite arm on top this time.
Continue this for 10-20 reps.

Leg Kicks With Arm Reach

Kick your left leg straight before you while reaching for your toes with the right hand.
Then, kick your right leg out and reach your toes with your left hand.
Repeat for 10 reps on each side.

Main Set

Bicep Curls
Kettlebell Swings
Lat Pull Downs
Elbow Plank


Always remember to include a cool-down after every weight training workout. This will stretch the muscles and reduce your risk for post-workout muscle soreness and soft tissue injuries.

You should include stretches that target the upper body, lower body, and core. While dynamic stretches are best before a workout, static stretches are better for the cool-down.

Glute Stretch

Sit on the ground with both knees bent and feet on the floor.
Lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh.
Pull both legs inwards toward your stomach for a deep stretch of your glutes.
Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.

Chest Opener

Push your arms up behind you while pulling your shoulder blades together and your back straight until you feel the stretch in your chest.
Hold for about 20-30 seconds before releasing.

Core/Abdominal Stretch

Lie down on your stomach with your face towards the ground and your palms facing the floor.
While keeping your hips on the floor, push your upper body up from the ground.
Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.

Lower Back Stretch

Start lying on your back with your knees bent and pulled up toward your chest.
Hold for 30 seconds before releasing.

Holly Smith, M.D.
B.S. – Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on strength training for women over 40.

The post Strength Training For Women Over 40: It’s Not Just For Bodybuilders! appeared first on The Fit Mother Project – Weight Loss For Busy Moms 40+.

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