How You Should Change Your Workout As You Age

Whether you're 20 or 40, we have a sweat Rx for you.

group of women doing workouts for 20-year-old women
Photo: Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

No matter your age, you probably work out for the same important reasons: to take care of your body and feel good. It goes without saying that any exercise is a smart move—but should you be doing the same type of exercise at every age? We went to experts to find out whether you need to change your workout as you get older, plus the best workouts for 20-year-old women, 30-year-old women, 40-year-old women and beyond.

Turns out, there are some smart changes to make as you add more candles to your birthday cake. Can you guess why? It’s that ever-tricky metabolism, which begins to shift in your 20s, then decreases 2 to 3 percent in your 30s and another 2 to 3 percent in your 40s. (See 8 additional ways to crank up your calorie-burning quotient.)

Our age-specific workouts for 20-year-old women, 30-year-old women, and 40-year-old women designed by trainer Kathy Kaehler, author of Fit and Sexy for Life, are designed to keep your metabolism humming in every decade with a combo of multi-muscle strength moves and calorie-burning cardio. Give them a try and you'll see a difference in your endurance, power, and flexibility in just a few weeks. (

Another secret to staying fit for as long as possible: 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. Start early: "Take up activities like yoga and Pilates in your 20s and 30s to tune into the mental and physical benefits of these exercises," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. "As you get into your 40s and 50s, stretch daily, and try different styles of yoga to bust stress."

The Best Workouts for 20-Year-Old Women

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.

Cardio Workouts for 20-Year-Old Women

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 Olson. 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. (

Strength Workouts for 20-Year-Old Women

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." Try the moves below or this 4-Week Strength Training Plan for Women.

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 per side.

Straight-Arm Press-Back

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.
  • Press arms toward hips and behind you, so palms face up at the top.

Do 6 to 8 reps.

Dumbbell Cross-Crunch Reach

Targets abs, obliques

  • Hold a light dumbbell in each hand and lie face-up 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.

The Best Workouts for 30-Year-Old Women

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. (Here are eight incredible benefits of HIIT if you need more convincing.) And if you haven't made weight lifting a priority yet, now is the time—your future bone density depends on it.

Cardio Workouts for 30-Year-Old Women

Aim for two or three days of interval training by running/walking outside or by using any type of cardio machine (bike, treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine). 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. (

Strength Workouts for 30-Year-Old Women

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." (Did you know hormones can a BIG impact on your metabolism?)

Plank Push-Up Rotation

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.
  • 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.

Do 5 reps per side.

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. (Turns out, the number of push-ups you can do might be a predictor of your heart disease risk.)

Do 8 to 10 reps per side.

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.

The Best Workouts for 40-Year-Old Women

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.

Cardio Workouts for 40-Year-Old Women

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. (

Strength Workouts for 40-Year-Old Women

Strength training is actually more important to your body now than it was two decades 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. (Not to mention, lifting weights has a ton of other benefits too.)

Bridge Chest Press

Targets chest, core, glutes, thighs

  • Lie face-up 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 (ace that form!), keeping hips lifted throughout the set.

Do 10 reps.

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, bending right knee 90 degrees.
  • As you stand up, kick forward with left leg while curling weights toward shoulders. (See how to master the four fundamental kicks.)

Do 10 reps per side.

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