If you work out enough, you're practically guaranteed a trim, toned, sexy body. But there's more to being active than aesthetic benefits. Regular exercise prevents weight gain and bone loss, promotes strong muscles and joints, and has been shown to help stave off some chronic illnesses.
And while it's never too late to get in great shape, you'll be more likely to look and feel your best if you focus on specific exercises at different stages of your life.
That's why SHAPE enlisted Palm Beach, Fla.-based Reebok University master trainer Joy Prouty to design a decade-by-decade plan tailored just for you. "As the years pass, many women settle for weaker muscles, more huffing and puffing and an expanding waistline," Prouty says. "A program that addresses the issues your body is facing now is the best way to prevent that."
The centerpiece of this fitness plan is an efficient multimuscle resistance routine. Combine that with our cardio prescriptions, bonus moves and guidelines that target your specific needs in your 20s, 30s and 40s, and you'll look and feel your very best from one year to the next.
Warm-up Begin each workout with 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio, ideally on a machine that works both your arms and your legs.
Workout guidelines Two to three days a week on nonconsecutive days, do the basic strength moves above and the target moves for your age group on the following pages. Do 2-3 sets of each move, resting 1 minute between sets. On day 1, perform 8-12 reps with heavier weights to build strength; on day 2, perform 12-15 reps with lighter weights to build endurance. If you opt for a third day, follow the sets and reps for either day 1 or day 2. Always use enough weight to fatigue your muscles by the final rep of each set.
Ab Rx After completing all the strength moves, perform 2 sets of 15-20 reps of the abdominal exercises of your choice, such as crunches, reverse curls and oblique twists.
Cool-down End each workout by stretching all of your major muscles, holding each stretch to a point of mild tension for 30 seconds.
Cardio complement Aim to get 20-45 minutes of cardio, 3-5 days a week, varying intensity, duration and impact to prevent injury and work the entire body. Include 1-2 days of interval training (alternating periods of faster- and slower-paced work). Intervals allow you to push your limits and improve aerobic capacity, boost metabolism and burn calories. See the plan for your age group for specific strategies.
Just starting out? If you're new to exercise, do the basic strength program without adding the age-specific target moves, along with 3-5 cardio workouts as described in Cardio Complement (above), for 6 weeks. After that, you'll be strong enough to follow the strength and cardio recommendations for your age group.
Progression pointers While this plan is designed to give you the kind of workout your body needs from your 20s through your 40s, it's important to change your workout every couple of months. Use this program for 8 weeks, then mix things up for 8 weeks with other strength workouts such as those found in SHAPE.