One of the unfair aspects of aging is your muscles tend to turn to noodles. Plus, the hormone changes waiting for you in perimenopause and menopause will encourage your body to pack on pounds. That's why strength training is so crucial for women over 40. You can minimize or even banish the downsides of aging with a regular weight lifting/toning routine. Do 3 sets of these 8 arm moves every other day for the best results. (Lose up to 25 pounds in 2 months—and look more radiant than ever—with the new Younger in 8 Weeks plan!)
1. Wall Push-Ups
If you haven't been keeping up with regular push-ups, these are a great way to ease back in. Place your hands on the wall at about breast height, wider than shoulder-width apart. With your arms straight out, you should be leaning slightly toward the wall, feet slightly behind your shoulders. Bend your elbow as you let your face and chest come toward the wall, then return to starting position. Perform 12 repetitions. If you can do many more reps than this, place your hands lower on the wall next time. (Need to shed pounds? Here’s how to start walking when you have 50+ pounds to lose.)
2. Triceps Kickbacks
This exercise is excellent for targeting the wiggle-jiggle at the back of the arms without causing discomfort in the wrists or shoulders. Grab two 5- to 10-pound dumbbells. With your feet together, hinge forward at the hips and bend slightly at the knees; engage your abs to prevent rounding your back. Hold your arms in at a 90-degree angle with your elbows just slightly higher than your torso. Slowly extend your arms straight back, and then slowly pull the weight back to starting position. Perform 12 repetitions. If you can do many more reps than this, use heavier dumbbells next time. (Load up on these 9 best summer foods for weight loss.)
3. Stiff-Arm Reach-Backs
It's important to engage upper back muscles to keep the structures that stabilize, strengthen, and support the spine in tiptop shape, which is exactly what this move does. Grab two 5- to 10-pound dumbbells. Angle your torso slightly forward, and engage your abs to prevent rounding your back. Let your arms hang straight at your side. Reach them straight back beyond your hips until you feel a "squeeze" in your upper back. Slowly return to starting position. Perform 12 repetitions. If you can do many more reps than this, use heavier dumbbells next time.
4. Front Shoulder Raise
This move is much kinder on the neck and upper traps —with less risk for shoulder impingement—than an overhead press. Grab two 3- to 5-pound dumbbells. Stand straight with your arms by your sides. Lift the weights straight out in front of you until they reach shoulder height (no higher). Avoid leaning back as you raise the weight up (to accomplish this, tighten your abs as you lift). Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to starting position. Perform 12 repetitions. If you can do many more reps than this, use heavier dumbbells next time. (Here are 19 ways to really, finally keep the weight off for good.)
5. Hammer Bicep Curls
This is a version of the bicep curl that many women find gentler on the elbows and less taxing on the shoulders. Grab two 5- to 10-pound dumbbells. Stand perfectly straight with your arms by your sides. Bend at the elbows and bring the dumbbells up in front of your chest—but not all the way to your shoulder. Keep your wrists aligned with the top of your forearms in a neutral position. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to starting position. Perform 12 repetitions (If you can do many more reps than this, use heavier dumbbells next time.)
6. Low Plank
This exercise that targets the shoulders while also tightening your abs. (Here are 12 more plank variations for every trouble spot.) Lie facedown on a cushioned surface. Make fists and rest on your elbows—which should be directly under your shoulders—and toes. Clench your butt tight and engage your abs; push down with your forearms to prevent your chest from sagging. Hold this posture, completely motionless, for 15 seconds. (If you are successful in holding this motionless for 15 seconds, try adding an additional 5 seconds per week.)
7. Alternating Side Planks
This move builds on the Low Plank by adding external rotation for the shoulders, a further challenge that will strengthen shoulder muscles and fire the obliques, the big muscles along the side of your trunk. Assume the Low Plank, then turn your hips to the side and lift your top arm toward the ceiling. Return to low plank. Turn your hips to the other side and lift the other arm toward the ceiling. That's one repetition. Perform 12 repetitions.
8. Prone to Low Cobra
Want to strengthen the shoulders and a potentially problematic lower back? This is the move. Lie facedown on a mat and place your hands under and slightly wider than your shoulders. Push your palms into the ground and lift your chest off of the floor while elongating your neck and keeping your gaze forward. Think of pushing your chest up and out toward the wall in front of you. Lift your chest only as high as your body allows without pain or stiffness in your lower or upper back. Perform 12 repetitions.
Brook Benten is an ACSM-certified Exercise Physiologist.