The big 4-0 sneaks up like a thief in the night. Suddenly, it’s easier to gain weight, and harder to lose it. Your muscles are more tired, more often. And things all around are generally…squishier. All of this is to say that, when beach season rolls around—and it is indeed all but here—the chances of you enthusiastically popping your shirt off are slim to none.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. By adopting a health-conscious lifestyle and undergoing a heart-pumping physical regimen, you can turn back the clock and transform your body in ways you never imagined. To that end, we’ve rounded up the best expert advice—first, tips and tricks to get your lifestyle in shape, then a comprehensive suite of moves to get your body there. Follow them to a tee and you’ll be ready to grace any beach with confidence. And for more ways to shred your body into beach-worthy condition, learn the 30 Ways to Get Six-Pack Abs After 30.
Drop the long cardio hours.
Treadmills can be a trap. When it comes to melting fat, the goal is to get your heart rate up—and keep it there—which triggers a thing called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC, or, as you may refer to it, “afterburn.”) With EPOC, your body will burn calories long after you’ve wrapped up exercising. A lengthy, low-intensity jogging session won’t help you get that. And for more ways to optimize your cardio, check out the 15 Things Everyone Does Wrong While Running.
And do some HIIT.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves quick and intense moves followed by short periods of recovery. According to a study in the Journal of Obesity, HIIT is more effective at reducing “abdominal body fat than other types of exercise.” What’s more, research has found that men over 40 who incorporate HIIT into their routines enjoy similar benefits to those who started even before age 30. Small wonder it’s one of the 10 Best Ways to Lose 10 Pounds Fast.
Recovery is key between workouts.
Most experts agree that more than 2 or 3 HIIT workouts in a week will be counterproductive. When it comes to high-intensity exercise, the workout intensity should be inversely proportionate with your workout duration. In other words, the more intense the workout, the shorter it should be, and the more recovery time you should allow your body to have.
10,000 steps a day.
Learning to walk is not only a major milestone for infants, but it’s also one of the most important steps we can take to stay at optimal health. Walking 10,000 steps a day will keep you limber, prevent atrophy, and maintain healthy cardiovascular function. And for more ways to shape up, learn the 40 Ways to Get Your Best Body In Your 40s.
Break up your strolls.
A great way to reach your 10,000 steps is to set aside time away from your desk. Even three 10-minute walks should do the trick—and, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a surefire way to decrease your risk for a number of debilitating health conditions.
Plan your routine.
Your body’s metabolism changes with age, but it doesn’t mean that it has to slow down. A healthy diet and exercise plan is a sure way to keep it in check. That way, you’ll stick to the plan. If you need help hammering down a routine, check out the 40 Ways to Develop New Habits After 40.
Know your body type, and plan accordingly.
According to fitness consultant Sue Wilkerson, “Knowing your own body type will help you understand both your nutritional and exercise needs for losing fat and gaining muscle, and will also help you to plan a long-term strategy that is reasonable and does not set you up for disappointment.” And for more ways to get yourself moving, learn the 20 Science-Backed Ways to Motivate Yourself to Lose Weight.
Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your exercise will keep you feeling younger. “Fluids dilute digestive enzymes and can slow digestion and efficient absorption of vital nutrients,” says Gay Riley, RD, of Net Nutritionist. “To get optimal nutrition (protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals) from the foods you eat, drink your fluids 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after your meals. The right balance of nutrients and healthy digestion are the keys to efficient energy metabolism.”
Keep a good mix of low-impact exercises.
You’ve likely already felt that some exercises take a greater toll on your body than others. Running constantly, for example, can be very harsh on your knees and back. According to research in the Journal of Athletic Training, a good balance of low and high-impact exercise—maybe a jog here, a jaunty Peloton bike ride there—can strengthen bones and joints.
Take frequent breaks.
Research has shown that periodic break intervals throughout your workout will assist your body in burning fat. Chock this up as yet another reason to do some HIIT.
Go for a swim.
One of the best places to achieve a well-rounded workout without applying too much stress and strain to your bones and joints is in the pool. A good swimming routine will work just about every muscle in your body, from your shoulders all the way down to your calves, and leave you feeling more energized than ever.
7-9 hours of sleep at night.
Gripe and whine all you want, but, according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 26 and 64 need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night for maximum muscle recovery. (Getting your nightly eight-or-so hours will help boost brain function, too.) If you’re having trouble drifting off—and staying drifted off—be sure to bone up on the 70 Tips For Your Best Sleep Ever.
Play some tennis.
Playing doubles will not only boost your social game, but it’s a great way to boost cardiovascular function and tone your arms and legs.
Don’t forget about weights.
If you want to look positively built, adding muscle to your frame should be goal number one. But having a jacked figure isn’t just about looks. For every pound of muscle on your body, you burn about 6 calories per hour—just by doing nothing.
Protein in every meal.
When it comes to optimizing your diet for a beach bod, protein is far and away the most important nutrient. It helps build muscle fiber and boost post-workout muscle recovery, all while granting you essential energy. Eat lots of white meat chicken (it’s lower in fat than dark meat) and sockeye salmon (it’s loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3s).
Plan one meal per day around carbs.
But—as long as you’re working out often—you shouldn’t forgo carbs altogether. Just make sure to eat the healthy stuff: quinoa, oats, and whole wheat options wherever possible. For a primer, stock up on the 10 Carbs That Won’t Derail Your Six-Pack.
Plenty of fiber.
Fiber is a component of some carbohydrates that cannot be digested. It pushes through our system and cleans out along the way. As such, loading up on fiber will leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Ditch the cocktails.
One of the most sneaky culprits for weight gain: Cocktails. For starters, the alcohol itself is calorie-rich—and the calories are “empty,” or nurtitionaly useless, to boot. (A two-ounce pour of gin, for instance, can have nearly 150 calories.) Then, pile on juices, sugars, syrups—and there’s no way you’re having only one. These numbers add up.
Keep it consistent.
Consistency is key to getting washboard abs. And as your body ages, regaining momentum becomes more difficult. So start a consistent routine, and don’t stop. As Gregg Avedon, former model and certified personal trainer, says, “Ultimately, it’s not rocket science. [Just] be consistent and workout at least three times a week.”
Chest—Barbell Bench Press
Gripping a flat bar at shoulder-width, lower the bar to your chest, and push to the top. Shoot for ten reps. This will build strength and muscle definition all across your chest, and give you that enviable zipper look most guys crave. Just stay safe by making sure to keep a 90-degree angle in the middle of the movement between forearms and the upper arms.
Chest—Dumbbell Bench Press
Next, try the bench press with free weights. Do it on a flat bench, inclined bench, and a declined bench. The three separate movements will help you build muscle control and firm up stabilizers all across your pectoral region, ultimately leading to muscles with more definition. And for more ways to bulk up and hulk out, learn the 40 Best Exercises for Adding Muscle After 40.
Similar to a pullup, but perhaps better described as a backwards pushup. Keep your body straight, and you’ll feel this one in your back muscles as well.
An oldie but goodie, the pushup, done right, will strengthen your arms, back, and core. But it primarily hits your chest. Don’t skip on this classic. Work your way up until you can do 5 sets of 20 reps with 10 seconds rest in between.
Back—2-Arm Dumbbell Row
Lean over two free weights. Keep your back straight, and feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the weights, pull toward your chest until your triceps are straight. Keep the load light and shoot for 4 sets of 12 reps, with just 5-10 seconds rest in between. This move will get you lats like mountains.
Back—Swiss Ball Hyperextension
Keep the ball right on your waist line, and your feet flat against a wall for stability. Push the ball out, and pull it back toward you. Do this 10 times. This inverse-crunch will have your lower back burning—and will also shred the lower section of your abs.
As an alternative to the Swiss Ball Hyperextension, try this exercise to target your lower back. Most gyms have a dedicated machine for it, but, in the event yours doesn’t, here’s how to do it: Lie facedown on a hyperextension bench. Lean forward until you’re bent at a 90-degree angle—keeping your back straight the entire time—and return. That’s one rep. For increased resistance, grab a weighted plate. (You may see super-fit guys and gals pulling these moves off with 45-pound plates. To start, stick with a 10-pound one. You mitigate the risk on painful lower-back injury that way.)
Back—1-Arm Dumbbell Row
Rest one knee on a bench, kick your other foot out to the side (for stability), keep your back flat, raise the dumbbell to chest-level, and lower until your arm is entirely extended. That’s one rep. Do 4 sets of 12—on each side.
This exercise targets a variety of muscle groups. The turning motion will help you hit all the muscles in your arms—biceps, triceps, and forearms—and the raising motion shreds your shoulders.
Arms—Standard Dumbbell Curl
This classic move is nothing special—and if you need us to walk you through it, get thee to a trainer, stat—but there are few ways to target your biceps better than this. To change things up, mix in a barbell to take the pressure off your stabilizers and focus directly on getting that enviable horseshoe look.
With this retro move, you get two-for-one: Use smaller weights and a high number of reps to tone your arms and shoulders.
Legs—This Leg Circuit
Start with 20 squats (try adding some weights), then 20 lunges, 20 standing calf raises, and 20 back leg lifts (each side). Take about 20 seconds rest in between each set and repeat this circuit 3 times.
Don’t try to be heroic—just be conservative with the amount of weight. This exercise will target your hamstrings and gluts. Warning: be prepared to have trouble walking the next day.
Planks are easy to learn, and are a safe way to reduce back aches and improve posture. Get into a push-up position, then lower your body weight onto your forearms. Keep your back completely straight, and clench your core. Try to hold four a minute, then repeat three more times. As you build strength, add 10 seconds to each set.
Lie on your back, raise your legs and slowly flutter your legs up and down, keeping them straight. You can also experiment with placing your hands under your tailbone or out on the floor at 45 degree angles, and with keeping your head flat or raising it in an almost crunch position. To do this safely, keep your lower back flat on the ground.
Lie on your back, and raise your straight legs up and down. To get the best workout, do this one slowly without allowing your feet to touch the ground. Experiment with open and closed legs.
While on your back, bring your bent knees together to your chest, then lower them back down. Experiment with your head flat on the ground and raised in a crunch position.
Abs—30-Second Leg Pull In
This is almost the same as the reverse crunch, except this time, extend your legs out straight without touching the ground. While bending your knees, bring them to your chest, then extend out again.
This exercise can be done with bent or extended legs. Lie on the ground, and lay your arms extended out on either side. Keep your upper leg at a 90 degree angle with your torso, and “wipe” them together slowly from side to side.
Lay on your front with your arms and legs extended in a Superman position, and make sure to keep your chest flat on the ground. Raise and lower your right arm and your left leg simultaneously, then alternate with the other arm and leg.
While lying in the same position as leg lifts, raise your legs together. Then rotate your legs together in a clockwise circle. Rotate 10 times, then repeat in a counterclockwise circle. Keep your feet from touching the ground.