Workout Techniques to Consider in Your 20s, 30s and 40s

Recently, as my 34-year-old body had just finished a yoga video to open up my tight psoas muscles, my dad told me about his latest workout routine called Max Workouts. Essentially my fifty-something year old father and his middle-aged buddies are rocking the high intensity weight workouts as I have been noting in my 30s I am feeling a bit, I don’t know … decrepit?

I may be having a momentary flair for the dramatic here, as my body has surmounted a dozen intense Andes mountains in this “I’m-not-a-young-adult-but-not-yet-middle-aged (whew!)” decade. The chat with Dad got me further pondering the ways our bodies change over time and how this may – or may not – affect our workout routines. Ultimately, workouts done the right way at the right time do not break our bodies down, they build our bodies up. Here is a bit about staying fit and fabulous in these middle years.

Your 20s

You may notice: It is difficult to continue morning doughnut runs or late night pizza dinners and maintain the same weight. For Women’s Health, K. Aleisha Fetters reports that “According to the American Council on Exercise, your basal metabolic rate drops roughly one to two percent per decade” starting in your mid-20s. Your 20s are also known for your body’s resiliency. You are able to push through tough workouts without the longer term pain and stay out late dancing and get up and sweat it out rather early the next morning.

Get your sweat on with: 45-60 minutes of cardio 4-6 times per week and 30 minutes of strength training 2-3 times per week, with 1 day of rest. Fitness Magazine reminds us that we want to lift enough weight so that the last 3 of our 10-15 reps is a struggle. One of my favorite fitness challenges comes from Oprah’s article titled, “The Decade-by-Decade Guide to Exercise.”

Writer Carol Mithers surmises that your 20s may be a decade “of anxiety – frantic exercise, fad diets, the mad pursuit of pinup perfection and self-hatred when you fail to meet it.” The sage advice: Get over it. That’s right. Rock the confidence, y’all.

Your 30s

You may notice: You’re not so spry after that night out, it takes longer to recover from an injury and your muscle-to-fat ratio has shifted in an unwelcome way. As my friend Hannah noted, the margin of error gets much smaller in this decade. You’ve got to get on your game when it comes to the holy trinity: nutrition, exercise and sleep.

Get your sweat on with: Strength training. This can come in a number of forms. Circuit training combines cardio and resistance exercises that you do back-to-back, and quickly. Health and Fitness coach Laura Suedbeck for The Cook and the Coach also endorses programs like Beachbody which includes the Hammer and Chisel series. Whichever routine you choose, Jillian Michaels emphasizes “strength training each muscle group twice a week with two days of rest between sessions.” Let us not forget cardio to keep our hearts strong and our stress low. 30-45 minutes 3-5 times per week is ideal.  

Your 40s

You may notice: Sarcopenia. Say what? Essentially, sarcopenia is losing muscle due to the aging process. In these (often) post-baby, pre-menopausal years, health and fitness writer Cindy Kuzma notes that “your hormone levels shift in a way that makes it harder to build new muscle.” This may be why you also notice thickening below the bra, in your upper arms, and around the midsection.

Get your sweat on with: Have you already guessed it? Bring on more weights, baby. The Max Workouts I mentioned above may be a great approach as it is a 30-minute, high-intensity, but low impact dumbbell circuit. As your body’s aging process breaks down your muscles, it is important to keep building them back up through strength training. Science Daily reports that even 90-year-olds are able to build muscle that improves their walking speed and balance. If great-grandma can do it, so can you! Mithers suggests 45 minutes 3-5 days a week of high-intensity, low impact heart-pumping cardio in addition to the crucial resistance training.


So, I tried out my dad’s workout today at the gym. I called it The Old Man workout, until I did it. I loved that my heart rate was up, but I wasn’t jumping around on my arthritic knees. I’m not feeling old tonight, I’m feeling tough. And the only thing I am nursing is my rooibos tea. Cheers to your next push-up, pull-up or squat.


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About Jamie Bacigalupo

Having first traveled from her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to live in Quito, Ecuador, she decided to give the East a run and is now a resident of Shenzhen, China. She earned her degree in Communication Arts/Literature and Communication and Secondary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College and is enthusiastically exploring Asia by teaching abroad. She digs hanging out with her students by weekday, and relishes finding new restaurants to eat authentic Chinese food and finding new hiking paths on the weekends. In addition to sticking her nose in a book to recover from an intense workday, Jamie also loves exploring all manner of flavors in the kitchen, especially when she is whipping up some recipes for her friends and family.