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The 5 most important exercises for men over 40

Turns out, getting back to the basics will get you in the best shape of your life.

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The 5 most important exercises for men over 40
The 5 most important exercises for men over 40

Getting—or staying—in shape after 40 hinges on one primary thing: Mastering basic range of motion and body mechanics. In other words, getting your body comfortable and strong moving  in the ways it is naturally supposed to is key—and something many guys post-40 still haven’t mastered, says Kelly Starrett, creator of MobilityWOD, a resource for helping athletes address the issues that limit movement, and the creator of San Francisco Crossfit. While you may be able to get away with it in your younger years, “In your 40’s, you don’t have the ligament and tissue tolerance anymore to not have this competence in your system,” he explains. 

“There are a few key positions that you need to incorporate that allow your body to always be ready for the movement you need it to do,” says Starrett. (That means training to be able to carry your groceries or kids, jumping into a pickup game, or being able hoist your suitcase into the overhead bin.) The five key movements to getting you there are: box squat, front squat, deadlift, standing press, and bench press.

And while none of these core five exercises are exotic, they are ruthlessly efficient in getting you the strength gains you want. “Each of these allow you to progress infinitely,” Starrett says. What’s more, mastering these moves will help you ward off injuries, loss of muscles mass, and the dreaded “dad bod.” 

You can do this workout in your gym or in your own garage, but the key to maximizing the benefits is to do them regularly.

And don’t forget to sprinkle in some cardio, other activities, and favorite hobbies. “Get on your mountain bike, go on your run with your friends, kayak, get in the pool, do whatever you do—and then come home and crush these lifts,” Starrett says. “You’ll quickly realize that you’re squatting to make your hips work better on that run.” 

THE WORKOUT

Perform 3 times a week. Start with just the bar, a 20-pound kettlebell, and 20-pound dumbbells. Each time you do the workout add five pounds to each move.

WARM-UP

Alternate between a jog, jumping jacks, row machine, or stationary bike until you break a sweat.

Routine

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The Workout

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 1 of 5

Box Squat

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
5
Reps
5
Rest
--
“This is a forced position squat that requires you to control the basic hinge movement,” Starrett says.
Exercise 2 of 5

Front Squat

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
5
Reps
5
Rest
--
“The front squat requires a vital ability to keep your torso upright with normal range of motion,” he explains. “This translates to athleticism that we need for other sports.”
Exercise 3 of 5

Deadlift

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
5
Reps
5
Rest
--
“Both of these moves are a simple way to work on hip-hinge while keeping your back stable in hinge,” he says. “ The ability to make a heavy pull is applicable to so many natural movements we make every day.”
Exercise 4 of 5

Shoulder Press

Equipment
No Equipment
Sets
5
Reps
5
Rest
--
“The standing press develops competency overhead,” Starrett says. “It forces us to reconcile and manage our trunk under weight. Plus, being able to push something above your head challenges the entire body.”
Exercise 5 of 5

Bench Press

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
5
Reps
5
Rest
--
“A press takes your shoulders into extension, which is the finish position for pushing something, swimming, rowing—and so many other movements. We need some kind of position that takes the shoulder into that extended shape incorporated into every workout.
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