Tone Your Jiggly Bits

Say it: age-related sarcopenia. It's fancy for muscle loss, and it causes you to look flabby no matter how fit you are. Here's how to reverse the curse.

By Genevieve Monsma


Why am I losing muscle mass?

If you’ve noticed loss of muscle mass in your legs and bum, or that the back of your arms seem softer or wobblier than they used to, you’re not alone. Even devoted exercisers and athletes can start to see a change in muscle tone as early as their thirties, says Karen, Horton, M.D., a plastic surgeon in San Francisco. “This condition is called age-related sarcopenia and it happens to everyone,” says Dr. Horton. 

What causes sarcopenia?

We are hard-wired to become more sedentary“As we age, there is a reduction in motor neurons that send signals from the brain to skeletal muscles to initiate movement,” says Dr. Horton. 

Our muscle-boosting hormone levels drop There is a decrease in the growth hormone testosterone and the insulin-like growth factor (IGF), both of which can cause muscles to shrink.

We don’t eat enough to sustain strong muscles“We may not be getting enough caloric and/or protein intake to sustain muscle mass,” says Dr. Horton. This is especially common in women who are trying to limit calories to combat the weight gain that can coincide with menopause.

How to stay (or start getting) fit

So how do we stay toned and firm when our body is doing its best to go soft on us? “People that are less physically active lose muscle faster—as in three to five percent every decade after 30,” says Dr. Horton. Thus, “exercise, exercise, exercise—specifically weight-bearing and strength-training—is the most effective way to counteract this muscle loss,” says Dr. Horton. 

How often should I work out to build muscle?

Your goal, any way you work toward it: “Strength train at least two to three times a week,” says Leslie Sapp, a personal trainer and group-fitness instructor in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hiring a personal trainer or taking a group fitness class that incorporates resistance training can help ensure you are working at an effective intensity and that your form is correct. This is especially important if you’re relatively new to muscle-toning work. 

Now, try it at home!

To help you get started, we asked Sapp to create four easy-to-follow sequences: one each for arms, abs, buns and thighs. In the video demonstration, Sapp does five reps of each exercise/sequence. That’s a good entry point if you’re new to resistance training, but your goal will be to work up to ten reps. Model her form—and refer to the tips below as you go.

Equipment you’ll need: a mat, a resistance band and a set of 5 lb weights


Sumo Squat This three-part exercise includes: a full-range squat/arm extension, a downward pulse, and squat jumps. Complete 5-10 reps of each part before moving to the next one.

Tips: Stand with feet slightly wider than your hips and your knees and toes rotated outward. 

Modifications: Reduce dumbbell weight or skip weights; shorten your range of motion.

Alternating Pivot Dip Begin in the Sumo Squat position, then bend knees and pivot side to side, punching one arm forward with each turn (the opposite arms drops to your side). Repeat 5-10 times per side (10-20 total). 

Tips: Your rear leg should bear most of the weight, while your front leg provides balance. Stack your shoulder, hip and knee vertically with each pivot.

Modifications:  Lower the arm-punch height; reduce dumbbell weight or skip weights; shorten your range of motion.

Dip Work This exercise includes two moves: the pulsing dip and the weight-transfer shift. Do 5-10 reps of each move, then repeat on the other side.

Tips: Maintain a 90-degree angle in both legs to protect knees. 

Modifications: Lower arm height; reduce dumbbell weight or skip weights; shorten your range of motion.

Banded Squat This exercise includes five different moves: the full squat with swinging arms; the downward pulse with arms clasped, the alternating knee pull, the downward pulse with arms extended, and the wide butterfly press. Before you begin, place your resistance band about three inches above your knees and position your feet slightly wider than your hips, with knees facing forward. Do 5-10 reps of each move (for the alternating knee pull, do 5-10 reps on each side or 10-20 total).

Tips: Keep your chest open, your core engaged, and maintain constant tension on the band.

Modifications: Skip the band


Mini Curtsy This exercise includes three moves: the wide-to-narrow curtsy; the curtsy downward pulse; and the curtsy lift with arms extended. Do 5-10 reps of each of these moves, then repeat on the other side.

Tips: Your feet should be hip-distance apart and parallel. During this sequence, the front leg will bear most of the weight (think 80 percent on the front foot and 20 percent on the back). Your goal is to take the curtsy as deep and low as you can. 

Modifications: Reduce range of motion and/or, if you’re struggling to touch the floor, place dumbbells or a yoga block on the floor in front of you for support.

Banded All 4s This exercise includes four moves: alternating wide-knee press; the single-side knee press; the single-leg knee press to extension; and lateral leg lifts. You will need toplace a band 4 inches above your knees. You will complete the entire sequence on one side (aiming for 5-10 reps), then will repeat on the opposite side.

Tips: Keep hips squared with the floor and try not to sway or tip side to side as you lift your leg.  

Modification: Skip the band.

Hip Dip This exercise includes two moves: the hip dip and the leg lift. Do 5-10 reps of each move, then repeat the sequence (for a total of 10-20 reps per move) before switching to the opposite side. 

Tips: The kneeling legs and the coinciding hip and glute will bear the brunt of your weight. Use your core to remain stable.

Modifications:  Bring the top hand to the floor as hip lowers for more support or place a soft, squishy ball on the floor between your hand and knee to act as a “bumper” for the dipping hip.


Plank Knee Tuck From a forearm plank position, alternate knee tucks for 5-10 reps per side.

Tips: As you draw the knee inward, drop your head and round your spine, trying to engage the core as much as possible 

Modification:  Position yourself on the palms of your hands, in a full-arm plank 

Side Plank This exercise includes two moves: thehip lift and the twist and reach. For both movesbegin in a stacked and stable forearm side-plank position. Do 5-10 reps of each move, then repeat on the other side.

Tips: Focus on keeping the core stable and avoid sinking into the shoulder.

Modifications: Bend the leg on the floor to create more support 

Half Roll Back This exercise includes two moves: the roll back and the pulse up. For both moves, your will hold a dumbbell, while sitting on a mat with your knees bent, and your torso rounded. Do 5-10 reps of each move.

Tips: Use your breath to find the full contraction of the core; anchor your feet (they will want to lift); and keep your chest open and shoulders neutral.

Modifications:  If your hip flexors are really tight, flex your feet by taking toes to the sky and press your heels to the floor.  You can also use a lighter dumbbell or skip the weight.

Torso Twist Begin with legs extended, toes to the sky, and dumbbell in front of open chest. Do 5-10 reps on each side.

Tips: Stabilize the hips and legs (try not to let them liftoff the mat as you twist); move the the arms and upper torso as one unit and try not to let the elbows get ahead of the twist. 

Modifications: Use a lighter dumbbell or skip weight.

Overhead Hold Return to the starting position of your Torso Twist and hold the dumbbell between two extended arms over your head for a count of 5-10 seconds.

Modifications: Use a lighter dumbbell or skip weight.


For this sequence, you will begin in an athletic stance with a slight bend in the knees.  Each exercise will flow from one to next with no stopping.

“T” Pull to Parallel Sweep Begin with arms by your sides, then pull elbows wide out to a shoulder height “T”, wrists in line with elbows. Lower and extend arms to a sweeping reach behind hips. Do 5-10 reps.

Lateral Overhead Sweep Arms start down with palms facing forward. Sweep and lengthen the arms vertically with weights meeting at the top above your head.  Control the weights on the way down. Do 5-10 reps.

Overhead Tricep Press Begin with arms overhead and pinkies and elbows pointing forward. Lower the weights toward your shoulders, then extend and return to the top. Try not to arch the lower back or hunch your shoulders. Do 5-10 reps.

Wide Bicep Curls Reach arms out to a hip height “V” with fists facing upward. Bend the elbows and curl the weights toward the shoulders, then control the weight as you return to the “V.” Do 5-10 reps.

Modifications: Use lighter dumbbells or skip weights.


Leslie Sapp is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and has been a personal and certified Pilates trainer and group fitness instructor for more than a decade. She currently owns and runs her own training brand, SEQ FIT in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Follow her on Instagram at @seqfit

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