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How to build muscle after 40

How to build muscle after 40
Are you over 40 years old and trying to build muscle? can you still build muscle beyond 40? This ‘How to build muscle after 40’ post will help you to maximise your chances of gaining muscle.

Many of us who are over 40 still want to train and gain muscle. Some are just starting out, while others are either looking to restart or continue training into their mature years. In fact it’s a very good idea, as it has many health benefits, including keeping you more active and mobile, reducing body fat and can improve your overall health.

So can you still build muscle beyond 40?

Whether you are in your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s or beyond, there is no reason for you to not be able to add muscle mass to your body.

The trick to gaining muscle in our more mature years is to train smarter. You have to make sure you train in a way that stimulates growth and allows you to fully recover. It must also be done in an injury free way, as injuries can happen a lot easier and an injury can take much longer to recover from than when we were younger.

It’s interesting to note that the use of the term ‘over 40’ seems to suggest that suddenly 40 is the top of the hill and its downhill after that. The fact is that for some people that hill top can be in their 30’s or for some their 50’s or 60’s even. Therefore ignore the age number. Concentrate on training smarter for muscle gain regardless of your age.

Just to note here, is that a study by The University of Oklahoma seemed to also show that those in their mature years were just as capable at building muscle than that of people in their 20’s. As usual though I will like to add that these types of research can have too many variables, so relying on research only isn’t the best, we are individuals and therefore you should train to what best works for you and your present fitness and health condition.

However to answer the question – yes you can most definitely build muscle in your mature years.

Why does our muscle development slow down when we get older?

As you age beyond your 30’s and 40’s muscle mass does indeed start to reduce (known as sarcopenia). This can be at a rate of 1% per year and as you get older this percentage goes up even more.  A lot of this is down to people becoming less active, as well as the following reasons:

  • When we get older we tend to have less testosterone, although this isn’t as big of a disadvantage as some suggest. Sure it will make some difference, but you can still gain a good amount of muscle with low testosterone levels. And if you follow a good workout and nutrition plan you can increase your testosterone levels back up anyway.
  • Another issue is that your metabolism slows down. This can increase your body fat, which slows you down and makes you more lethargic. Excess body fat also reduces testosterone levels.
  • One of the biggest issues is the body’s ability to regenerate as we get older. Combined with over use of the joints, general wear and tear and a higher amount of inflammation makes it more difficult to train at high levels and to then recover from it.
  • One other reason I’d like to add, is purely that which is based on psychological reasons. Yes it’s as if people think that being over 40 somehow makes them inferior physically. Let me tell you that I am as strong and bigger now (and I am 49 as I type this) than when I was in my 20’s or 30’s.

About training smarter

Whether you have been training for a long time i.e. since your teens or twenties, starting back or new to training, training smarter now can give you years of muscle gain and a good physique for many more years to come.

A quick story – I started training in my mid teens, I trained on/off for many years and have had rotator cuff injuries on both shoulders, severe back pain, knee pain, including a slight muscle tear on my right quad, RSI on my wrists, tennis elbow and numerous other issues. All this from training on/off since I was in my mid teens. At one point I thought I had made too many mistakes, trained too long, over abused my body, worn out my joints, unbalanced my physique. However I am now 49, train regularly and suffer none of these issues anymore, still gaining muscle and am very fit. I have learned where I went wrong, altered my training and nutrition and workout smarter. I have more muscle mass now than when I was younger and possibly functionally stronger as well. It’s all about training smarter and it is never too late.

Training smarter means doing your exercises in a way that will build muscle without damaging your joints, ligaments and tendons. Making sure your workout stimulates muscle growth but not taking it too far that you can’t recover from it.

The point I’m trying to make is that long term healthy lifting is to me at least, and it should be for you, much more important (regardless of age). Building muscle is all fine and well, but destroying your joints and ligaments isn’t. Make sure to train to maximise muscle gain, but not leave you in pain and less functional in your mature years. You can still lift heavy on occasion, but you must use the best form and technique you can to safeguard yourself against injury. Training like this over the past year has allowed me to train injury free and recover from my workouts, which has translated into regular consistent workouts and therefore little to no time off with much improved results.

Let’s not forget before moving on that your nutritional plan must be a lot stricter and supply your body all it needs for optimal gains and is just as important as your training (see the nutritional plan here).

What type of training do I recommend?

Firstly it’s important to recognise that we are all different, we all have different levels of fitness, physical conditioning and age related wear and tear. You simply cannot follow a generic type routine handed to you off the internet. You need to do what works for you and your physical status. You need to stay injury free to avoid problems now and for the future, a generic workout just wont allow you to do this.

The type of training I recommend is essentially the type I already mention in my muscle development section, which I will link to below, but for us more mature lifters we need to note the following first:

  • If you are new to training I recommend you start with full body workouts two to three times per week. While those with more experience can do an upper/lower routine and/or both in a rotation.
  • I don’t recommend once per week body part splits, Why? First you can over work a muscle in a single body part session, working it less but with more frequency will allow you to stimulate and grow rather than annihilate and injure or damage the muscle. A body part split will force you to workout with weights 5/6 days a week and over work your central nervous system. Each time you work an upper body part you are using your shoulder joint/girdle. This can then lead to long term over use and wear and tear on this joint, creating numerous shoulder debilitating issues…….even doing leg exercises can involve your upper body, such as holding a barbell or dumbbells for example.
  • Make sure you warm-up to get the old joints lubricated and the blood flowing before your workout and cool down after to aid recovery (see how to stretch, warm up and cool down).
  • Use more warm-up sets (2-3) on your first exercise, then do just 1-2 sets for your work sets, that’s it.
  • Keep most of your workouts at 8+ reps, as most of you will have to use more moderate weight and not go too heavy. Going too heavy can lead to injury to your joints, tendons and ligaments and muscles even. However if you are capable of lifting heavy weights without issues, there is much benefit to doing low reps (in the 4-7 reps range) occasionally. Let me just say you can still increase muscle size AND strength with any rep range if you are working it hard enough, there will just be a slide scale that means you can get more strength lifting heavy with low reps and more endurance lifting lighter weights with high reps, but they are still not mutually exclusive, they will still give you a degree of both. Muscle growth will happen at both ends of the scale, you are just working a slightly different muscle fibre more than another but both will grow. Use all rep ranges sensibly for full development.
  • You can still stimulate great strength gains by slowing down your weight movement and increasing time under tension, your muscles don’t know the difference between 10 lbs or 20 lbs, but it does know when stress is placed on it through resistance and tension and the harder you can make it do a task the more it will respond to changes to compensate. By making it strict and deliberate you can safely stimulate strength gains as well.
  • Apply progressive overload to your compound exercises, but remember you need to just stimulate the muscle not destroy it. For many as we age it is easier to damage your muscles, so you need to do less work on them to avoid over training them.
  • Workout 5 days max per week, 3-4 weight days, 1-2 cardio days, or try my combo training routine.
  • Workout for under an hour, preferably 30-45 minutes each session.
  • Keep total reps to 30-60 for small muscle groups (biceps, triceps, abs), and 60-120 for larger muscle groups (back, chest, shoulders, legs) per week.
  • For joint friendliness use a neutral grip on most exercises. If an exercise isn’t comfortable on your joints try an alternative exercise or hand position.
  • Ensure you get enough rest time between working the same muscle group again, as it can take longer to recover. I recommend a minimum of 72 hours (depending on intensity used).
  • If you need to skip a workout, it is OK occasionally. Time off does help when needed for extra recovery, but don’t make it a habit, if you find you are taking more time off because you can’t recover before your next workout, then you need to reassess your workout schedule or workload/intensity.
  • Get periodic rest by taking a week off every few months to de-load.
  • Get 8+ hours of quality sleep each night.
  • Consider using fish oil and vitamin D3.
  • Ensure adequate protein intake.
  • Seek motivation and be consistent.
  • For health reasons I highly recommend those that are overweight or obese seriously consider adding cardio (especially HIIT, but please read my article in the fitness section). Consider it to speed up your metabolism and for heart and lung health. If you are not overweight it can still have great benefits for you, but don’t overdo the cardio if you are trying to build muscle, as too much can increase cortisol and be detrimental to muscle growth.

This is where I direct you to the Workout section. If you need to lose body fat take a look at the Fitness, conditioning, endurance and aerobics and cardio and the Combo training routine.

If you just want to get into building muscle only, then visit the Muscle development and strength gain section. There you will learn all the best ways to maximise muscle and strength gains. If you are serious about putting some muscle on go through all the articles, it is well worth the extra knowledge gained rather than me giving you a generic routine here in this post, trust me on that.

Final advice

Be realistic, even though it is possible to build muscle as we age, it is important to be cautious. Those that are new to training should see good initial gains when starting out, but may suffer from years of living an unhealthy lifestyle, excess body fat, low testosterone levels, lack of fitness and years of bad eating habits.

Don’t ignore injuries, aches and pains and do train to be healthy and not just trying to build a nice physique. When you are older it is more important to be fit and healthy, so don’t compromise your health now and for the future.

Finally, seek medical advice before attempting strenuous physical exercise. When you are older you are at a greater risk of being overweight and/or have high blood pressure or more likely to suffer from other health issues. If you are cleared to workout, do so in accordance to your doctors advice, lift appropriate weight and at the right intensity for any conditions you may have, such as high blood pressure and keep monitoring your health as you do so. Please also see about exercise and blood pressure.