Whether you're aged 40 or older, it really is never too late to get started in training and building muscle. And it is not worth giving up on training past a certain age, as the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks of being sedentary.
It can be difficult to get into training if you are over 40 and have not done it in the past, especially when it comes to muscle building. Never mind the pressures of family and careers that tend to arise at this time of life, you’ve poissibly also read about hormone changes and muscle wastage.
With the mass media and general population telling you that “you’re not a young man anymore,” it can be daunting to get into and/or stick with training.
However!. Don't despair, it is not as hard as some make out. This article is here to tell you that it is still worth it and you can still build muscle well into your 40s.
Article by Danny Lee. Danny is a UK based coach and personal trainer. He specialises in the training of powerlifters for competition, and creating training programs for injury rehabilitation.
Age, Hormones and Muscle
Claims of hormone reduction and muscle wastage as we age are true ... but they don’t come into full effect until we are well into our 60s.
The average male will find that their overall strength will peak somewhere in between the ages of 20 and 30. This doesn’t mean it will automatically decrease on your 30th birthday though. It has been found that strength and muscle maintains fairly well the subsequent two decades.
If we keep training consistently then it is not until we are drawing our pensions that we need to worry about our strength dropping off.
This means that if you were to train from an early age and continue into your 40s, and beyond, then you will build your strength up to a certain point and it will likely maintain well until your 60s.
The science on this was focussed on elite or advanced athletes though - the majority of people won’t have trained like an olympic athlete in their teens and 20s so you probably still have some potential to work towards.
So, what if you’ve never tried to build muscle before but you’re currently in your 40s?
You should definitely start. It would be easy to look at some of the information above and think that you’ve missed your window to hit your absolute peak. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take up some form of exercise - you will still get bigger, stronger and fitter.
Training in Your 40s
Group 1 - You've been training through your 20s and 30s
If you’ve been consistently training throughout your 20s and 30s then my best advice to you is to carry on as you are. If you’re training in such a way that you’ve built muscle, built strength and generally kept yourself with above average fitness then you’ve done a good job. Give yourself a pat on the back.
All that could be suggested is to give yourself a break if it takes you a little longer to recover or increase strength.
Saying this, you might be thinking you’re ready for a change in training so carry on reading for more.
Group 2 - You are completely new to training
If you’re new to training, regardless of age, it is a good idea to understand the basics of putting on muscle.
You need good form, a good understanding of volume and intensity, and a good understanding of progressive overload.
You should give yourself a pat on the back too! Well done for getting into training in your 40s.
Your form and technique is largely to ensure you don’t get yourself injured. This is obviously something you’ll want to avoid at any age.
Correct technique will also allow for all of the appropriate muscles to get involved in the movement and encourage them to grow properly too.
A good coach or trainer will be worth the investment here - avoiding injury so that you can live your life without being encumbered by injuries will be vital. You also do not want to get injured before you even start to pack on any muscle.
Volume and Intensity
When it comes to putting together a programme for a bodybuilder, or powerlifter, or even a recreational gym goer, it is vital that the programme allows for an adaptive relationship between volume and intensity.
It would be easy to delve right into the nitty gritty of these factors but, to be honest, all you really need to know is that as the volume increases, the intensity decreases and vice versa.
Volume is the amount of work that you do. So this could be the weight lifted multiplied by the sets, multiplied by the reps. To do more volume you then just do more weight, or more sets, or more reps.
Intensity is the difficulty of the work. So a set of 8 with 70% of your one rep max would be less intense than a set of 3 with 90%.
If you’re going to be in charge of your own training routine then just keep this in mind. You won’t want to suddenly jump from 4 sets of 8 with 70% to 4 sets of 8 with 90%, the volume and the intensity will have increased massively, very quickly.
If you’re trying to go up in the weight, you’ll want to gradually bring the overall working sets or reps down.
If you’re trying to go up in the repetitions, it is good to keep the weight the same initially and then slowly increase the reps until that becomes easier.
Progressive Overload goes hand in hand with volume and intensity. In order to get stronger, or get bigger you need to gradually push yourself so that your body can adapt. It’s like the story of Milo carrying the bull calf every day as it grows until he is able to carry it as a full grown bull (which is impressive as even a calf is about 230kg).
You might be reading this thinking that you just want to get bigger muscles so you don’t need to focus on strength. Strength and muscle build/growth are interconnected, regardless of whether you're 20, 40, or 60.
Remember the human body is largely lazy. It loves to stay where it is and conserve its energy. So without an increase in difficulty to exercise, it won’t adapt and it won’t grow.
Please bear in mind that I said a gradual increase as well. You don’t want to think “well, I’ve mastered 100kg x 8 on bench press, I guess I’ll try 120kg x 8,” that will be too big of a jump and all it will result in is you being pinned to the bench.
Putting It All Together
There will be a workout for both beginner and the more advanced lifter at the end of this article.
For now we will explain how it changes and adapts.
Imagine you’re wanting to get a bigger bench press. You might have a one rep max of around 120kg. Not bad at all, but you want to increase it a little. Your training might look like;
|Session 1||Session 2||Session 3|
|Bench press 4x8 @85kg||Bench press 5x6 @90kg||Bench press 6x4 @95kg|
Firstly, you might be thinking “three chest days a week?” but those from a powerlifting background would bench fairly regularly - and it does help to get a bigger chest too.
Secondly, you might notice that as the reps come down, the sets go up a little, and the weight goes up a little more. This allows for more rest in between and more work overall.
Thirdly, at no point are you just maxing out. With all training you need to see it as ‘training’ and not ‘proving’ - you need to put in the practice to get better at it, as you would with anything before you can attempt a new personal best.
Being over 40 does not mean that you can’t get into training or can’t build any muscle. It maybe a little slower to put on muscle or build strength than it would have been in your 20s but with maturity comes patience, and with that patience you’ll pack on as much muscle to your frame as you like.
As with any training plan make sure you take it at your own pace and follow a good structured routine with a solid diet plan (help with diet will come in the third part of this series).
You would do each workout once per week, for a total of 3 sessions per week.
Weight - all of these should feel like 2 reps left in the tank.
|Dumbbell Incline Bench Press||3||10|
Weight - all of these should feel like 2 reps left in the tank except the supinated row, which should be slightly lighter.
|Lat Pull down||3||12|
|Close Grip Lat Pulldown||2||15|
|Single Arm Dumbbell row||3||10|
Weight - all of these should feel like 2 reps left in the tank.
In this routine you will notice that each upper body day has the opposing arm muscle involved, this is to increase the overall weekly volume and frequency in your arm training.
You can do each session 2x a week and go up to 6x week. You could also do it as 4 total sessions a week and do it so it rolls over in to the next week.
Weight - all of the advanced routine should feel like 2 reps left in the tank.
Push Day + Biceps
|Incline Bench Press||3||8|
|Seated dumbbell shoulder press||4||6|
|Pressups||3||Up to 2 reps before failure|
Pull + Triceps
|Single arm row||3||15|
|Close Grip bench||3||10|
|Reverse Lunge||4||8 each leg|
Important : You should always consult your physician or other healthcare provider before changing your diet or starting an exercise program. This article should be used in conjunction with the advice and guidance of a qualified personal trainer to ensure exercises are carried out in a safe and controlled manner. Please refer to our terms and conditions.