When you reach 40, your life has more responsibilities and tasks than your younger years. It makes it harder to maintain a consistent training and healthy eating routine. Also, your initial excitement for exercise might have diminished, primarily if you haven’t achieved the desired results.
Perhaps your body isn’t as resilient as it was in your twenties and needs more recovery time. But that should not deter you. With an appropriate training regimen, strength enhancement and building muscle after 40 is possible.
You might be reluctant to start a new exercise routine at this stage, but you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Discover Muscle Building Potential For People Over 40
In a study by the University of Oklahoma, individuals of varying ages followed the same training program for eight weeks. The study discovered that men aged between 35 and 50 built the same muscle as those aged between 18 and 22.
DEXA scans revealed that college-aged men gained roughly two pounds of muscle, whereas middle-aged men gained 2.5 pounds. Strength gains in both the bench press and leg press were comparable in both age groups.
The fundamental principles for muscle-building as you age remain identical. Although the number of times you’ve orbited the sun might affect your progress rate, there’s no point fretting over something beyond your control, like age. The key is to train wisely.
Individuals of all ages react similarly to training. Only the magnitude of your results and the pace at which you achieve them differ. You must be looking for a way for building muscle after 40 without risk of injury.
You can still attain significant gains by implementing a few simple rules to your training routine.
10 Things To Follow For Building Muscle After 40
#1. Start With Light Weights
Your knees, wrists, elbows, and shoulders can hurt if you always lift heavy things. Over time, these minor pains might become big and disturb your exercise. If heavy lifting causes you pain, just switch to lighter weights. Some people may tell you differently, but using lighter weights with more reps can also help you build muscles.
A research study showed that doing many reps with light weights (3 groups of 30 to 40 reps) can help muscles grow, just like doing fewer reps with heavy weights (3 groups of 10 to 12 reps). Doing 3 groups of 10 reps until you’re tired builds muscles as much as doing 7 groups of 3 reps with a very heavy weight.
Japanese scientists found that lifting light weights can make muscles bigger and stronger, like lifting heavy weights at a regular speed. So, switch things around. You can use heavy, medium, and light weights to successfully build muscle.
#2. Push Your Limits For Building Muscle After 40
You might think you’re not building muscle because you’re not working hard enough. While it’s true that effort is crucial in building muscle over 40, it’s not the only thing that matters. Many people exercise hard but still don’t see much progress. If you leave the gym feeling like you just wrestled a big opponent, you might believe your workout was good.
But if your workout doesn’t fit into a larger plan for a specific goal, then much of your hard work might be wasted.
If you constantly push your body to its limits, you’ll notice some problems. You’ll feel tired but unable to sleep at night. You’ll lie awake until 2 a.m. and wake up feeling just as tired the next day. Things that never bothered you might start to annoy you.
You might feel nervous, moody, and grumpy. Worst of all, you’ll stop seeing results in the gym and start to get weaker. Exercising hard enough to make progress but not so hard that it affects your other workouts is essential.
Working hard is a tool to improve your body. It’s a step on the journey, not the destination.
#3. Identify The Need For Rest And Recovery
Your body isn’t a machine. It needs to rest sometimes. You can do this by having a “rest” week for every 3 to 9 weeks of heavy training. It’s common to do three weeks of tough training followed by a light week. But there’s no research I know of that supports this.
You don’t have to reload every three weeks. But if I tell you to rest “when you feel like it,” you might not do it. Your body isn’t meant to train at full speed all year without taking a break. Generally, the closer you are to your best possible size and strength (genetic potential), the more often you’ll need to reload. If you’re far from your genetic potential, you won’t need to reload as often.
#4. Stay Active
When you’re hurt, people often say you should rest. But sometimes, it can be better to keep moving. An exercise called ‘eccentric training’ can help with some injuries. It can be perfect for treating elbow and Achilles tendon pain. It may even work better than surgery in some cases.
Swedish scientists studied 15 middle-aged people who loved running but had Achilles tendinosis. It means their tendon was worn out because they were using it too much and had been hurting for about 18 months. They were told to keep training even if they felt pain and to stop if it got too bad.
At first, their pain was so bad they couldn’t run. But after doing eccentric training every day for 12 weeks (3 groups of 15 reps twice a day), they could run like before they got hurt. Another group of 15 runners who had the same problem and were treated the usual way didn’t get better. They all ended up needing surgery.
In another group of people around 50 with ‘tennis elbow’, doing a ‘Tyler Twist’ exercise helped a lot. They did this exercise every day for about 6 weeks. It helped most of them. It also worked for people with ‘golfer’s elbow’, even after other treatments like physical therapy, injections, and painkillers didn’t help.
Research also shows that regular heavy exercise can be as good as eccentric training for treating tendon pain. One study compared injections, eccentric squats, and slow, heavy resistance training.
All these treatments helped at first, but after six months, the people who did the eccentric and resistance training were still better, while the others got worse. If you get hurt, it’s good to get it checked out by a therapist first instead of fixing it yourself. And if what I tell you differs from what they tell you, you should listen to them, not me.
#5. Stay Consistent And Establish A Sustainable Training Routine
Building muscle after 40 might seem challenging, but one essential rule can help you: consistency. Staying consistent means sticking to your workout routine and not giving up, even when it gets tricky.
But, to stay consistent, you must also have a training plan to follow in the long run. It is called a “sustainable” training routine.
So, what does a sustainable training routine look like? It’s a workout plan that matches your schedule and your abilities and goals. For instance, if you’re very busy, a plan requiring you to spend hours at the gym daily won’t be sustainable. Instead, you might opt for shorter, more intense workouts that fit your busy day.
On the other hand, if you’re just starting, an overly challenging routine might lead to burnout or injury. So, start with simple exercises and gradually increase their intensity as you become stronger. This way, you can ensure you’re pushing your muscles to grow without risking harm.
Remember, your body also needs time to recover between workouts. It is even more critical as we age since our bodies might take longer to heal and build muscle. So, make sure to include rest days in your plan.
Lastly, try to make your workouts enjoyable. You’re more likely to stick with a routine that you find fun. Maybe you enjoy group fitness classes or prefer to listen to your favorite music while lifting weights.
Whatever, find what makes exercise enjoyable, and incorporate it into your routine.
#6. Try Stretching To Loosen Up Stiff Muscles
Static stretching has taken a lot of flak recently. It doesn’t seem to deliver many of the benefits it’s supposed to. Most studies show that stretching doesn’t help with muscle soreness and doesn’t seem to prevent injuries.
But, if you notice some muscles feel a bit “stiff” (common ones are hamstrings, hip flexors, quads, and glutes), or there’s an “unevenness” in how flexible you are (like one leg feels tighter than the other), trying some static stretching might help you feel better.
If you need a simple rule for stretching, aim to stretch any “stiff” muscles for 60 seconds daily.
Research has shown that stretching for 60 seconds can increase flexibility faster than stretching for 30 seconds or 15 seconds in people aged 65 to 97 with “tight” hamstrings. Plus, those who stretched for 60 seconds stayed flexible longer than those who stretched for less time.
A single 60-second stretch or six 10-second stretches are equally effective at increasing flexibility. Regardless of how long each stretch lasts, the key seems to be the total daily stretch time. Don’t get upset if you hit a limit in your flexibility.
Like many things, genes affect your flexibility. A gene called COL5A1 is related to your inherited flexibility level. One version of the gene makes you more flexible, and the other doesn’t. So, how fast your flexibility improves and the point at which it stops improving aren’t entirely up to you.
#7. Three Times A Week Lifting Is Enough For People In 40s
In determining the right workout frequency, it’s crucial to understand that no magic number fits all. Everyone is unique and responds differently to workouts. Nevertheless, through my research and experiences with various clients, I’ve noticed a common pattern that seems to work well for people in their forties.
Typically, engaging in weight-lifting activities about three times per week seems to hit the sweet spot. Now, you might wonder, “Why just three times?” Here’s why. This frequency provides ample time for your body to rest and recuperate between sessions.
Remember, rest is equally important as the workout for putting muscle on over 40.
Moreover, limiting your weight lifting sessions to thrice a week ensures that strenuous exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, are adequately spaced out in your routine. These demanding exercises require significant recovery time to prevent injuries and overtraining.
That said, while three days a week might work best for some, it doesn’t mean it’s the perfect routine for everyone. Your body’s response, lifestyle, and specific goals play a vital role in determining the most effective routine for you.
Remember, it’s not always about the quantity of training but the quality. What matters most is consistency, dedication, and the willingness to adapt based on your body’s feedback. So, give your 40s a powerful punch by creating a balanced, manageable, and effective workout routine.
#8. Start With Warm-Up Exercises
Many young folks walk into the gym, do a few arm swings, and lift heavy weights. But if you’re over 40, this quick start might hurt you. It’s essential to take time to warm up correctly. What your warm-up looks like depends on what your workout will be. It can be different for everyone based on where you’re exercising, your strength, and more.
Let me tell you what I do.
I usually start with 10 minutes of light cycling on an exercise bike. You could also use a rowing machine. It helps your body get warm, which can make exercise easier. How long you warm up depends on your surroundings. If it’s hot, a few minutes might be enough. But you’ll need more time to warm up if it’s cold.
While warming up, I write down my workout plan in a diary. It helps me clear my head for building muscle after 40. Because I have a written plan, I just have to follow it and focus on my workout.
Then, I go straight to my first exercise — usually a big movement like bench press or squat — and do 15 reps with just the bar. Then, I slowly add weight over a few sets. It helps my joints, muscles, and nervous system prepare for heavier lifts.
Even though warming up is important to avoid injury and improve your workout, it doesn’t need to take forever. Foam rolling, activation exercises, and alignment movements can be helpful for some people. But don’t just copy what others do—choose what helps you.
#9. Choose The Right Type Of Exercise According To Your Body’s Needs
Some people are built better for certain exercises. You might not be made for heavy squats, deadlifts, chin-ups on a bar, or full-range bench presses.
For example, short arms and long legs might be hard to deadlift from the floor without rounding your back. But this doesn’t mean you should stop deadlifting. Instead, try rack pulls from a higher starting point that lets you keep a normal back curve.
Try using a suspension trainer if your wrists hurt when doing chin-ups on a bar. It lets your wrists move freely instead of being stuck in one spot.
If bench presses hurt your shoulders, try the floor press, where you stop the bar 2 to 3 inches above your chest.
Use dumbbells with your palms facing in and elbows closer to your body (this small change can often eliminate shoulder pain immediately). And don’t worry if you can’t squat very deep without losing your lower back curve. Studies have shown that you don’t need to move through a full range for muscle building over 40, especially if it causes pain.
#10. Try New Ways To Challenge Your Muscles
Muscle growth is all about continuous challenge and adaptation. Simply put, if you want your muscles to grow or maintain their size, you must progressively make your workouts more challenging.
The most common method people use is progressively lifting heavier weights. They add more once they can perform a certain number of reps with a specific weight.
To grow muscles, you need to make your workouts harder over time. Your muscles need a reason to grow or stay the same size. Many people do this by lifting heavier weights. They add more when they can do a certain number of reps with one weight.
But as you get older, adding weight can get more challenging. Plus, your joints may hurt when you lift heavier weights.
So what can you do? Should you keep lifting heavy even if it hurts? Or should you just give up on growing muscle after 40?
Adding weight isn’t the only way to challenge your muscles. You can do more reps with the same weight, slow your lifting, or use drop sets, static holds, or rest-pause training methods. These are all excellent ways to make your muscles work more, which can help them grow and get stronger.
You could also experiment with advanced techniques such as drop sets, static holds, or rest-pause training methods. These techniques force your muscles to work harder and can promote growth and strength without the need for constant weight increments.
The Role Of Protein In Overcoming Anabolic Resistance And Building Muscle After 40
Protein is crucial in building and maintaining muscle, especially for those over 40. Sometimes, the term “anabolic resistance” is thrown around. This term might sound complicated, but it’s simply the idea that as we age, our bodies need more protein to build the same muscle as when we were younger.
For example, imagine a young person and an older person eating a meal full of protein. According to the concept of anabolic resistance, the younger person’s muscles would grow more from this meal than the older person’s muscles.
However, this theory primarily stems from research on older adults who lead a sedentary lifestyle. That means these are people who do not exercise much.
Interestingly, there’s little evidence that active older adults experience anabolic resistance. Being physically active seems to help older adults maintain their muscle-building response to protein, much like their younger counterparts.
This concept is supported by Daniel Moore, a professor specializing in muscle physiology at the University of Toronto. He notes that studies, comparisons of trained and untrained older adults, and observations of “Master athletes” (older athletes who stay in top shape) suggest that anabolic resistance is not a significant issue for older adults who remain active.
According to Professor Moore, Master athletes often maintain a “young” muscle look, suggesting they don’t typically experience age-related anabolic resistance. He believes physical inactivity may cause or exacerbate anabolic resistance.
How Much Protein Should You Eat If You’re Over 40 And Want To Build Muscle?
If you’re over 40 and aiming to build muscle, you might wonder how much protein you should consume daily. It’s crucial because protein in foods like meat, eggs, and beans helps repair and build muscle tissue, especially when combined with regular exercise.
Generally, you should aim for around 0.7 grams of protein per pound, or 1.6 grams per kilogram, of your body weight. Let’s say you weigh 180 pounds or about 82 kilograms. You should aim for approximately 126 grams of protein per day. These are rough guidelines, and your specific needs might be slightly more or less.
You may ask why we need more protein when we’re older. Some scientific studies suggest that as we age, we might require more protein to stimulate the same muscle growth as younger people. This idea is often referred to as anabolic resistance.
However, it’s important to note that these studies were mainly conducted on physically inactive older adults. If you lift weights and stay active 3-4 times a week, you may not face the same level of anabolic resistance.
It wouldn’t necessarily harm you if you decided to consume more than 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But you might not notice extra benefits, either. Consuming too much protein can be unnecessary and expensive, and it might leave less room for other nutritious foods in your diet.
Ideally, you should aim to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Eating protein in the morning, before and after workouts, and before bedtime can optimize muscle recovery and growth. Doing so will help your body best utilize the protein you’re consuming.
Growing muscles after turning 40 can be challenging. Life might be busier than when you were 21, making eating healthy and exercising regularly harder. You may not be as excited about exercising without getting the desired results. Your testosterone levels aren’t the same anymore.
You might think your body can’t handle the same tough workouts you did in your twenties, and it takes more time to bounce back. But don’t worry about these things. With the proper exercise, you can still build muscle and get stronger even in your forties, fifties, and beyond.
Frequently Asked Questions
Indeed, at 40, you can still achieve a muscular physique. While it might take a bit longer than in your twenties, with consistent effort, good nutrition, and ample rest, you can lose fat and build lean muscle at 40. Age isn't a barrier to improving your fitness; it requires patience, discipline, and dedication.
Building muscle after 40 involves regular exercise, a balanced protein-rich diet, and plenty of rest. The method doesn't differ much from younger years. Consistency is crucial. Training should be intense but not overdone, and it's vital to allow your body time to recover between workouts.
It depends on workout history and genetics, not age. A beginner at 40, who has never lifted weight but has good genes, could gain about 20 pounds of muscle after several years of regular, hard training.
Generally, lifting weights 2-5 times per week is recommended. You might prefer shorter, more frequent workouts or fewer, longer sessions. The key is finding a routine that fits your schedule and maintaining consistency. Remember, recovery is as important as the workout itself.
Compound exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts are great for muscle gain at any age. They work multiple muscle groups at once, encouraging overall growth and strength. Remember to warm up properly and listen to your body to avoid injuries.
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