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What Are the Best Workouts for Men Over 40?

The best workouts for men over 40 are compound movements that train 2-3 muscle groups at once and get the job done in half the time.

Not only are compound movements superior for increasing lean muscle tissue, but they also have a profound effect on our hormonal system, boosting testosterone, a key player in the development of increased muscle and reduction in body fat.

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Strength training is the most important thing a man over 40 can do if he wants to get lean, the increased lean muscle will give you that truly awesome “men’s health” look, broad shoulders, defined chest, tight waist and powerful back.

When you focus your efforts on building lean muscle, your metabolism will run quicker all the time and burning fat will become effortless.

Combine that with the correct nutrition that supports optimal health and hormonal functioning and you’re on your way to getting your leanest and strongest physique yet.

Yes, you might be over 40, but you’re still capable of getting stronger and you’re still capable of losing body fat. If you focus on the right exercises and smarter workouts, you can easily make the next decade of your life the best yet.

What are the best exercises for physique improvements?

The best exercises to improve your physique are exercises such as presses, pull-ups, deadlifts and squat variations using a combination of barbells and dumbbells.

These exercises will trigger lean muscle growth and do it in half the time of conventional workouts.

The mistake a lot of men make in their 40’s make is resorting to higher rep, light weight pumping exercises that neglect the fat burning and hormonal effect of compound exercises.

Isolation exercises do very little for men over 40, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t incorporate some of them, but the majority don’t have any effect on building lean muscle or stimulating the hormonal system.

Although we’re in our 40’s getting stronger still needs to be a priority. The stronger you are, the denser, leaner muscle you’ll build and the more you’ll stimulate the fat burning and muscle building hormones needed to get that lean body.

Granted you might not be able to get as strong as in your twenties or thirties, but you can still get pretty dam strong if you train correctly.

If you maintain perfect form on all exercises and add weight slowly using a single progression or double progression method, you should be able to build some awesome strength on a gradual basis.

Maintaining your strength into your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond is important for preserving lean muscle tissue!

To maintain and even build muscle you don’t need a lot of volume. In fact, excessive volume is the number one reason why many guys in their 40’s struggle to get lean in first place.

They think fat burning is all about light weight pumping exercises and cardio, but that approach will fail to get you the body you want.

What are the best set and rep formats for men over 40?

A mistake I see all the time is excessive volume, too many sets and too many reps. Multiple sets of low reps work best for men over 40, they’re far safer, have the most impact on body composition, allow you to focus on the exercise better and don’t over tax your recovery ability.

Some examples of multiple sets of low reps could be 3 x 6 or 5 x 5. After proper warm-ups, these are the set and rep formats you should be aiming for.

What is the best training frequency?

People find it hard to believe that I built my physique off 3 weight training workouts per week, but it wasn’t until I switched from 5 weights workouts down to 3 that I noticed a big change in my body composition.

Not only that, I didn’t feel over trained all the time which is a very common problem amongst men who are lifting 5 or more times per week.

The fact that you’re training naturally AND are over 40 means you’ll have limited recovery ability, if you train hard on the exercises that matter, you can’t weight train more than three times per week.

And I’ve experimented with 2 workouts per week with even better results, again it’s NOT about how many gym hours you’re capable of clocking up each week.

In fact, if you’re currently doing more than 3 strength training workouts per week I challenge you to do less and reap the benefits of increased recovery and better strength.

It’s just hard to get into your head that less is more when we’ve all been brainwashed to go hard all the time.

Remember it takes very little volume to build lean muscle if you’re training correctly and very little volume to preserve lean muscle once you’ve built it.

How many cardio sessions?

The best strategy for men over 40 is to have one or two drill sessions that consist of bodyweight exercises, kettlebells and barbell complexes. This will burn extra bodyfat and compliment your weight training without stripping away the lean muscle that you’ve worked so hard to build.

A drill session could also be replaced with a total body movement such as the cross trainer or doing what I do and going for a walk in the country at the weekends. Walking will burn extra calories and again, compliment your weight training.

Exercises to avoid for men over 40

There are compound movements and their variations that do more harm than good for men over 40, if any exercise causes you pain then it’s not going to do you any good no matter how productive it’s supposed to be.

Weighted dips

Weighted dips are a great exercise for many, but for those who’ve benefited from the exercise, just as many have wrecked their shoulders. Why take the chance when there are other safer, productive alternatives?

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

The stiff-legged deadlift can cause you to over stretch resulting in a lower back injury, its much safer to stick to the conventional deadlift using perfect form or the trap bar deadlift which is easier to execute and takes the stress off the lower back.

Pull-downs behind the neck

Pull-downs behind the neck over stress the shoulders, leading to injury and there are much safer alternatives such as the pull-down to the chest or pull-up.

Bent over row

Performing the bent over row can place excessive stress on the lower back resulting in injury. There are far more effective and safer alternatives.

Press behind the neck

The press behind the neck can cause severe shoulder problems and there are much safer alternative exercises.

Barbell or dumbbell pullover

The barbell or dumbbell pullover has limited value for strength and muscle and is a potential shoulder wrecker.

Dumbbell bench presses with too much stretch

Dumbbell presses and incline variations are a great exercise, but if you overly stretch on the exercise it can place excessive stress on the shoulders.

Preacher bench curls

The preacher bench curl places tremendous stress on the inner elbow to the extended position of the exercise.

T-bar rows

It’s very easy to go too heavy with this exercise placing strain on the lower back. It’s also an inferior exercise not needed to build a wide and powerful back.

Good mornings

This exercise is done with a weight on the shoulders and bending at the hips. It’s a recipe for lower back problems and there are much safer lower back exercises.

Triceps extensions and French presses

Both exercises hyperextend the arms making them elbow wreckers. It’s much better to train triceps with the close grip bench press or triceps pushdowns.

Leg presses on a vertical leg machine

This exercise places excessive stress on the lower back and just isn’t needed to build lean, strong legs. Stick to the back squat instead.

Get the Best Workout Program for Men Over 40

If you’re fed up of “winging it” and would like to take the guesswork out of getting a lean body for men over 40 then you need to check out my popular course, Ripped Abs Over 40.

It’s the definitive guide to getting a lean body for men over 40.

    24 replies to "What Are the Best Workouts for Men Over 40?"

    • Vishaljeet

      “Isoltaion exercises do very little for men over 40” ??
      Are you serious ? Please don’t post such comments as part of an otherwise seemingly informative article.
      Whether it’s men who are starting out on their fitness journey after crossing 40 or those who have been exercising and are now above 40, it’s absolutely imperative and very beneficial if they do include isolation movements in their workout regimen. With the right tempo and rep range, isolation movements will help build up the type 2 muscle fibres and also strengthen the ligaments and tendons which otherwise start to weaken with age.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Vishaljeet,

        Conventional training wisdom will tell you that isolation exercises are needed, and some can be beneficial i.e. the L-fly will help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and protect against shoulder injury if you’re performing the bench press.

        But for the most part, isolation exercises cause more harm than good, and many isolation exercises will put exaggerated stress on the muscles, hamper recovery and plain hinder progress especially for older lifters.

        Older lifters need to be very careful what exercises they choose, abbreviated training workouts are the way to go, but you need to choose the very best and safest exercises that allow proper recovery and progression to take place.



    • Jay

      Thx for this info it certainly helps me out

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Jay,

        Glad to hear it.



    • Sidney Wood

      Excellent article.

      • Rob Richley

        Thanks Sidney,

        keep checking back to the website, plenty more information for men over 40 on its way!



    • Corey

      Thank you for good info as trying variations on workouts as now in 50’s. Will set a routine and see how it goes. Any info on Muscle cramping would be appreciated…even get cramping when stretching. Corey

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Corey,

        Are there any specific exerises you’re doing when getting the muscle cramps?



    • Matt Moir

      I really like this article, i’m 44, 45 in a few months, I have trained all my life for various reasons and sports. However in recent years I have found it very difficult to lose weight, and tone, and this has severely affected my motivation.

      My biggest problem is knowing what muscle groups to train together and how many exercises to do for each muscle? I like the rep counts you publish in this article though, especially the 5×5.

      My other problem, probably more so than above, is knowing what to eat and when. Because I work shifts, including nights i’m Often thrown out of sync with normal meal times. I have searched the internet to exhaustion and unless I want to pay out a lot of money no one seems to be able to give me a precise answer, or at least something that puts me in the right ball park!

      Very frustrated!!

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Matt,

        Thanks, stay tuned to this website it’s only in it’s early stages. I used to work nights back in my younger days so can relate to your system being thrown out of whack.

        For the strength training portion I would use a super abbreviated training schedule 2 x per week. Day 1 you would train chest, shoulders and triceps and day 2 you would train back and legs.

        Use 2 main compound movements for each muscle group and add weight using a microloading model.

        Get your nutrition dialed in so that you’re hitting a slight caloric deficit split with adequate protein, carbohydrates and fat. Keep a food log for at least 3 months.

        I do have a course that I charge for that covers all of the above, it’s very difficult to put everything the course covers into a few blog posts because alot of work has gone into it.

        If you need more specifics please contact me using the form on my website.



    • Melvin white

      Great article. I’ll be 70 in a couple of months and would like to get a program that would benefit me the most. I exercise 3 to 4 days a week.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Melvin,

        please use the contact form on my website and we can discuss this.



    • Frank Totino, LMT CR CMCP

      I like the article Rob, it’s informative and educational. I’m 48 and definitely don’t like being in the gym for long periods I find no use in that. I usually start with a 30 minute elliptical machine and I’ll usually do about 4 to 5 weight lifting exercises, for instance I’ll do an upper body regimen consisting of a cable row and will do 3 sets at 12 to 15 reps to failure than I’ll do a seated chest press the same way, then on to a seated row pulldown, then benchpress, than I’ll do a set of isolated bicep curls and tricep pulldown as a finish off. I also do Martial Arts; Jeet Kune Do, Kali Escrima and Wing Chun a few times a week as well. I weight lift 3 days a week. Look forward to hearing from, can’t wait to read what you have to say

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Frank,

        Thanks very much. Keep checking back I’ll update the site with new articles at least once per week and if you want me to cover anything let me know. Sounds like you’re on the right track with your training and if it’s working well don’t change anything.

        If you need help with anything specifically, let me know.



    • Richard F

      At what percentage of 1 rm should a 50 year old train with?

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Richard,

        it depends how long you’ve been training, what your goals are and whether you have trained with weights before.

        For general health and fitness i.e. improving body composition the weight should be heavy enough so that the last few reps challenge you, but you can still complete in perfect form.

        Especially for older lifters, training past failure is a sure way to overtrain and stagnate.



    • Tim

      I am 41 and have been training compound movements only for 6 Months in this time my strength has sky rocketed especially deadlines and squats.
      I have been surprised to feel and see all my joints that have suffered from over training have come good. Isolation movement yeah I don’t recommend it for people at my age or older.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Tim,

        really pleased to hear it! Yes it’s too many isolation exercises that actually wear out the joints, NOT compound movements done correctly. Also, as we get older what worked well when we were younger, no longer works as well.

        Keep up the good work and if there’s anything specific you want help with let me know!



    • Rich M

      I’m 55 and have been training seriously since I was about 18. I’ve given up isolation exercises quite some some time ago and have to agree that not doing them has really done great things for me. My only regret is wondering if I should have been training this way from the beginning. The only isolation move I still do is curls.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Rich,

        Pleased to hear it. Some can be beneficial, but most do more than good.



    • Scott Clifford

      Great article! I am 51 and I am carrying a lot of extra weight. My wife and I are walking and biking, but the weight is not coming off. I really like the idea of including strength training 3 times, or less, per week. My condo has a fitness center that I have never used. I sure would like to see a sample 3 day weight training routine. (actual exercises, equipment, and reps)

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Scott,

        Really pleased, many thanks…

        Yes if you subscribe to my YouTube channel, (search Lean Over 40 for Men) I’ll make sure I start posting my strength training workouts. I also have a great plan included in my course, Abs Over 40 including a nutrition plan.

        Hope that helps.



    • Martin Brennan

      Very informative and valuable. I totally agree with your recommendations, I regard weight training as the single most important activity I engage in as I get older. I used to dip in and out of weights over the years but road and mountain biking were my primary pastimes. Both left me with imbalances and injuries over time and I’ve been able to rectify these with regular weight training; two but no more than 3 times a week. Indeed I had a knee injury that required 2 operations and I had started to limp and lose muscle mass in my left leg. With the help of cortisone injections and squats (starting with goblets and now barbell back squats) my knee has regained 90% of its original functionality. At 62 I can now do 3×10 strict overhand pull ups and my squatting form has been admired by younger gym members. You’re totally right about sticking to compound movements, they’ll provide functional strength and maintain/improve muscle mass; isolation exercises waste time and I’ve developed a proportal all round physique without them. Pull ups, bench presses, squats etc cover all bases anyway. As well as lots of dog walking I do a barbell complex once a week. If anyone hasn’t tried them then do. Best workout you can do in 15-20 minutes bar none. Incidentally, I’m not a natural athlete yet I’m told I look and move like someone at least 10 years younger.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Martin,

        that’s very motivational, very pleased to hear. Yes compound movements are the best for men over 40 providing you learn great exercise form and the exercise suits you personally.



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