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In this article I’m going to break down the most important steps of How to build Muscle after 40.

Men over 40 can build muscle and transform themselves at any age, I didn’t get into the best shape of my life until 41 years old and I have friends who didn’t make dramatic transformations until their fifties!

If you’re a man wondering how to build muscle in your forties then I’d like to congratulate you for making one of the best decisions in your life and deciding to transform yourself.

Not only can you build muscle in your forties, but you can transform yourself if you go about it the right way, making the next decade of your life the best yet.

Men in their forties must take a very different approach than guys in their twenties and thirties, as we age it takes us longer to recover from intensive weight training, our joints are more susceptible to injury and our hormonal system isn’t quite what it used to be!

Here are some guidelines for building muscle after 40:

Stick to the basics

The basic exercises such as bench presses, pull-ups, rows, squats and the dead-lift are the best exercises for men over 40, nothing has such a dramatic effect on the male hormonal system like the basic exercises do.

We can’t reverse our declining testosterone levels, but we can certainly fight back with the compound multi-joint exercises that stimulate massive amounts of muscle in one movement, stimulate the male hormonal system and produce the best gains in strength and lean muscle.

A lot of men in their forties turn to light weight pumping exercises with isolation movements, but they have little to no effect on the male hormonal system and don’t build the lean muscle you want.

It’s a myth that you need lots of exercises to build muscle, choose one or two major compound movements per muscle group that suit you and work on increasing your strength and improving those lifts.

Although you’re in your forties you still need to challenge yourself and make your primary goal getting stronger for each exercise, that could mean adding a tad of weight to the bar or completing one more rep than last week.

Recovery is more important than ever for men over 40

Recovery is a huge factor in building muscle and most people train too much, thinking there’s no such thing as over training. When you train with weights you’re tearing down the muscle fibres and placing an enormous amount of stress on the tendons and ligaments.

Before the body can grow, not only must our muscular system recover, but our central nervous system (CNS) as well.

The CNS actually takes longer to recover than the muscular system, this is why I never recommend the classic bodybuilding split routine as it fails to address the CNS which is depleted for more than 48 hours after an intensive weight training session.

Although you might be training your back today after training your chest yesterday, you’re completely ignoring the CNS recovery that needs to take place leading to a downward spiral in strength.

If you forge on when you aren’t recovered properly not only will you not progress, but you’ll eventually get injured as the joints need time to recover as well.

How often should I lift weights?

Men in their forties should lift weights 2-3 times per week for maximum muscle gain. Three times per week performed on non-consecutive days works perfectly for guys in their forties, it allows for proper recovery of the CNS and provides the best gains in strength and muscle.

How many times per week should I train a muscle group?

This depends on how advanced your strength is.

A beginner who’s new to weight training can train a muscle group twice per week but as he gets stronger and progresses to the intermediate stage training each muscle group 3 times every 2 weeks works better to allow continued progression.

Once he’s more advanced training a muscle group once per week is all that’s needed for the best strength and recovery. The more intensely you can train, the less of it you can do and recover from. You need to experiment, sensibly to find the best frequency that works for you.

I train each muscle group only once per week and never use more than a few compound exercises, this works best for my strength and recovery.

What’s the best set and rep format for older men?

Multiple sets of low reps work best for men over 40, they’re far safer, allow for better concentration and don’t over tax the recovery system.

Some examples of multiple sets of low reps could be 3 x 6 or 5 x 5.

Many men over 40 turn to lighter weights and higher reps once they’re over 40 years old, but you still need to lift heavy in good form to build and maintain muscle.

Provide sufficient warm up work

Performing enough warm up work before doing our main work sets is crucial, as we get older it takes our joints a lot longer to warm up and if you lift heavy weights too quickly you can get injured easily.

Eat the correct foods

Men over 40 should be eating healthy testosterone boosting foods in the correct quantities in order to build muscle. This means providing the body with slightly less than 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight per day, sufficient carbohydrates and fats on a consistent basis.

I recommend a slightly higher carbohydrate and fat intake as we get older as a diet too low in these macros and calories will kill testosterone levels.

When in muscle building mode you should be eating in a slight caloric surplus, this means eating more calories than what your body burns per day, in order to build additional muscle.

You can’t build muscle out of nothing.

Each week you should be monitoring your body fat percentage and making sure it never creeps above 15%. It’s additional muscle we want, not a lot of extra weight and bulky fat.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re doing a body re-comp in which case you would eat at maintenance calories. Some men can eat at maintenance calories and are able to build muscle and lose body fat simultaneously, but this can be tricky, especially if you’re just starting out training.

Keep it simple and focus on one goal at a time.

  • Build muscle whist minimizing body fat or
  • Lose body fat whist maintaining muscle

Training drug free is completely different than how the steroid fueled body builders can train and get away with, don’t try and copy what they do or you’ll be back to square one, with a program that delivers little or nothing for drug free naturals.

Once you hit a ceiling of 15% body fat when in muscle building mode, trim back to 9% body fat, if done correctly you should end up with more muscle each time you do it.

Do I need bodybuilding supplements?

A lot of men over 40 think they need supplements especially now they’re over 40 years old and while prudent use of a few might help you, most of them are worthless.

If you’re trying to build muscle and get lean, sticking to the basic combination of training and eating correctly works big time!

Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is an extremely important part of the muscle building equation so you should be aiming for at least 8-9 hours per night when in muscle building mode.

What if I’m extremely busy with a demanding work life?

I’ve had some men ask me how they can make progress with 2 jobs and an extremely busy and demanding life and I often tell them it can still be done if you’re smart with your training.

Here’s what I recommend if you’re a man over 40 who still wants to build muscle with an extremely demanding career and social life.

  • Limit your weight training sessions to only twice per week.
  • Prepare food on a rest day that you can take with you to work, perhaps have a liquid feed with you as well in a thermos flask that meets your caloric requirements.
  • Put one of those weight training workouts on one of your rest days i.e. if you’re off work on a Sunday get to bed early the night before and pour all your energy into that workout the next day.
  • Perform an upper body workout on day 1 and a lower body workout on day 2. A Sunday and Wednesday schedule would work well for example.
  • Train each muscle group only once per week.
  • Keep adding weight to each of your major compound movements over time.

Don’t underestimate the power of the above formula, twice a week training can work even better than three times per week training for men over 40, even if you’re capable of training 3 x per week you should still experiment with a lesser schedule.

To your success!

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    11 replies to "How to Build Muscle after 40"

    • Geo

      Hello Rob! Great article! I’m a 46 yo man, who started lifting weights a couple years ago. Never done before, so I think my muscle system is a little “damaged” . Also I suffer a kind of arthritis which affects my tendons.
      I’ve seen some progress in my body, but it’s hard to increase my muscle volume, specially biceps, shoulders and chest. Is there any suggestions for someone like me? I’m training 5-6 days per week, one muscle group per day. Thanks!
      Geo

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Geo,

        Well done in deciding to lift weights, that’s a great step.

        I would train with weights using a reduced volume. Use an abbreviated training format that has you lifting weights no more than 3 times per week.
        This will allow proper muscular and CNS recovery that becomes even more important as we age. Focus on compound, multi-joint exercises that are safe and productive for men over 40 and use a multiple set of low rep’s system that demands less of the recovery machinery.

        Practice safe form and only add weight in small increments. This will both benefit your joints and recovery from weight training.

        I hope that helps.

        Regards

        Rob

    • Rafa

      Hello from Spain Rob! My situation is almost the same as Geo. I’m the same age and I’ve been lifting more or less for about the same time.

      My workout is composed of:
      Squat (with hex bar)
      Romanian deadlift
      DB bench
      One arm row
      DB shoulder press
      Pull/chin ups
      Curls + Lying triceps extensions
      I do this 3/week for 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps (last year I did 6, 9 & 12 each day of the week and now I’m decreasing from 12 to 5 and increasing weights). I think I’m transitioning from beginner to intermediate.
      My doubt is if it’s good to work all groups 3/week or maybe it’s better (long term speaking) to reduce the exercises and do a 5×5 style workout (3-4 exercises each workout). I’m comfortable working like this although sometimes it’s hard to work full of energy the last exercises.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Rafa,

        it’s definitely something to consider, if you can make continuous progress stick with it, if not something needs to be changed. The problem with too many exercises in one routine is your productivity and focus of all those exercises gets watered down and thus your enthusiasm for training.

        If you go to the gym and only have a few compound movements to do, your focus and performance will be greatly improved. If in doubt cut back on the number of exercises you’re doing in one workout and pour more energy into those exercises.

        Simplicity works best in this respect.

        I hope that helps!

        regards

        Rob

        • Rafa

          Thanks for your advise.
          Best regards

    • Pete Bochniak

      Hi Rob,
      I am sixty one. I am very active during the day working outside,poring concrete and building things but I would like to build a little more muscle. Can you give me a few tips for a guy like me.

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Pete,

        Yes, if you would like to build some muscle you should start to use an abbreviated training program that won’t over train you OR cause joint problems.
        Men over 40 should pay attention to recovery as they get older, exercise choice, volume and frequency.

        For this, 3 strength training workouts performed on non-consecutive days i.e. Mon-Wed-Fri works best, to allow your body to fully recover between sessions and for your central nervous system to fully re-charge.

        You want a weight training program that uses compound exercises and will train the entire muscular system over the course of the week.

        Total volume should be kept short, for recovery and to minimise stress and strain on the joints as we get older. Lots of isolation exercises should be avoided.

        Exercises such as Barbell Squats, Trap Bar deadlifts, pull-downs, pull-ups, dumbbell bench presses and strength-training circuits are terrific for older men as they boost lean muscle, have a dramatic effect on the hormonal system and are safe.

        I do outline a full training program complete with video demonstrations in my Abs Over 40 Course. It also explains nutrition in detail as well.

        I hope this helps.

        Regards

        Rob

    • Den

      Great advice, I’m 45 and been lifting for 30 years now,… my advice program would be the same..
      Like 3 days a week, beginners intermediate would be half the body in one workout like, day 1 chest shoulders triceps, day 2 legs back biceps.. advanced lifters one muscle group once a week like, Monday chest triceps, Wednesday back biceps, Friday legs shoulders…. I usually say, no more than 25 sets in total pr workout, AND remember warm up properly and do some light stretching before start lifting… but great article 👍👍👍👍

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Dan,

        thanks very much! I hope you check back soon.

        regards

        Rob

    • Riaan

      Hi Rob,
      Great article and advice, thank you!
      I am 43 and have been very healthy all my life, trying to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Anyway life happened and over the last 4 or 5 years, although I ate fairly healthy and exercised 3 or 4 times per week (min 30 min.), I gained a lot of body fat and my muscle mass slowly went backwards.
      Anyway, about 8 months ago I started to seriously focus again on my healthy eating habits (no salt, sugar, alcohol, green veg with Chicken & Fish, no starch) and started exercising (mainly body weight and cardio) 5 to 6 times per week. I’ve achieved awesome results, but now I seriously need to build muscle mass as I’m quite skinny.
      My results:
      – I am 1.87m tall
      – Lost 17kg weight (of which 6kg muscle mass), now weigh 74kg
      – Dropped 10% body fat, now 12% BF

      I’ve now change my meals (still eat 6x per day) to add more carbs like Oatmeal & Brown Rice (1/2 to 1 cup), Protein portions about 2x palm sizes (daily about 130g), but I’ve also changed my exercises from this week to 5 Days weights (Chest + ABS, Back + Calves, Arms + ABS, Shoulders + Calves, Legs + ABS) and on a Saturday I do a 5km Parkrun. My reps are low and heavy (max. 8) and only 5x different exercises (compound as you explained above) So I toned down a lot on the cardio.

      I feel very energetic and don’t struggle with the amount of exercises at all, but after reading your article I’m now wondering if I’m not over training? I don’t want to become a body builder, but I do want to bulk up a bit and stay ripped?

      Will appreciate your input!

      Regards
      Riaan

      • Rob Richley

        Hi Riaan,

        I’m pleased you enjoyed the article. I sent you an email regarding this.

        regards

        Rob

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