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.