What are the best workouts to build muscle after 40? The best workouts to build muscle once we are in our forties and beyond should consider the following:
Sets & Reps
Let’s examine each one more closely…
As a man over 40 I recommend lifting weights no more than 3 times per week. I currently lift weights twice per week and this can be even more beneficial for men over 40 once you get more advanced.
This workout frequency provides the following benefits:
Better recovery – by lifting on 3 non-consecutive days per week you will recover MUCH better than a more frequent lifting schedule, ensure the central nervous system is fully recovered and come back much stronger for your next workout.
Better lifestyle – There’s nothing better than knowing you DO NOT need to be lifting more than 3 times per week to build the most muscle. This also provides you with a life outside the gym. Perfect for busy men over the age of 40.
No benefits to lifting more often – A lot of men over 40 think I recommend the lesser lifting schedule because they’re a bit older, but it’s because you will get MUCH BETTER results lifting on a lesser schedule.
Try it for yourself and see if you come back more fully recovered and happier consequently.
Now we are a little older we cannot train the same as when we were in our teens and twenties.
No longer can we choose dangerous exercises or exercises that place excessive strain on the joints.
No longer can we tolerate excessive volume, and no longer can we waste time on silly isolation exercises that don’t give us the biggest bang for our buck OR give us the best results for our time investment.
As a man over 40 the best exercises are compound movements. These are exercises that train 2-3 large muscle groups in one movement, build the most muscle, increase testosterone and SAVE time.
Compound movements give us the biggest bang for our buck, but as men over 40 we need to choose the best exercises for us, this can be highly personal as a lot of variations will work.
For example, maybe you can’t barbell bench press because of a shoulder injury, but the dumbbell variation works very well for you.
Both exercises are great, but one might be more suitable for you above another exercise.
Most of your effort should revolve around compound movements, however a FEW isolation exercises can be beneficial for example the L-fly performed after the bench press has merits for protecting the rotator cuff muscles against injury.
The dumbbell or barbell curl can be a good addition to the pull-up or pulldown to help build more muscle of the biceps.
How much volume you do i.e., exercises and sets and reps will determine if you progress (or not). As men over 40 we need to keep the volume much lower, stick to 1-2 exercises per muscle group and devote your time and attention to getting stronger on those exercises.
It’s much better to progress on a hand full of exercises than to over train yourself on a lot of volume and fail to progress.
Sets and Reps
For men over 40 I recommend doing multiple sets of lower reps, they are far safer, provide better recovery and don’t aggravate the joints like higher reps do.
Most men over 40 think that doing lots of volume with light weights is the best way to go, but this does little for building muscle and causes more stress AND wear & tear on the joints.
Some good examples of multiple sets of lower reps are 4 sets of 6 or 3 sets of 5 reps.
There isn’t a “best” rep range when it comes to building muscle, all work well and you should experiment with different approaches to find out what works best for you.
The bottom line to build muscle in our forties is progressing on the compound movements on a weekly basis. For that to happen we must get all the training, nutrition, and recovery components in good order.
I recommend getting some fractional plates and adding a tad of iron to the bar every week. If you manage to get all reps of each working set, add a tad of iron to the bar and try to beat your last workout next time you train.
Another way to progress is the double progression system, where you add more weight and drop the reps down. Then when you train, try, and add another rep each week until you reach all target reps.
Recovery is not only the days of rest that you have between each weight training workout, but the nutrition, sleep, and stress that you have within your life, all contribute to how recovered you will be.
Something that’s rarely talked about but will make a HUGE difference to men in their forties or beyond training to build muscle is overlap.
This is whether the same muscle is being trained again on another workout day when it’s still trying to recover from the previous training session.
For example, let’s say you train your chest, shoulders and triceps on Monday and then train your back & biceps on Wednesday. Although you endeavour to train just your back & biceps on Wednesday, the muscles of the chest will still get trained to a certain degree.
It’s best to limit overlap as much as possible, aim to break the body up into two halves and have an upper body workout and a lower body workout.
This ensures you limit overlap as much as possible.
Full body workouts are another solution to prevent overlap, it’s just they’re impractical for a lot of men over 40.
Nutrition is a HUGE component for building muscle in our forties and while this topic needs its own article, I will cover the basics for building muscle after 40.
You must get enough calories to build muscle after 40, you cannot expect to build muscle out of nothing. If your goal is to gain weight, then you should aim to be eating slightly MORE calories than your BMR calories (those you need to maintain weight) per day.
As a natural guy, it’s hard to build muscle without gaining a bit of fat, as you need to be in a calorie surplus, unless you’re doing a re-comp.
To limit fat gain, get some body fat callipers and measure you body fat percentage. Whenever you hit a body fat percentage ceiling of 15%, trim your calories back and reduce your body fat percentage to a leaner 10-12%.
If done right, you should end up with more muscle than previous at the end of the process.
Let say you need 3000 calories to build muscle, how you break those calories up into the correct proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat matters.
Neither get too much or too little. Aim for 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight per day. To this end I STILL don’t take any protein supplements!
I can easily get adequate protein from whole foods and it’s much more enjoyable. I have tried protein powders in the past, but they are of no additional benefit unless you have a digestion or assimilation problem and find eating protein food difficult.
Protein will help to build muscle, but the hype has been blown out of all proportions over the years.
Eat adequate protein but there’s no need to go crazy!
Some great protein sources are:
Fish, chicken, lean beef, pork, turkey, eggs & cheese
Aim to get 40-50% of your total calories from carbs as they will keep you feeling full and fuel your workouts for building muscle.
They also give you that “feel good factor” and provide the muscles with a fuller look. Cutting out carbs especially when trying to build muscle isn’t a good idea!
I believe you need ALL the macronutrients when building muscle, adequate carbs, protein, AND fat.
Avoid junk carbs and stick to complex sources such as oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, pasta, chickpeas, vegetables etc.
Fat is especially important for us men over 40 to lubricate joints, keep testosterone high and a lot of other important processes in the body.
Get most of your fat from polyunsaturated sources such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts & seeds.
Some saturated fat is needed for example, the saturated fats found in steak. Avoid high heated and trans-fats though, they can damage cells and don’t provide any health benefits.
To build muscle in our 40’s and beyond, enough sleep is needed. Proper rest will allow growth and recovery to occur and the CNS to fully recharge.
Aim to get 8 hours of sleep per night although some men need slightly more and some less. This is individual depending on a lot of factors including how demanding your work and family life are.
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I hope you found this article useful and, if you have any question then please let me know.