If you’ve hit the big 4-0 and think your body is about to go downhill, think again. Although several biological factors come with aging that make gaining muscle more challenging, with proper nutrition, the right exercises, and adequate rest and recovery, middle-aged men can build muscle just as well as younger men.
Redefining Fitness: Your Comprehensive Workout Program for Building Muscle After 40
- Men over 40 experience changes in hormones, bone density, and muscle growth that affect how they build muscle
- Regular resistance training can encourage more strength, improved physical function, reduced risk of disease, and more
- The basics of muscle growth are the same for all ages, but the process that triggers muscle growth is weaker for older men
- Proper nutrition, the right exercises, and adequate rest are essential for building muscle after 40
Building Muscle As You Age: Why It’s A Must
The fitness world has made it seem like building muscle after 40 is like playing the lottery—your chances of winning big and packing on mass are slim to none. But let me tell you something: that can’t be further from the truth. Sure, some aspects of muscle building become more difficult with age, but with the right knowledge and tools, it’s possible to build muscle and strength in your 40s and beyond.
But why do people say building muscle as you age is difficult in the first place? Several biological factors tend to work against you if you’re trying to put on mass:
- Testosterone and growth hormone levels
- Bone density
- Anabolic resistance
Simply put, all men build muscle the same way, regardless of age. However, as you age, the biological processes that turn exercise into lean muscle are less effective, making it harder for older people to build strength. The biological factors and molecular differences in how older men respond to strength training make it clear that building muscle after 40 isn’t as easy as it once was; older people just don’t gain muscle mass as well as younger people.
However, this also makes it that much more important to exercise as you age. The benefits of regular exercise span far beyond just building muscle—but here’s why building muscle after 40 is a must:
- Improved strength
- Better physical function
- Reduced risk of injury and disability
- Improved body composition
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease)
- Improved hormone levels (mainly testosterone)
- Better mental health
- Improved quality of life
But the other big thing building muscle after 40 can do is fight sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. For most men, sarcopenia starts kicking in around 40, when hormone levels slowly decrease, and metabolic rate is, too. Simply put, less muscle mass = slower metabolism = more fat accumulation. The combination is bad, leading to a degenerative process that eats away at your muscles—unless you’re consciously training and supplementing to counteract this process.
Resistance training is one of the easiest ways to fight sarcopenia. Full-body strength training with heavy resistance can help increase testosterone levels, boost muscle growth, and blast fast. And while you may think that following the bro-split can overload your muscles, studies show that full-body training three times per week can boost muscle growth compared to a bro-split training program.
Age and Muscle Mass
As I said, most men are under the impression that building muscle after 40 is a big no—but it’s not. If the basics of muscle growth are more or less the same regardless of age, how is it that older men don’t gain muscle as easily as they age?
In younger men, even small amounts of exercise elicit a strong signal for several processes that trigger muscle growth. In older men, the signal triggering muscle growth is much weaker. For most men, these changes kick in around 50 and become more pronounced.
A study published in The FASEB Journal investigated gene expression in response to exercise in older men. They found that when younger men exercise, there are changes in the expression of over 150 genes, whereas, in older men, there are changes in the expression of just 42 genes. The significant difference partly explains the variation in how young and older people respond to resistance training.
On top of that, decreasing testosterone and growth hormone levels that naturally happen with aging contribute to reduced muscle growth and maintenance.
But despite biological changes that affect muscle growth in older men, don’t be discouraged—there are ways to work around these roadblocks!
Essential Elements for Building Muscle After 40
For men over 40 who want to maximize muscle growth, hitting the weights isn’t going to cut it. Your entire lifestyle needs to change to support muscle growth, which means honing in on nutrition, exercise, and recovery.
Here’s a breakdown of the three essential elements for building muscle over 40:
If your eating is garbage, you will never have muscle growth to the extent you want. As the old saying says, abs are made in the kitchen. If you want to build muscle after 40, you need to eat to support it—and that means eating enough protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables, and enough calories. You want to stimulate muscle growth and recovery without overeating and supporting fat accumulation.
Of all the macronutrients, protein is the most important. It forms the foundation of muscles; without sufficient protein, your muscles cannot repair and grow. So, I want you to focus on eating at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
On top of the macronutrients, you also want to ensure you’re hitting your micronutrients to support hormones and muscles. That’s things like selenium, vitamin D3, zinc, and magnesium.
Lifting weights does not directly cause muscle growth. Resistance training is simply a stimulus to promote muscle growth—it’s during recovery that your body actually builds muscle. However, what you do in the gym is just as important as what you do outside of it. To create optimal growth stimulus, you need to lift heavy and lift for the right time. While the specifics of sets, reps, and volume aren’t the focus here, we want to aim for compound, full-body movements that maximize activation and calorie burn.
In my programs, you’ll be doing three types of workouts:
- Total body workouts: Exercises that work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously (e.g., squats, deadlifts) to increase muscle activation and calorie burn.
- Isolation exercises: Exercises that target specific muscle groups (e.g., bicep curls) to trigger progressive overload and maximal strength gains.
- Cardiovascular training: Burns out muscles at the end of strength workouts to cause fatigue. High-intensity work also maximizes calorie and fat burn.
As I said, exercise is only part of the muscle growth equation. The majority of muscle growth happens when you’re not in the gym. Sufficient rest and recovery are key for building muscle after 40. If you’re not allowing your muscles time to repair, they won’t grow. That means giving sufficient rest between training sessions and getting enough sleep to optimize hormone levels that support muscle growth and recovery (testosterone and growth hormone). If you’re not seeing progress in the gym and your nutrition is on point, look at your sleep hygiene and recovery practices—they might be the key to success.
Step-by-Step Workout Plan for Men Over 40
Perform each exercise for 45 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds rest for 4 sets before moving to the next exercise using 20 and 30-pound dumbbells.
- Dumbbell Bridge Floor Chest Press Variations
- Single DB Reverse Lunge to Curtsey Lunge
- Single DB Lying Dumbbell Pullovers
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Skull Crushers to Tate Press
- Single DB Side Raise to Front Raise
Active Rest/Cardio: Mobility, Pilates, Yoga, 30-minute brisk walk
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest three times before moving on to the next exercise.
- Lying Floor DB Chest Press
- Lying Floor DB Chest Flyes
- Bent Over DB Rows
- Bent Over DB Reverse Rows
- Lying DB Skull Crushers
- Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks
- Standing Alternating Biceps Curls
- Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Dumbbell Side to Front Raise
Active Rest/Cardio—Similar to Day 2
Perform each exercise for 40 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest two times, and then move on to the next exercise.
- Single Arm Suitcase Squat 40-10 (x2)
- Single Leg Static Lunge 40-20 (x2)
- Staggered RDL 40-20 (x2)
- Glute Bridge 40-20 (x2)
- Single Calf Raise 40-20 (x2)
- Goblet Squats 40-20
- Reverse Lunge 40-20
- DB Deadlifts 40-20
- Stiff Legged Deadlifts 40-20 (x2)
- Curtsey Lunge 40-20
- Clean and Squat 40-20
- Walking Lunges 40-20(x2)
- Unilateral Static Lunge to Staggered RDL 40-20 (x2)
- Side to Side Goblet Lunge To Close Goblet Squats 2 40-20 (x2)
- DB Skier Swings To DB Swings 40-20 (x2)
Days 6 and 7
Staying Motived to Build Muscle After 40
Staying motivated to achieve your fitness goals can be challenging regardless of age. Sometimes, you don’t have the time or the energy, but one of the biggest things to effectively build muscle over 40 is consistency—consistency is always king.
Here are a few tips to help you combat the tough days and stay on track:
- Set realistic goals: Use the SMART principles to help you set achievable goals.
- Recruit a buddy: A workout buddy not only keeps you motivated during your workouts but can also help keep you accountable for completing your workouts.
- Join a group: Facebook offers loads of groups (and plenty of Alpha Over 40 groups) with like-minded men who lift each other up. They’re a great support network to keep you on track and share your success.
- Have fun: You might have some intense fitness goals, but you’ll be miserable if you forget to have fun with your workouts along the way. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and always give it your best. If you’re not sure about how to do a movement, follow along with the YouTube videos.
Building muscle after 40 isn’t always easy, but it’s more than possible with the right mindset and knowledge behind you.
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