Some health and fitness experts make it seem like building muscle after 40 is impossible.
True, there are some aspects of muscle building that make it harder as you get older. But it's entirely possible to add new mass in your forties and beyond, whether you're a man or woman.
The key is to focus on the things that matter most about adding muscle, and to understand how your body may respond differently than it used to in your twenties.
With these two things in mind, anyone can get results. Age, as they say, will just be a number—and you'll be living proof!
Here's your ultimate guide to muscle growth after 40.
Best Ways to Build Muscle After 40
Here are some of the best fitness routines for building muscle after 40:
- Functional strength training: Weight training exercises like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses, cleans, and pull-ups. These keep your muscles and joints strong and help develop your physique evenly, so you aren't undertraining certain areas of the body. Workouts that focus on barbell resistance training, whether they're in the powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or functional resistance training world, are all good options.
- CrossFit: A large portion of CrossFit is strength training, and there is always an emphasis on functionality. It's a great program to help build muscle, as well as other areas of fitness like cardio, along with skills like balance, coordination, and power.
- Bodybuilding: If you aren't fond of functional training, good old fashioned bodybuilding can help you add muscle to any area of your body. Dumbbell and machine exercises are perfectly fine methods for getting results. The only downside is that this style of training doesn't really translate over to daily life. But if it's what you like and know, go for it.
In general, whichever type of muscle building routine you choose, be sure to focus on lifestyle factors like sleep and nutrition too. We'll talk more about those later on!
How You Should Train to Build Muscle After 40
Regardless of your program, here are 5 cornerstones in your training that you can follow to help build lean muscle mass after 40.
1. Be Sure To Warm Up
The older you get, the more important the warmup portion of your workout routine becomes. The last thing you want to do is get injured and be sidelined for a while.
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Studies show that your body's mobility tends to naturally regress later in life. Not only is this important from an injury prevention standpoint, it's also necessary if you want to keep exercising on a regular basis going forward.
Especially warm up the muscles around your shoulders, hips, ankles, and knees. A little light cardio and some dynamic stretches is a good place to start.
Just remember that an injury could slow you down. And it could take longer to recover from than it used to, so you want to avoid these setbacks at all costs.
2. Lift Heavy a Few Times per Week
You might not be able to pound weights five times per week like you used to anymore. Still, lifting heavy is what stimulates the growth response you need if you want to add new muscle.
Focus on compound exercises that strengthen multiple joints and muscle groups at one time, like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and cleans.
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If you're going with straight weightlifting workouts, use a proven method like 3x5, 5x5, 4x4, or 3x8 for rep schemes. These are number of sets followed by repetition, so you'd do 3 sets x 5 repetitions with the same weight. (You can, of course, build up to these with warmup sets first.) Keep things simple and progress the weights slightly each week to help drive gains.
These movements combined with these rep schemes will allow you to lift heavier, giving you a greater metabolic response than machine isolation exercises do.
One or two heavy days per week is plenty. If you're doing CrossFit or another type of fitness training, feel free to dial the intensity back on the other days to help promote recovery. If you aren't programming for yourself, let your coach do the programming and don't add to it!
3. Eat Plenty of Protein
Protein is the building block nutrient you need to be eating to gain lean muscle.
If you're over 40, protein is even more important. Natural testosterone levels tend to decline after the age of 30, which results in a dropoff of lean muscle mass. (It also makes it harder to add new muscle.)
But eating plenty of protein helps promote natural increases to this hormone, and gives your body the raw materials it needs to repair and recover.
Current literature says to eat up to 2.2g/kg of bodyweight per day to build muscle.
This means if you're 100kg (about 220lbs) you can eat up to 220g of protein per day.
4. Take Supplements
If you're trying to build muscle over 40, there are some supplements that can help.
Keep in mind that supplements are like the final 'ten percent' that help you reach your goals. They aren't a replacement for hard work at the gym or the right diet.
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But here are some that can help you add muscle:
Whey protein powder: good for post workout nutrition to help boost recovery.
Fish oil: good for reducing inflammation so you can train and lift more often.
Creatine monohydrate: a safe workout supplement that helps add endurance to the ends of your heavy lifting sets.
There are other supplements that you might consider, but these are good ones to cover your bases with first. Try these for a few months before adding in others.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is absolutely essential if you're looking to build muscle after 40.
It's during our resting hours that the body floods itself with hormones that promote both recovery and repair. (Not just in the muscles, but in the brain and organs, too.)
Adequate sleep also helps promote strength during workouts. If you don't get enough of it, your workouts may suffer.
It can get harder as you get older (due to work commitments and other lifestyle factors) to get enough sleep. But if you are serious about adding (or want to avoid muscle loss), it should be one of your top priorities.
The Importance of Nutrition to Build Muscle After 40
As you already know, nutrition plays a huge role in how you feel, look, and perform. This is true at any point in life, but especially becomes pertinent as you get older.
The body's metabolism naturally slows down as you get older, meaning you burn less calories throughout the day and certain systems just don't function like they used to.
This can help explain why it takes longer to warmup for a workout, and even why it takes an extra day sometimes before you feel normal after a tough session.
It's also why you're more prone to gaining weight or feeling sluggish if you don't eat the right foods. The foods you eat are the building blocks to help repair and refuel your body. Without good nutrition, you're unlikely to see great results from any program.
Here are some guidelines you should follow after 40:
Eating enough protein gives you the raw materials to grow. As already mentioned, protein helps keep you full, repairs damaged muscles, and helps grow new lean muscle tissue.
Eat plenty of whole foods. Eating lots of sugary junk food has been shown to promote inflammation throughout the body, which not only makes you perform poorer, but also increases your risk of disease.
Eat plenty of fiber. It's a simple and sad truth that most people are deficient in fiber, which is one of the most important nutrients. It keeps your immune system, gut and brain health on point, and helps regulate your metabolism. If you're eating plenty of whole foods, you're well on your way to getting enough in your diet!
Don't overeat. As you get older, your body is simply more likely to store calories it doesn't need for fuel as body fat. Whether you count macronutrients, calories or simply eat mindfully to prevent overeating, this should be a cornerstone of your nutrition plan.
Hydrate. Muscle is primarily made of water, and being hydrated helps keep you energized and performing well during exercise.
Beyond 40 it becomes more about what you eat than anything else. Focus on quality, clean ingredients in the right amounts and you will get results.
How to Get Started Building Muscle After 40
In short, here's how to start building muscle after 40:
Lift heavy several times per week.
Follow a diet that promotes lean muscle, and not the addition of extra fat.
Get enough sleep.
Take supplements, but don't let them replace the hard work you're doing in the areas that matter most.
What you may have noticed about this routine is that it still advises you to follow the same advice any one of any age should follow to build lean muscle.
At 40 years old, the "secret" to getting results doesn't change. Focusing on the fundamentals and executing them day in and day out just becomes that much more important!