Are you looking to build muscle after 40? Have you got some lifting experience under your belt and need advice on how to adjust your training, or are you brand new to strength training and want an article targeted at YOU not some twenty-something-year old?
The good news is that turning the big four-oh isn’t the beginning of the end. Ignore all those people who say you’ve missed or are passed your peak, it is possible to build muscle over 40. There are plenty of gains to be had , and the 40-something crowd is more active in the weights room than ever before. Forget slow cardio and tiny dumbbells you can throw further than the progress you’ll make with them and get ready to lift some serious weights.
Know your barriers.
Obviously now that you’re older you’ve got more responsibilities than the average twenty-year old. Family, work, and other social obligations can take up a lot of time, not to mention energy. Unexpected tasks and situations are more likely to occur and derail training plans. Learning to be flexible with when and how you train will be important. You might not always be able to train at the same time of day, or you might have to shorten your session when something comes up. You probably don’t have the time to make sure you’ve had the perfect pre-workout meal 2 hours before you train, so sometimes it might just have to be a muesli bar. No matter the circumstances, give each session your all and make the most of the time you have found to work on yourself, health, and fitness.
Know your limits.
Along with life circumstances, our priorities and goals also change as we age. While you once may have wanted to be the biggest or fittest guy or gal in the gym, now you’re more likely to just want to add a bit of muscle, lose the extra fat that’s crept up on you, and not get injured. At 40+ years you can no longer afford time off for injuries and probably won’t bounce back as well as the younger kids can.
Even though you know you aren’t 20-something anymore, it can be hard to remember this when comparing yourself to younger athletes. You need to realise that you probably won’t be able to keep up with the younger generation at the gym.
Trying to keep up with and or comparing yourself with others can lead to loss of motivation, feelings of failure and potentially injury. Allow the wisdom of your years to overpower your ego and work on making progress, not being better than others.
Know your body.
We all know that our metabolisms slow as you age. Not only does this mean you can’t eat whatever you want anymore, but also this will affect your ability to recover from training. Luckily there are a few things you can do to improve metabolism and increase your ability to recover. Start with a healthy diet and try to get 8 hours sleep every night. Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Limit alcohol and partying like you’re still twenty… Utilize supplements such as whey protein, BCAAs and glutamine to help your body repair and build muscle and generally recover from workouts. Treat yourself to a deep tissue massage every now and then and make sure you see a doctor or physio for any injuries!
Know your goals.
Even though you may no longer want to be king or queen of the gym, you will still need to find your motivation from somewhere. Whatever your goals, from losing weight, to adding muscle, to just being able to keep up with the kids, it helps to have your goals clearly defined. Set specific mini-goals to keep you motivated such as losing five pounds of fat or adding 2.5kg to your squat in a month. It may help to work with a personal trainer and/or nutritionist to help you set realistic goals and come up with a plan on how to do it.
To keep making progress toward your goals, first you have to stay healthy and injury free. It’s important to warm up properly before your workouts and also post-training mobility. Ensure your muscles and joints are warmed up before training, paying particular attention to any areas susceptible to tightness and injury. If you have had a previous injury it is likely you will need to do more mobility work on this area than others.
Know your options.
You don’t need a fancy 16 week program with a 4 week taper to build muscle and improve general fitness. The basics work no matter what your age so stick to the big, multi-joint compound exercises like squats, presses, rows. Add in some progressive programming which means slowly increase the weight over time, maybe 2.5kg per week if you’re feeling good, and you should be seeing gains in no time.
That said, after 40 years of wear and tear you may find these exercises start causing you pain. There are plenty of substitute exercised if you find one is causing you pain or discomfort. If you’re experiencing lower back pain during back squats you could replace it with rear food elevated Bulgarian split squats. Barbell presses can be replaced by dumbbell presses and bent-over rows can be replaced by chest-supported or inverted rows. While there is plenty of information on the internet consulting a personal trainer may be a good idea so your program can be tailored specifically to you.
Know you can.
Lastly, just know you can do it. You may not progress as quickly as you once did (or could have done) but with perseverance and hard work you’ve still got plenty of gains left in you.