Strength

Building muscle in your 40’s (and beyond) – 7 tips for continued gains

Being in your 40’s doesn’t mean your gains should suffer. Follow our muscle building tips to commence or enhance your over 40 fitness journey.

Some of us here at Point Blank are a bit long in the tooth. But we don’t let that slow or derail our fitness journey.

It is entirely possible to begin or continue to build muscle in your 40’s and beyond. And hitting the gym in your middle years is a great way to stay healthy, mobile and to look and feel great. 

Indeed, it becomes even more important to remain active as you age if you want to stay healthy and maintain your independence. 

Plus there is something awesome about starting your transformation into that grizzled old ripped dude or dudette in the gym!

But what do you need to consider or change up as you start or continue your muscle building adventures into your 40’s and beyond?

Let’s take a look.

An effective warm up is even more important as an older lifter. Don’t skip it!

Our younger bodies are generally always ‘ready for action’ thus can tolerate skipping the occasional warm up.

Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies generally move from this always ready for action state to more of an ‘I need at least a 10 minute heads up before we do anything remotely strenuous’ state.

This is why the often neglected warm up becomes even more important as you age, as it ensures your body is indeed ‘ready for action’ which helps you perform better and avoid injury.

Performing 10 minutes of light cardio (running machine, static bike, row or even dynamic stretching are all great) before a lifting session does a couple of key things to your body. It raises your temperature and increases blood flow, which in turn helps prepare and loosen your muscles and joints.

Performing a general warm up before every gym session is super important but it shouldn’t be too taxing. You want to save most of your energy for the actual lifting. 

So keep your warm up at a light/moderate intensity and for 10-15 minutes max.

Make use of warm up sets

It’s also important to make use of warm up sets, particularly early in your session or if you are going heavy on a particular move.

Before your working sets for each exercise, complete 2-3 lighter weight sets, increasing the weight as you go. 

This will help ‘oil the groove’ both preparing you for the hard working sets ahead and with building a stronger mind muscle connection.

There is no perfect number of warm up sets and you’ll have to learn what works best for you. Balancing the need to warm up with the need to maintain energy for your working sets. 

If you are moving between exercises utilising the same muscles or similar movements then you won’t need to repeat your warm up sets (unless you are going super heavy, in which case building up the weight is smart).

If, however, you’re going from an upper body movement such as the bench press to a lower body movement such as squats, it’s sensible to perform warm up sets to get you in the squat groove and minimise your risk of injury.

As with your general warm up don’t go overboard on the number of sets and reps. You should be saving your energy for your working sets. 

It varies by individual but 2-3 sets with gradually increasing weight should be sufficient. 

If you are going super heavy you may need a couple more. But, in this case, stick to very low reps that help prep your central nervous system but don’t burn you out.

Form trumps weight - leave your pride at the door and focus on good technique with a strong mind muscle connection

How you lift is far more important than how much you lift. 

Bolting into the gym and swinging dumbbells around that are far too heavy for you is a recipe for disaster and suboptimal (if any) gains. You can get away with it in your 20’s, to a certain extent, but that way injury lies in your later years.

Don’t short change yourself, effort-wise, but forget about trying to lift more than anyone else in the gym. 

Instead, challenge yourself to have the best technique and maximise every rep via controlled deliberate lifting.

This also means leaving the partial reps to the pro bodybuilders. 

Use a full range of motion, a 3-4 second eccentric (the lowering phase of each exercise) and a brief pause between each rep to remove any momentum.

To help you get the most out of every rep, take a look at our article on mind muscle connection.

Higher reps with moderate weight is the way to go - leave the super heavy stuff (and the related injuries from poor form!) to the youngsters

Lifting super heavy all the time will take its toll and as you age you’ll begin to accumulate little aches and pains in your elbows, knees, shoulders etc. 

In your 40’s and beyond, these niggles can be far more debilitating and often result in needing time out of the gym to recover. This in turn hinders your progress.

If certain exercises cause you pain, lighten the load but increase the reps. Numerous studies show that slow, controlled lifting to higher reps is just as effective as low rep / high weight programmes.

And, you may want to ease down on training to failure. 

Regardless of age, training to failure isn’t essential in any case. But, as you age and your powers of recovery wane, its sensible to use training to failure even more sparingly (if at all). 

That said, the usual caveats apply, so don’t fear working to technical failure on the pump inducing isolation moves (bicep curls, side lateral raises etc,) as you won’t cause too much fatigue. 

It’s sensible, however, to avoid working to failure on the big compound moves (squats, deads etc.), as the fatigue caused and knock on for future sessions probably isn’t worth the payoff.

It’s important to understand that to build muscle you still need to work hard and keep up the intensity. But rather than chasing numbers and big single or low rep maxes, it’s advisable to work within a moderate/high rep range (8-15) for each working set.

Again, don’t short change yourself effort-wise. Working sets must remain challenging. But keep your movements slow and controlled and nail that mind muscle connection and feel every rep.

Work on your mobility - for continued gains, health and longevity you must look at mobility and flexibility as a non-negotiable component of your training

In your twenties you have an almost super power when it comes to recovery, and much of the natural flexibility you had as a child.

As you hit your 40’s, however, and especially if you’ve been lifting for several years, your body will like to play a game with you most mornings where it replaces all your joints with solid concrete and even lying flat on a bed elicits aches and pains from untold locations.

To help alleviate this, mobility work should become a key component of your training programme, regardless of your age. 

But it becomes even more essential as you become more trained and hit your later years.

Book into a regular class at your gym or get online and find a whole body stretch and flexibility routine you can do at home. 

Dedicating just 15-20 minutes a day to improving your mobility and flexibility will pay huge dividends now and in the future.

man doing yoga
You don't need to be this supple, but you should work on your flexibility and mobility

Your nutrition is just as important as your training programme, especially in you middle/later years

The usual rules apply here but you will likely need to be even more diligent and disciplined. 

As with other training aspects, compared to your 20’s you have less wiggle room with your nutrition and need to keep it on point to maximise your gains.

This means tracking what you eat and knowing your target daily calorie count to ensure you are fuelling enough to work out and grow (or conversely, not overeating and putting on excess fat).

Stick to natural whole foods and meals you prepare yourself and ensure you are consuming adequate protein to facilitate muscle growth. Aim for 1.6-2.0g of protein per kg of bodyweight. 

As an older lifter, research suggests that leaning towards the higher end of this range is smart, as is consuming a decent portion of your protein (30-40g) within 1-2 hours post-exercise. 

Remember to drink lots of water throughout the day and aim to down at least 6-8 glasses (1.2 -1.5 litres) per day.

Your recovery is just as important as your nutrition

For your body to do the actual “growing bigger and stronger” part, it needs to be allowed sufficient rest, and the right nutrition, for the recovery to take place.

Studies show a significant part of muscle recovery and growth occurs while you are sleeping. So make sure you are getting that magic 7-8 hours sleep per night. And find a sleep routine that works best for you and that promotes consistent sleep and wake times..

In terms of recovery between lifting sessions, there is no conclusive evidence that muscles need more recovery time in your 40’s. 

But shifting to a ‘smaller amount, more often’ approach with your training is smart. 

For example, splitting your upper and lower body workouts across multiple days and/or moving to a push/legs/pull split and undertaking multiple shorter sessions throughout the week.

Final thoughts

There are many reminders in life that we can’t do in our 40’s what we could in our 20’s, but building muscle and maintaining a healthy physique isn’t one of them.

It is entirely possible to continue to build, or begin to build, lean muscle mass in your 40’s (and beyond). Indeed, your approach doesn’t need to change radically and the key fundamentals remain very similar.

This is the key take away, the processes aren’t any different but your margins for error can become somewhat narrower. 

This means it’s important that every element of your training, nutrition and recovery are on point so you avoid the niggles and injuries that are more common in your middle years and unfortunately often more debilitating.

Focus less on the 1 rep max and comparing yourself to others and more on perfect technique, controlled lifting, solid nutrition and all over body mobility. 

Do this and your muscle building journey can continue well into pensionable age and beyond.

Welcome to the grizzled old ripped veterans club!

New to weight training?
New to weight training?

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Size Guide

Measure around the fullest part of your chest – keep the tape measure close under the arms

Size

Chest – Inches

Chest – CM

Small

31 – 34

78.7 – 86.4

Medium

35 – 38

88.9 – 96.5

Large

39 – 41

99.1 – 104.1

X-Large

42 – 45

106.7 – 114.3

2X-Large

46-48

116.8 – 121.9

Size

Chest – Inches

Small

31 – 34

Medium

35 – 38

Large

39 – 41

X-Large

42 – 45

2X-Large

46-48

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