I’ll get straight to it. You can make real over 40 physique results. At (currently) 45 I am living proof. Let’s go over a few things to consider when designing, or modifying a training program so you can stay or start on the road to progression after 40.
As I always say, the first thing is to adopt the right mindset. From here on out we’ll be talking only in the realm of possibility. No, the goal isn’t to build 50 pounds of muscle or get into 2% body fat type shape. It’s to get a little better each and every day, one small step at a time in our own over 40 world.
Let’s Break Down Training
I’m willing to bet that most of us over 40 can kiss heavy barbell back squats, heavy bench presses, and several other ego-worthy strength feats goodbye. No sweat. There are plenty of alternatives out there.
Another thing to consider is longevity. If you’re like me you’ll want to keep training into your forties and beyond. If that’s the goal then it’s pointless to keep pounding your joints, namely knees, hips and shoulders and lower back into pulp.
I know that I’ll get a little heat for a few of those as there are plenty over 40 plusers that can perform some pretty awesome lifts, but most of us have a bit of wear and tear on our joints. With high-mileage joints in mind let’s look at a few principles and a sample training program that addresses most if not all of these issues.
- Learn to Accept Adaptation: The first thing is to drop the ego of yesteryear. You may have had glory days of deadlifting, maxing out on bench presses, and squatting until you puked. Great. You got it out of your system. No need for those days anymore. You’re here to make progress. Substantial, attainable, realistic progress safely and steadily.
- Find Alternatives for Everything That Ails You: Don’t feel obligated to squat heavy as if it were the only way to grow your legs when your knees feel like they’ll give any day during a walk to the bathroom. There are effective movement alternatives for everything. Yes, alternatives that will build muscle tissue. Don’t feed into your ego.
- High Reps Are Your New Secret Weapon: In my observation of (too) many years in the gym time under tension is the most underutilized principle for muscle growth. I rarely see anyone perform their sets beyond 15 or 20 seconds. More time under tension results in more muscle tissue stimulation and subsequently growth.
- Adjust Recovery for Lifestyle Not Ego: We all want to still be able to attack the gym full-on especially when starting something new. Don’t. You’re there to train smarter than you did before. Too much too soon will only result in too sore, too tired, and too bad.
- Eat Like an Adult: Let’s be clear, stop eating food that was made for kids. If its mascot is a clown or you have to talk into the animal’s mouth to order it isn’t healthy (I know it wasn’t made for kids, but go with me here). If you’re over 40 eat like an adult from here on out.
Pains and Fixes
Okay, now that we’ve gotten a few things out of the way let’s look at some pain points and ways to fix them. Below are a few exercises you may find a bit uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable hard, but uncomfortable bad-for-my-longevity-and-if-I-do-them-I’ll-get-to-know-my-doctor-too-well. Now, this list is comprised of a few of the more common exercises that are done correctly, but maybe you’ve got some underlying issues, bad joints, or maybe just don’t get that much out of them anymore.
Hurts: back, knees, pride
Fix: Bulgarian split squat, front squat
Hurts: all of the above and then some
Fix: hex bar deadlift, dumbbell deadlift, rack (partial) deadlift
Overhead shoulder presses
Hurts: shoulders (duh!), lower back, neck
Fix: seated neutral-grip (hands facing each other) shoulder press
Flat bench presses
Hurts: ego, shoulders, maybe elbows, oh and ego
Fix: incline bench barbell press or any and all dumbbell press work
Lying barbell/EZ bar extensions (nose breakers/skull crushers)
Hurts: elbows and possibly forehead if not careful
Fix: lying neutral-grip dumbbell extensions
Overhand-grip pull ups
Fix: Neutral-grip pull ups, reverse-grip chin ups
Sample Training Program for the Over 40 Type
Below is an example of a training routine that takes all of the above into consideration. This is as much for women as it is for men. It’s designed to build solid, lean muscle. In a later post I’ll go over some diet/nutrition habits to look at.
This is built around someone training four days per week, no more than one hour (maybe a little less), and who still wants to walk, not crawl, out of the gym.
Monday and Thursday
Incline bench dumbbell or barbell press 3 x 10-20
Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 10-20
Feet-elevated push up 2-3 x as many as possible
Neutral-grip pull up 3 x as many as possible
One-arm dumbbell row 3 x 10-20
Cable, machine row, or inverted row 2-3 x 10-20
Seated dumbbell side lateral raise 3 x 10-20
Seated or standing neutral-grip dumbbell shoulder press 2-3 x 10-20
Exercise ball crunches 3 x 15
Hanging or lying leg lifts 3 x 15
Tuesday and Friday
Lying dumbbell extension 3 x 10-20
Barbell or dumbbell curl 3 x 10-20
Single leg calf raise 3 x 10-20
Seated calf raise 3 x 10-20
Lying or seated leg curl or dumbbell Romanian deadlift 3 x 10-12
Bulgarian split squat with dumbbells 3 x 10-20 each leg
Leg press or barbell front squat 3 x 10-20
Plank 3 x 30 seconds each
Let me know how you do or if you have any questions just comment below.