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.
14 thoughts on “Can I Get Real Physique Results After 40?”
What a great site Brad. Thanks for this!!
Thank you for reading!
You talk so much common sense. Not trained properly for over 20yrs. Bought myself a set of 5kg dumbbells to get myself back into training and found your info very helpful, please keep up the great work, yours in sport, Tony Banks.
Thanks so much for the kind words. Yeah, I try to write about things either I’ve done myself or I’ve observed someone else doing that has been successful. Thanks for reading.
Thanks Brad, wish your help and advice had been available to me years ago.
You got it! I’m sincerely glad you’re finding value here.
Hey Brad, I really appreciate your view on things. I’m approaching 40 and have similar aches and pains. There are exercises I just can’t do anymore, not to mention I’m not as strong as I used to be. I have been looking for ways to continue to build muscle and enjoy training.
I have been thinking about high rep training but always see articles say that anything above 15 is for endurance? Although I have noticed that this is where I get the best pump and burn 🙂
To get straight to the point, muscle hypertrophy (muscle size) has more to do with fatigue, muscle fiber recruitment, and time under tension – among a few others. The higher rep ranges satisfy all of these. Plus, you get enormous blood volume. I, personally, stay between 10 and 20 reps for upper body and 15 and 30 for lower body. I have a ton less joint pain, better mind-muscle connection, and more calorie burn.
Trust me, try it and you’ll see. It’ll take a couple of weeks to get in the groove, but go for it.
Now, going higher rep doesn’t mean going light and easy. When I do 30 rep sets on leg press or 20 rep sets on incline barbell press, they aren’t light cakewalks. I have to grind out those last 5 or so reps.
All the best!
I’ve been really busy with work, family, school and projects around the house so this is the type of split that seems to fit for me right now. What would an A/B splits look like for this split?
At some point , I may need to move to a 3 day split due to my circumstances. Any recommendations or ideas on this?
I may need to write another post on this to answer your questions as they are good ones. Have you seen this series I posted?
Yes I have looked at the one. Actually, at the moment I’m doing your push pull legs split but I’m doing it only four times per week. I wasn’t sure how effective this would be not doing it 5 times per week but enjoy this split.?
I think you can’t go wrong about going four times per week. The important things are to stay consistent and work your tail off.
I checked out fitness volt and saw a very similar 2 day upper/lower split that I was asking about on earlier comment.
I like the slightly higher rep ranges and the exercise variety between each day.
May I ask why arms on the lower day? Im Just wondering as I don’t typically see it structured that way. I like it, just wanted your reasoning.
I do it mainly for a balance of volume. It’s a bit much to put the entire upper body on one day, but if it works for you, go for it! Thanks.