7 Things No One Tells You About Building Muscle After 40

Building muscle after 40 isn’t impossible. Everyone from professional athletes, weekend warriors, and even bodybuilders are experiencing success and longevity well into their forties. Muscle is muscle no matter how old you are and if your training is dialed in, your diet is on point, and you’re taking the proper steps for rest and recovery, building new muscle past 40 is completely doable. 

Here are seven things no one tells you about building muscle after 40.  

#1 You can build new muscle 

Being forty isn’t a death sentence. In fact, many are just starting their journey with the iron. Gyms across the country have had upticks with older individuals joining. And they wouldn’t be forking over their cash if they didn’t believe they could reshape their physiques. 

Muscle tissue is muscle tissue and when you hit forty it will still react with the same outcome when trained: new muscle growth and increased strength. Now, this is all true when your training has the appropriate intensity and volume, and your diet is optimized for muscle growth and recovery. 

One argument against the possibility of building new muscle is the hormone issue. Testosterone naturally decreases as we age. Around the age of 30 to 35 this vital muscle-building hormone will decline by 1-2% each year. However, many individuals in their forties also tend to help this decline by gaining unwanted weight, becoming more sedentary, and following a poor diet. Testosterone levels have no chance of hanging on when you’re beating your head against a wall. Add to it that you go to the gym and then cannot properly recover furthering your decline. 

Stay up with your diet, train properly, and take recovery seriously and you’ll find yourself gaining new momentum toward a better physique. 

#2 You don’t need to go heavy

Lifting heavy weight is one way to build muscle, but not the only way. Other factors are just as important such as time under tension, volume, and metabolic stress. Taking these other strategies into consideration should bring you a little relief regarding building muscle after 40. 

Reaching muscular failure while doing low rep sets of four to eight reps can wreak havoc on your joints over time. In turn, this prevents you from lifting in that low rep zone. But don’t worry, muscular failure is what you’re after and the higher rep range can build just as much muscle. In fact, a 2015 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared two groups with different rep ranges for gains in strength and hypertrophy. The study concluded that reps in the 25 to 35 range built as much muscle as the group who performed 8 to 12 reps [1]. 

You don’t need to go as high as 35 reps but the study may put you at ease in the fact that you can go lighter in the load as long as you’re reaching muscular failure. So anywhere from 10 to 20 reps is a safe bet for building relatively pain-free muscle while saving your joints. 

#3 Reps are your friend

Embracing the fact that you don’t have to actually lift heavy will give you the opportunity to have a new training experience. Higher reps in many ways can be more demanding in the fact that they provide more time under tension and lactic acid build-up. This new training stimulus can also breathe new life into your training making it more enjoyable and increasing your accountability. 

Higher rep training can also give you more opportunities to work on your form. More reps equal more time under the weight for better control and connecting your mind to the muscle being trained. You can also experiment with new movements and really get a feel for which ones will work for you and which ones to toss out. 

But don’t be fooled, higher reps with slightly lighter loads don’t mean that they are easier to perform. The goal is to still go to failure on most sets and fatigue the muscle. Just avoid lightening the load too much and not feel challenged. Lift and lower the load slowly and under control and avoid loosening your form and speeding up the tempo as much as possible.  

#4 You need to build muscle and strength

Hitting forty and beyond isn’t an excuse to take up light jogging in the park. Since you lose an appreciable amount of muscle after 35 it’s even more important to develop muscle and strength for many reasons. Staying functional, longevity, and even hormone levels are all affected by your strength levels as well as muscle mass on your frame. So it’s a no-brainer to take up weight resistance training, especially after forty. 

Since you lose muscle mass and strength as you age, adopting a sensible training plan can improve your day-to-day lifestyle. Everyday tasks from yard work to a pick-up game of basketball take less effort if you’re stronger. Also, weight training helps to maintain hormones such as testosterone, especially at older ages as your natural levels tend to dip. Additionally, weight training has been shown to stop and sometimes reverse bone loss. This coupled with stronger and more muscle will fortify your structure for a better life many years down the road. 

All this is to say that building more muscle and strength as you age will not only grant you more years of life, but those extended years will be of higher quality. 

#5 Strength is a requirement in life

No matter how much you rely on technology or how modern life affords you the most convenience, you will still be faced with stressors that require you to be stronger than the average forty-year-old. From changing a tire to helping your neighbor build a fence, strength is still a requirement in life. 

Refuse to believe that forty is the beginning of the end – that you’re on some sort of downhill slide. That you need to join a spin class and say goodbye to the weight room. If you’re new to the iron game, think of it as a new and improved beginning. An introduction to the many possibilities of weight training. And if you’re no stranger to lifting, look at forty as an opportunity to start fresh, learn a few new things, and drive forward to improving on what you already have. It’s no one’s goal to struggle through life. 

#6 Technique is most important 

No advice about weight training would be complete without mentioning technique. Not only is proper technique of utmost importance to every lifter, but it’s also paramount as you get older. In your younger days, you may have used a bit of body English with some of your lifts. Maybe you heaved up barbell rows, bent your back a little on barbell curls, or rounded your back on a few squats and deadlifts. Whatever your history, your forties is a time to take a pause and do a little housecleaning.

Take a deep look at some of your core lifts and assess where you can make some positive changes. Where can you shore up your form and technique for better, safer results? A good rule of thumb is to lighten the load and practice textbook form on all of your lifts. But don’t stop there. Reconnect with the muscle you’re training, slow down the movement, and really feel the muscle fibers doing the work. Take the load off of your joints and put the effort where it needs to be. Tighten your entire body for all of your lifts to create a solid and strong foundation. This can prevent injury and help harness power throughout your entire physique. 

This is that coveted mind-to-muscle connection you hear so much about. It’s not enough to just lift the weight from point A to point B. You need to start thinking as if you’re lifting from point A to point Z. Focus not just on the end but on every inch of the exercise to get more quality out of your workouts.  

#7 40 isn’t old

At the end of the day, forty isn’t old unless you make it so. With so many advances in nutrition, supplementation, training, and the fact that you have information literally at your fingertips there’s no reason forty signifies that you should hang up your gym shoes and go home. 

Your mental state will dictate how you move forward from here. An old saying states that you become what you think of the most. So if you think forty is old then you’ll become old. If you truly feel like you have plenty of gas in your tank to take on new challenges then that’ll be your future. 

Remember, muscle is muscle and there’s no reason why you can’t build plenty of it with a good deal of strength to boot. Just believe you can build new muscle and strength, don’t feel like you need to go heavy on your lifts, go a bit higher with your rep ranges, think of strength training as required practice in life, and always adhere to proper technique. 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25853914/ 

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