Theoretically, there is no reason why a 40-year-old man can’t get in as amazing of shape as a 30-year-old or even a 20-year-old. Granted it would take more effort, and a smarter approach, every small advantage would have to be maximized but it is possible. So why is this very rarely the case building muscle after 40?
There are quite a few reasons, a 40-year-old man will probably have more family commitments than a 20-year-old, he will probably have a higher pressure job, and it will be deemed less acceptable (by some) to spend their lives in a gym.
Then there’s the fact that many 40-year-old men won’t believe that it is even possible, which is probably the number one factor. Finally, there is possibly less motivation.
But the 40-year-old man will have some advantages over the 20-year-old gym goer, they will most likely have more disposable cash (obviously this is a generalization) which means that they will be able to spend more on healthy food, supplements, and a personal trainer.
They will also be less likely to be surrounded by people who go out drinking 3 or 4 times per week, who eat junk food regularly, or who do drugs. Again, this is clearly a generalization, but still a valid point.
Building Muscle After 40
This is not the impossible dream that some imagine it to be. But you’ll have to be smart about it, you’ll need to work hard and be dedicated. It won’t be easy, but sticking to the following advice will get you in the shape of your life. Good Luck!
Step One: NEAT
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT for short) is a number of calories you burn during the day without exercising. Or what you think of as exercising anyway (lifting weights, playing sports, running on a treadmill). NEAT covers things like walking, cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, gardening, or even fidgeting whilst sitting in a meeting. All of these activities will burn calories, some will burn almost no calories (such as fidgeting) but over the course of a day, a week, a month the small calories will accumulate and make a difference. Some activities (for example gardening) will burn much more calories than you might expect.
Adding all of these non-exercise activities together can end up massively increasing your daily calorie expenditure, and can lead to weight loss (when combined with a calorie-controlled diet). As we age our NEAT levels can decline which can cause our metabolism to slow down and our fat levels to increase.
This is why some men can exercise and eat the exact same amount as they did when they were 18 yet still gain weight, their metabolism hasn’t turned on them as such, more their behind-the-scenes daily calories have dropped.
One way to counter this is to start measuring (and then increasing) these activities. Counting a number of steps you take per day, and then increasing them is a great way to boost NEAT levels. Mobile phones can all get free step counter apps downloaded onto them, and then you can just keep it in your pocket. Hitting 10,000 steps per day rather than the 3,500 that you were previously is one of the easiest ways to increase your NEAT levels and therefore lose weight.
Step Two: The Gym
Now that you’ve got your non-exercise activity up, let’s take a look at your gym-based activity and start bodybuilding. A good program for anyone looking to lose weight involves cardio and weights, with more emphasis on weights. In terms of difference from the training program of a 20-year-old? Potentially less volume (meaning fewer reps, sets, and workouts), but this is an individual issue.
What we’re going to ensure here, is that we don’t waste any time on exercises that aren’t optimal. And we are going to concentrate on exercises that will protect the joints, improve posture, and prevent injury. Sadly, an increased risk of injury is an issue that we can’t ignore, in fact, it’s not the risk of injury that would be the biggest issue, but the time taken to recover.
This program is going to contain lots of compound exercises; these are exercises that work for multiple muscle groups at the same time. For example, whilst a bicep curl works one muscle (the bicep), a barbell squat will work the Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteals, Abdominals, and Adductors/Abductors, plus quite a few more. You can imagine which exercise is going to get you nearer to your weight loss goals right?
These are exercises that you can use to improve your more important exercises (such as the squat mentioned above), lower your injury risk, or improve your Range of Motion (ROM). Exercises such as face pulls, rear delt flies, or lateral lunges can not only improve ROM, and strengthen smaller muscles that you may not even have been aware of. They can also help you perform exercises such as bench press, which will help you increase strength and lower fat. A pretty good use of time.
Much has been made of the benefits of HIIT, and many people are now looking down on low-intensity cardio as a useless endeavor. This is not the case, either HITT or LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) cardio will help you lose fat and improve your cardiovascular fitness and it’s a big part of health and fitness. It just boils down to personal preference. HIIT takes up less time, which is definitely a bonus, whilst LISS is safer and will burn more calories. If you have the time, then it would probably be best to concentrate on LISS, but if not HIIT is the way to go.
The program for you to follow will be split into five. Three days of resistance exercises (weights), and two days of cardio. If you don’t have the time, then just perform the three days of weights and add ten minutes of HIIT on an exercise bike to the end of the session.
- Goblet Squats 3-4 x 12-15 reps
- Deadlifts (2-3 warm ups) 2 x 4-6 reps
- Face Pulls 3 x 12
- Bench Press 3 x 8-12
- Lat Pulldown 3 x 8-12
Session Two (optional cardio)
- LISS 30-40 minutes
- Lateral Lunges 3 x 10 reps (each side)
- Plank x 1 (Hold as long as possible)
- Leg Curls 3 x 15 reps
- Leg Press 3 x 12-15 reps
- Lunges 3 x 10 reps (each leg)
- Press Ups 3 x 6-10
- Single Arm Dumbbell Row 3 x 8 (each arm)
- Rear Delt Flyes 3 x 12
Session Four (optional cardio)
- LISS 30-40 minutes
- Face Pulls 3 x 12
- Plank x 1
- Dumbbell Sumo Squats 3 x 12-15 reps
- Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 10 reps
- Barbell Overhead Press 3 x 6-8 reps
- Inverted Row 3 x 6-10 reps
- Rear Delt Flyes 3 x 12
Always ensure that you perform a 5-10 minute warm up before a workout, and you can perform some foam rolling in the cardio sessions for added recovery from training. Make sure that the weights used are challenging, but can be performed with excellent form, bad form or posture during an exercise can lead to injury.
Step Three: The Kitchen
No crazy diet is required to lose weight, and once you realise this getting shredded becomes, if not easy, at least simple. To lose weight you need to consume fewer calories than you burn throughout the day (adding your NEAT and workout calories together, plus other factors such as your resting metabolism).
This is already getting complicated so let’s keep it simple. Start tracking the calories that you are consuming week in week out, get yourself a total for your average daily intake. Once you have it, evaluate yourself. Are you skinny and you want to get bigger? Increase the calorie target and stick to it, you will gain weight. Are you overweight? Then lower the calorie target and you will lose weight.
This is the basic mechanism for fat loss, eat less whilst keeping your calories burned the same or even increasing them. The trick is to not lower the calories too fast and to lower calories from carbohydrates rather than protein. Fat should take up 25% of your calories, so if your current diet is over that then lower fat intake.
Protein should remain high for two reasons. One, protein is the hardest macronutrient for your body to break down. This raises your metabolism. Two, the older you get the harder it is to build muscle, increasing your protein will increase muscle protein synthesis (turning dietary protein into muscle).
Other than that, just eat more fruit and veg, eat less junk, drink more water. You’re over 40 years old, you know this already!
Step Four: Supplements
Creatine has been scientifically proven to increase energy when weight training, improve cognitive function and get this … the results in older men are more extreme than in younger men. This is because younger men will produce more creatine naturally.
Whey protein is another good choice for supplementation now that we know that high protein diets are the way forward. Both whey protein and creatine work better when taken together (not literally mixed together) than when only one or the other is taken, so increase your workout efficiency by purchasing both.
Omega-3 supplementation is a good idea if you are starting to worry about cardiovascular health, it can also help lower inflammation which is important when training. Finally, a good multivitamin wouldn’t go amiss here either. Essentially the supplementation guide for men over and under 40 is exactly the same, but the over 40s should probably pay more attention to it.
Step Five: Sleep
Now we’re talking! Sleeping more is where men over 40 come into their own, napping should be listed as a hobby. But study after study has shown that increasing sleep will increase sporting performance and cognitive performance. Another big advantage of sleeping more is that it will raise testosterone and growth hormone levels as you get older your body naturally produces less and less growth hormone and less testosterone. This can lead to weight gain, loss of muscle size and strength, and many other factors. Boosting this through sleep will help you catch up, and even surpass all of that late night partying 20-year-olds. Building muscle over 40 has never been more enjoyable!