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Strength Training After 40: The Benefits, How-To's & Workouts

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Strength Training Over 40
Walking through a gym can be intimidating, even for men that have worked out in the past. Men who want to start strength training after 40 often feel that they can’t achieve the same strength and muscle mass that they once had at a younger age.

The truth is… you CAN still get stronger later in life.

Age is no longer an excuse for not being in the best shape of your life. While it is true that muscle mass tends to decrease with age, something known as sarcopenia, this does not have to be inevitable.

Build Muscle At Any Age!

One recent research study found that middle-aged men between the ages of 35-50 have the same muscle-building potential as those in their 20s.

This same study found that middle-aged men also lost more fat mass and decreased their total body fat percentage more than the college-aged men while performing the same exercises! (1)

The key to strength training after 40 is adapting the exercises to your abilities, minimizing stress to your joints, and also understanding the science behind muscle growth.

The first big factor is knowing how often to train each week.

A wide-scale review of the scientific evidence out there has found that to optimize muscle growth, muscles should be trained at least twice per week, and possibly three times weekly (2).

The Ideal Strength Training Routine For Men Over 40

What does this mean for you? If you are a busy male over 40, you probably don’t have the time to work out seven days a week.

But if you can manage to fit in three solid total body workouts into your schedule, you can still achieve the same strength training benefits as someone going to the gym every day.

As a matter of fact, you could be doing more harm than good by working out too frequently.

If you break down your workouts into specific body areas-like a leg day, or a back and biceps day- you may only have time to hit these muscle groups once each week.

That is where doing full-body strength training days really gets you the most bang for your buck.

Five Best Muscle Building Exercises for Men Over 40 and Old School Muscle

The Fit Father Project specifically uses this evidence-backed science to bring you programs to gain strength and get into the best shape of your life.

There are several free offers, including the 5 Best Muscle Building Exercises for Men Over 40. This is a great free video to start with, to get an excellent introduction to strength training after 40.

Old School Muscle is also designed for men over 40 to build muscle, even at a later age in life.
With this program you will get a comprehensive training plan along with nutritional guidance. Plus, you’ll have the full support of the Fit Father community.

Science Behind Strength Training After 40

A routine to build muscle needs to include the right types of exercises and needs to be done consistently.

It can be confusing reading fitness articles, all with differing opinions on the number of repetitions or sets to do to build muscle mass.

That’s where actual scientific research comes in, to truly determine the ultimate strength-building plan for men over 40.

As I already mentioned, you should be targeting each muscle group at least two times, if not three times, weekly. The next step is figuring out the best types of exercises and the volume of training to get you the best results.

Optimal Training Volume

Research on muscle building has shown that there is a dose-response relationship in muscle growth.

That is, the more repetitions and sets you do, there will be a quicker response in muscle gains. However, this is only up to a certain point.

There is a critical point where performing more repetitions of an exercise will not produce any significant gains in muscle growth. At that point, overtraining becomes counterproductive.

Pro-Tip: A good starting point is typically 10-12 sets per muscle group per week.

 

So if you are able to do three total-body strength workouts a week, this means about 3-4 sets each day for each muscle group.

High Weights or High Reps?

Repetitions within a set are also important. It has been taught that high reps with low weights are good for toning muscles, while low reps with heavy weights are better for muscle growth and bulk.

However, studies have also shown that as long as the muscles are exercised to the point of fatigue there can be similar strength gains regardless of the amount of weight used.

For example, one study showed that those doing 10-12 reps with heavier weights had similar muscle gains as those that did 30-40 reps with lighter weights.

The takeaway here is that as long as you are pushing your muscles to fatigue, you can get by with either variation of high reps-light weights or low reps-heavy weights.

best exercise for men 40+

What Are The 5 Best Muscle Building Exercises For Men 40+?

best exercise for men 40+
The secret to building age-defying muscle in your in 40s, 50s, & 60s is to modify the best muscle building exercises (bench, squats, rows) to make them safe on your joints…

Train Smart

In men over 40, lower weight and higher reps may be more beneficial to avoid injury and joint aches while still having the benefit of strength gains.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to do 50 reps with 2-pound dumbbells. What it does mean is starting out with a weight you feel comfortable with and pushing your muscles until they are fatigued.

Now, as far as how heavy you should be lifting, you should start with a weight that allows you to complete the full number of reps.

If you find that you are finishing 10 reps with minimal fatigue, you will need to increase the weight.

On the other hand, if you are struggling to get to 8 reps, it’s time to swallow your pride and drop down to a lower weight.

And always be sure to include a quality warm-up and cool down with every exercise!

…But Still Challenge Yourself

Over time, you will find that it will become easier to finish your sets. At that point, it is time to challenge yourself with a higher weight. This is known as progressive overload.

You may start by doing 15-pound bicep curls during your first few weeks, moving from 8 to 10 reps.

Once that 10 reps becomes easier, it is time to move up to 20 pounds and try to achieve 6-8 reps. You would then stay at that weight until 10 reps are easier to achieve.

From this you progressively and slowly increase your weight based on your progress.

Best Rest For Muscle Gains

Resting between sets is also critical to achieving optimal strength gains for men over 40.

Studies have been a bit conflicting regarding the ideal rest period. It appears that longer rest, about 2-3 minutes, is better for muscle growth compared to rest periods less than 60 seconds.

In order to avoid injury and give your best effort in each set, I advocate for about a two minute rest period between sets.

This will allow you to perform your next set at an optimal level and with the best form.

Strength Workout for Men Over 40

Let’s take a look at a sample full-body exercise to get a better idea of what your workout could look like.

Sample Full Body Workout

In every workout you do, whether it be strength training, cardio, or high-intensity intervals, you should always begin with a warm-up.

This will get your heart rate up and blood flowing to your muscles. Plus, you will loosen up your tendons and ligaments so that your body is prepared for a workout and less vulnerable to injury.

Warm Up:

Any kind of light cardio is great here. Walking on a treadmill, jump rope, or even jogging in place is a good place to start.

If you have a rowing machine available in your gym this is a great way to warm up your upper and lower body at the same time.

After a quick 5-10 minute warm-up, perform a few of these dynamic stretches that involve your upper and lower body as this will be a full-body strength training workout.

Stretching before and after a workout is crucial to avoid injury and prepare your body for the workout ahead.

While static stretching still has its place in helping to increase flexibility and range of motion, dynamic stretching seems to produce better results prior to a workout.

Studies have shown that dynamic stretching is better for muscle coordination and neural drive during a workout, while static stretching could actually decrease muscle power (3).

Dynamic Stretches:

Arm Circles:

  1. Stand tall with your arms outstretched to your sides and parallel to the floor.
  2. Make small circles with your arms going forward for 10 reps, then backwards for 10 reps.
  3. Then make larger circles forward for 10 reps, and backwards for 10 reps.

Arm Cross-Overs:

  1. Stand with your arms outstretched to the sides and parallel to the floor.
  2. Move your arms across the center of your chest and let them criss-cross each other.
  3. Steadily move them back out and repeat; but this time cross them with the opposite arm on top.
  4. Continue this for 10-20 reps.

Leg Kicks With Arm Reach:

  1. Kick your left leg out straight in front of you while reaching for your toes with the right hand.
  2. Then kick your right leg out and reach your toes with your left hand.
  3. Repeat for 10 reps on each side.

Main Workout:

Cool Down:

Just like every workout starts with a warm-up, it needs to end with a proper cool down.

Do a light walk around the gym or on a treadmill to get your heart rate back down to normal.

This is a good place to add in some static stretching to maintain good flexibility and joint range of motion following a strength training workout.

As you can see, this sample workout hits every muscle group with 3-4 sets.

This means that if you are able to do three full-body workouts a week with a similar format, you will end up with 10-12 sets per muscle group per week.

You can always adjust the sets based on your schedule for that week as well.

If you know that you will only have time for two workouts in a week, you can add additional sets with different movements to one day.

Fuel Your Workouts

Nutrition cannot be overlooked when strength training after 40. This is especially important, as lean body mass may be slightly on the decline already.

Eating the right foods before and after a strength workout is vital to achieving the maximal muscle gains.

Prior to a workout, you want to make sure that your body is fueled to get you through the session.

This means a mix of carbohydrates and protein about two hours prior to your training. Make sure you are staying well hydrated before, during, and after a workout as well.

Maximize Muscle Growth After 40

Within the first 30-45 minutes after a workout, you want to make sure you are getting high-quality protein along with some carbohydrates.

This is the time period where you can really stimulate muscle growth.

Some post-exercise options include whole foods like eggs, lean chicken, greek yogurt, or whole-grain bread with peanut butter.

And it’s not just about the time immediately around a workout that nutrition is important. You want to be sure that you are making smart food choices throughout the week.

Don’t throw away a great workout by making poor food choices later!

Choose fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and try to limit foods high in saturated and trans fats.

The Fit Father Project offers great nutritional articles and dietary guides incorporated into the workout programs like Old School Muscle and FF30X.

Nutrition and weight lifting go hand in hand in getting the most out of your strength training after 40 program.

Anything Is Possible!

While it may seem that building muscle becomes harder as we age, this does not mean you can’t put together a strength-building plan that allows you to achieve your goals.

It all comes down to having a plan, training hard, and being consistent and dedicated to your training.

Before you know it, you will have the muscle and strength gains you never thought possible after 40.

Get started today, for free, with the 5 Best Muscle Building Exercises for Men Over 40 offered by the Fit Father Project.

After this, work your way up to Old School Muscle to really achieve the strength and muscle growth that can be achieved after age 40 and beyond.

Your friend & coach,

Holly Smith

Holly Smith M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is board-certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly is a keen runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast. She has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, Olympic distance triathlons, half marathons, and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on strength training after 40.

References:

1) Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Campbell, B. I., Roberts, M. D., Rasmussen, C. J., Greenwood, M., & Kreider, R. B. (2009).
Early-phase adaptations to a split-body, linear periodization resistance training program in college-aged and middle-aged men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(3), 962–971. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a00baf
2) Schoenfeld, B.J., Ogborn, D. & Krieger, J.W. Sports Med (2016) 46: 1689. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8
3) Samuel, M. N., Holcomb, W. R., Guadagnoli, M. A., Rubley, M. D., & Wallmann, H. (2008).
Acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on measures of strength and power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(5), 1422-1428.

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