Muscle Building Workout for Men Over 40

Author: Lee Bell

January 10th 2018

You’re an experienced lifter who’s been there, done that and most definitely got the t-shirt.

Okay, that t-shirt might not fit you as well as it used to now that you’ve taken some time away from the gym to focus on your career and family. But nevertheless, you’re an experienced lifter who’s still got game.

The old saying ‘age is just a number’ still rings true with you and you’re as motivated as ever to get back in the gym and turn your fluffy dad bod into a chiselled work of art.

In this muscle building workout for men over 40 we dispel the myth that for some reason you have to dial down your training just because you’ve hit a certain age.

What does this program cover?

Goal:Increase strength and build muscle
Aimed at:Guys over 40
Program duration:10-12 weeks
Workout duration:45-60 minutes
Equipment needed:Barbell, dumbbell, resistance machines

Building Muscle Over 40

There’s no finer feeling than knowing that your physique is the envy of others.

You want your arms to tell the story of a strong grip and your barrel-like chest to show that your bench press skills are top of your class. You’ll be wanting your legs look like they could back squat a small automobile and your abs to glisten in the warm beach sun.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to wanting to look and feel good.

Okay, as you hit your forties you might have found that it takes just that little bit longer to recover between workouts, and your strength might not quite be where it should be.

But there’s nothing worse than clicking onto a workout for men over 40 to find a workout plan so watered down it’d suit your 11 year old niece.

This muscle building workout for men over 40 isn’t like the condescending, bubble-wrap program you’ll find elsewhere. It’s a heavy mix of intense strength and muscle building training; but respects the fact that you’re not twenty anymore.

Here’s what you’ll achieve with this muscle building program:

  • Build muscle regardless of your age
  • Ramp up strength and drop body fat
  • Train in a time-efficient way so it doesn’t take over your life

Muscle Protein Synthesis Decreases With Age

One of the changes you might find as you hit the 40 mark is that it becomes just that little bit harder to build muscle mass.

As you age, your muscle protein synthesis (MPS) turnover decreases. This refers to the rate at which you can build new muscle cells. 

Obviously, maximizing protein synthesis is important if you’re lifting weights on the regular. You can’t build muscle without muscle cells, right?

If the rate at which you breakdown existing muscle cells is higher than the rate at which build new ones, you’ll soon be wondering why you’re gains are non-existent.

Muscle protein synthesis is the driving force behind the adaptive response to exercise [1]. Higher MPS combined with a proper strength training program means more muscle mass.

And that’s what we’re aiming for here.

The problem is though that as you age your MPS rate naturally decreases [2].

What does this mean?

You might find it harder build muscle mass, as your physiology isn’t as well ‘primed’ as it used to be.

There’s a decreased response to strength training when compared to younger men, and the kinases responsible for directly elevating MPS (mToR, 4EBP1 and p70s6K for those of you with a thirst for some science) decease.

So it’s goodbye muscle mass?

Hell no.

The good news is that with a double-barreled diet and training approach you can quickly accelerate MPS and build lean mass without issue.

It’s all down to how cleverly you plan your muscle building journey.

Older man strikes a double bicep pose in red shorts

Support Muscle Growth with Higher Protein Intakes

Regardless of age, protein is important for muscle growth.

This doesn’t mean you have to get the whey supplements on speed dial, it just means that you need to hit certain thresholds to keep your MPS topped up.

In order to elevate protein synthesis to the point where you can build muscle mass after 40, you’ll need to restructure your protein intake slightly.

Here’s what you should aim for [3]:

  • 20-40 years old – 0.7-1 g of protein per lb of body weight
  • 40-65 years old – 0.9-1.2 g of protein per lb of body weight
  • 65 and over – 1.3-1.5 g of protein per lb of body weight

As you can see, it’s not a huge difference and it’s definitely achievable without supplements, but it’s worth the diet tracking time if muscle mass is your goal.

Train Clever and Build More Muscle

Now you’ve nailed your protein intake you need to put it to good use.

Here’s the thing. If you take a look around your local gym you’ll see just as many older guys with great physiques as you will the younger guys – maybe even more.

No one ever said that the muscle building workout for men over 40 was impossible. In fact it’s the opposite.

Many of the champion bodybuilders are over 40. That’s because it takes time, experience and wisdom to cultivate a strong and muscular physique.

Whether you’re a fit guy who takes pride in how he looks and wants to really zone in on some muscle mass, or an overweight man who wants to change his life and make some real differences, this is how you need to approach strength training.

Here are the key points of your muscle building workout for men over 40:

Focus on whole body workouts 

There’s no point training one muscle to absolute annihilation with split workouts. Train with an emphasis on compound lifts and use some isolation exercises to supplement each workout like sprinkles on a (high protein) cake.

Technique comes before everything else

Practice it. Perfect it. Love it. No matter how fresh and young you feel, there’s an increased risk of injury with strength training as you age. Now’s not the time to lift poorly.

Challenge your body but never train past pain

If it hurts, don’t do it. Simple.

Don’t skip the warm up

Prepare your body, lubricate those joints and get those muscles firing before you even attempt the big lifts.

Vary your rep range

Focus on lifting heavy but accumulated fatigue over time can have a negative effect. Plan periods of lower weights and higher rep ranges.

Deload as and when you need to

We’ve added in a mid-program planned recovery period, but you know your body best. If things are feeling tough then ‘autoregulate‘ your training and take a few days off during each training block if you have to.

That’s it.

Everything else is just filling in the gaps with the right exercises, reps and sets.

As you’ll see, strength training for over 40s doesn’t need to be complicated. This isn’t the time to throw in fancy HIIT routines or 3-dimensional ‘functional’ training using weird and wonderful specialist equipment.

It’s time to dig deep, lift big and eat well.

Report back in 10-12 weeks when you’ve mastered the mass.

Middle-aged man performing a shoulder stretch on the beach

The Muscle Building Workout for Men Over 40 Program

We’ve split this over 40 program into two blocks. In the first 5 weeks you’ll be completing 3 challenging sessions per week with an emphasis on all major muscles.

you’re aiming for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise with 2-3 minutes rest between sets.

To optimize recovery but still provide a stimulus for muscle growth you’ll be moving from push exercises to pull and from upper body to lower. Complete 3 sets of each exercise before moving onto the next.

Do this right and you might even feel a cardio effect too!

After block 1, take a week off to recover. This is important to allow muscle growth to occur, but also to optimize performance for block 2.

Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps per set(s).

In the second block you’ll be completing the same exercises, but with a change in order and intensity. This time you’ll be pairing up two lifts and completing them back to back.

This is commonly known as supersetting.

When you perform superset workouts you increase calorie burning, make your workouts more time efficient, but still build muscle.

Complete one set of exercise number one and then immediately move onto exercise number two. When you’ve done that, rest for a minute or two and then repeat. Carry on doing this until all three ‘supersets’ are done.

Then move onto the next two exercises.

This is a pretty brutal training approach. But if you want results, this is the way forward.

NumberSession 1Session 2Session 3
1Military pressFront raiseLateral raise
2Leg pressHack squatLeg extension
3Dumbbell pulloverLat pulldownStraight arm pulldown
4Lying leg curlDumbbell step upsStanding calf raise
5Triceps dip machineDumbbell flyesDumbbell press
6Dumbbell squatGoblet squatBarbell lunges
7Dumbbell bicep curlCable triceps extensionMachine preacher curl
NumberSession 1Session 2Session 3
A1Military pressFront raiseLateral raise
A2Dumbbell pulloverLat pulldownStraight arm pulldown
B1Leg PressHack squatLeg extension
B2Lying leg curlDumbbell step upsStanding calf raise
C1Triceps dip machineDumbbell flyesDumbbell press
C2Dumbbell bicep curlCable triceps extensionMachine preacher curl
D1Dumbbell squatGoblet squatBarbell lunges
  1. Atherton, PJ et al. Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. J Physiol. 2012; 590(Pt 5): 1049-1057
  2.  Kumar, V et al. Age-related differences in the dose-response relationship of muscle protein synthesis to resistance exercise in young and old men. J Physiol. 2009; 587(1): 211-7
  3. Nowson, C et al. Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People: A Review. Nutrients. 2015; 7(8): 6874-6899

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