chest exercises: cable flyes crossovers

6 Things You Need to Do to Build Muscle Over 40

Some will tell you it’s impossible to gain muscle if you’re over the age of 40. They’ll tell you to just accept that you’re getting older and you can’t do what you used to.

I call BULLSH$T on that, and you’re going to learn how you can overcome this problem.

In this post, I’m going to give you a clear strategy to pack on muscle mass over 40. Even better, I’m also going to explain why most people have such a hard time making gains as they age (you may be surprised!). 

How Did You Get Here? 

Before we dive into the muscle-building strategies, it’s important to understand why you all of a sudden why you feel like you can’t build new muscle.

Listen, this is going to be tough to accept, but it’s actually pretty simple. You probably stopped doing most, or all of what you used to do…

What You Used To Do

  • Never missed a workout
  • Train hard and heavy
  • Excited about working out
  • Were more active
  • Ate 6-7 meals a day
  • Took a butt-load of supplements

What You Do Now

  • Workout, but if you miss, it is ok
  • Make excuses not to train as hard or heavy
  • Look at working out as a chore that you’ll get to if you have time
  • Sit most of the day and watch TV when you get home
  • Eat whatever, whenever
  • If anything, you might take a multivitamin for old guys

Does it all make sense? You feeling the way you do today is a result of the things you stopped doing. Not the other way around. 

Somewhere along the way, you let ‘life get in the way’ and you started to get comfortable and settle. You lost that hunger for gains! 

Imagine what you’d look and feel like right now had you been consistent! Well, it’s time to get that back and start building some muscle! 

1 – Train Heavy

For starters, heavy is relative. I’m not saying go gung-ho after you’ve been out of the gym for months and try to lift what you did in your 20s. 

It’s true that as we age we do not heal as fast, so don’t go doing something stupid and hurt yourself. 

What I am saying is lift challenging weights! Push yourself! 

Many will say ‘Oh, you’re older now so you have to accept lifting lighter weights…you can’t do what you used to. Besides, heavyweights make you more prone to injury!’ 

Right there you’ve embraced a limiting mindset. And heavy lifting will not make you more prone to injury if you lift right, with good form. 

How Heavy Should You Go?

Start every workout with a compound exercise, doing about 6 reps. 

This will help you build the most muscle possible. 

Here’s an example below:

heavy weights over 40
  • Monday – Barbell Rows: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Tuesday – Squats: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Thursday – Bench Press: 4 sets x 6 reps
  • Friday – Deadlifts: 4 sets of 2-5 reps

*By the way, that’s me deadlifting 405 lbs at the age of 43.

The Problem with Going Light

The problem with just going light all the time is that you’re hindering yourself from:

  • Getting stronger
  • Gaining dense muscle
  • To some extent, having strong bones

Now think about these things. Being stronger, having more muscle, and strong bones can actually prevent injury

Lifting heavier can also improve your balance and stability. These things are super important as we age (remember that commercial ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’ – we don’t wanna be that person!). 

2 – Lift Barbells and Dumbbells

over 40 workout with barbells and dumbbells

Skip the machine section in your gym and go straight to the free weight section. 

If you want to gain more muscle, use barbells and dumbbells for the majority of your exercises

Lifting free weights builds far more muscle and strength than using machines. The short answer is because lifting free weights is a lot tougher.

Tougher, in this case, translates into using more muscle to move the weight. And it also means you’re recruiting more muscle fibers because you also have to balance those weights. 

Best Free Weight Exercises

There are 5 core compound free-weight exercises:

  1. Barbell Rows (as seen here)
  2. Squats
  3. Deadlifts
  4. Bench Press
  5. Overhead Press
best free weight exercises

But there are several more free weight exercises using barbells and dumbbells. Many are just variations of the Big 5 above (which will allow you to work the muscle from different angles). 

Here are a few more…

  • Reverse Grip Barbell Rows
  • Close-Grip Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Seated Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Seated Dumbbell Press
  • Lateral Raises

The Problem with Using Machines

I’m not saying go anti-machine here. But there are core 2 problems with using machines in the gym:

  1. They take away the requirement to balance the weight
  2. You don’t recruit as much or as many muscles

Machine aren’t necessarily ‘bad.’ But you’re not going to build as much muscle and strength as you will with free weights. 

When are machines ok? When you want to target a specific muscle. And I recommend that you keep machines for the end of your workouts. Put the bulk of your energy in the beginning with compound exercises using free weights. 

3 – Don’t Skip Meals

food vegan tofu thai curry bodybuilding meal

This is also going to contrast with what many ‘experts’ will tell you if you’re over 40. They will say things like ‘eat less’ or ‘eat smaller meals.’

Now, I’m not saying go to a buffet 3x a day! But know this simple equation…

Building muscle over 40 requires food!

In fact, building muscle at any age requires you to consume calories. When you train heavy, as we’ve been discussing, your muscles need certain nutrients (and certain amounts of those nutrients) to do 2 things:

  1. Recover
  2. Grow

What changed between when you were 25 and today is back then you could get away with eating whatever you wanted. Your metabolism is indeed different now, and you’re probably not near as active overall today as you were back then (and we’re going to address how to change that as well!). 

But this does not mean you can not eat, or eat way less. What it means is that you have to choose the types of foods more carefully. 

Over 40 Meal Plan for Muscle

One thing I’ll suggest is going to a plant-based or vegetarian diet. They are an abundance of health issues caused by eating red meat.

Below you’ll get a sample meal plan for 1 day of eating.

There are 6 meals and you should eat about every 3 hours. I did not write down specific amounts as this will vary depending on your caloric needs.

This is more so showing you what types of foods to eat for muscle gains over 40. A good rule to stick to is to eat until you’re comfortable. 

*You can adjust the times to fit your schedule.

Meal 1 – 6 AM
Whole eggs (cage-free)
Oatmeal with blueberries
Meal 2 – 9 AM (Post-Workout Shake)
Whey protein
Unsweetened almond milk
Almond butter
Meal 3 – 12 PM
Vegetarian protein-based food (tofu, bean, chickpeas, tempeh)
Jasmine Rice
Meal 4 – 6 PM
Vegetarian protein-based food (tofu, bean, chickpeas, tempeh)
Sweet potato
Meal 6 – 9 PM
Greek yogurt

No Trend or Fad Diets

First of all, I’m not a nutritionist and do not consider myself an expert in the area. I only know what’s worked for me for several decades. And through much trial and error, I’ve learned what doesn’t work as well!

That leads us to this…

A true muscle building diet is a sensible and balanced diet. 

If you need help with meal planning, definitely check out the post below that caters to your goals:

Meal Plans for Mass Gains
Meal Plans for Getting Shredded

4 – Do Deep Stretching Every Day

seated toe touch stretch yoga

This section is super important for people over 40. And it’s super important for anyone at any age if they lift weights.

You must stretch! And I’m going to tell you to do some form of stretching every single day. Do not let a day go by without doing it! 

Deep stretching will substantially improve your flexibility and mobility. This will help your muscles recover faster and can also prevent injury.

Types of Stretching Exercises

Much of the stretching I do is actually Yoga poses

For weightlifters, I recommend focusing on stretches and poses that are geared towards your lower back and hamstrings, as these tend to be the tightest areas in people over 40. 

deep stretching yoga

If time is an issue, I encourage you to do at least 10 minutes of stretching, or Yoga, on those busy days. And the days your schedule isn’t jammed packed, go for 30 minutes. 

Stretching Program to Start Today

I’m going to refer you to a program I bought called Unlock Your Hip Flexors. This is one of Mike Westerdal’s products (owner of CriticalBench and powerlifter).

This program isn’t the typical stretching you may think of. It goes much deeper into why you’re doing certain stretches, and how they increase not only flexibility but also improve overall health and longevity.

You can read more about Unlock Your Hip Flexors by clicking the button below. 

5 – Take Supplements

best bodybuilding supplement stack for mass gains

One of the things we stop doing as we get older is taking supplements. Specifically, muscle building supplements

It’s time to get back on that wagon. However, I’ m not recommending that you go pull out your 401k to support your supplement budget (as you know, you can easily rack up a large monthly supplement bill!)

I’m going to tell you what type of supplements to take, but first, let’s go over what these supplements are for.

These are your 3 areas of concerns and the reasons you want to take supplements: 

  • Enhance overall health (joints, heart, brain function, etc)
  • Speed up recovery
  • Boost muscle growth

Over 40 Muscle Building Supplements

Supplement Category
Fish oil Health
Extra Vitamin D Health
ZMA (zinc, magnesium, B6) Health, muscle growth
Creatine  Muscle growth
BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids Recovery and muscle growth
Glutamine Recovery and muscle growth

These are just a few basic supplements that cater to your health, building muscle, and recovery. I suggest starting with these first. 

Should You Consider a Test Booster?

prime male testosterone booster for men over 40

I’m actually going to send you to another product that I promote called Prime Male.

Prime Male provides natural support for balancing your hormones. This means helping you increase the production of more free testosterone, and also controlling your estrogen levels. 

It’s designed for men over 40. You can learn more by going directly to the product website below. 

6 – Sit Less

kayak for exercise over 40

In general, we sit WAY TOO MUCH! And being over 40, chances are you spend the majority of your day sitting.

*I’m sitting right now as I’m writing this! 

A challenge to you and I both are to simply sit less. And I’m going to give you a couple of tips that will help…

  • If you sit at your job, get up every 30 minutes and take a brief walk and stretch
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • If possible get a desk that allows you to stand and alternate standing and sitting
  • Don’t come home and immediately sit in front of the TV – this is a horrible habit many people have – instead, maybe stretch some, take a walk or find something else to do
  • When sitting, recline when possible. There’s actually an article on called ‘Sit Back, It’s Better for You’ by Jennifer Warner that shows evidence of this reducing stress on your spine.
  • Walk as much as possible!
  • Stretch (as we’ve already discussed) in the mornings and at night before bed – this will actually relax you before bed

The key is to move as much as you can. We’re not made to be stagnant or sitting all the time. 

*After I finish this post, I’m going to stretch a little then swim a few laps in the pool!

My Favorite Weekend Activities

Weekends, or the days you don’t typically work, area great times to plan for longer-lasting activities. 

2 of my wife and my favorite activities are:

  • Kayaking
  • Walking trails in state parks

Both are out in nature, which is another benefit in many ways. And of course, it’s something we enjoy. So pick something you enjoy doing that’ll get you moving!

Being Over 40 is Not An Excuse

I do realize there are certain limitations we may have over 40, especially if you’ve experienced injuries. But I don’t think that should be an excuse to stop going for it. 

I truly want to see you build more muscle than you ever have, no matter what age you are. And I believe that you can. 

It’s a simple matter of doing the right things and being consistent with those. This means scheduling your gym time and going no matter what. If you want it bad enough, you will simply make it happen. 

**Try one of my premium 12-week programs to build more muscle:

Hardcore Muscle Building Program
Lean Muscle Building Program

Train with Passion,


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