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Build Muscle Over 40: Complete Workout Routine

November 2, 2020

Jason Stallworth - workout program gain muscle over 40

Whether you’ve been lifting weights for most of your life, just getting back into it, or starting new, it’s a fact that our body changes a bit after turning 40.

But you can’t let aging keep you from training your body and staying (or getting) in shape. In short, there are no excuses!

In all reality, being over 40 is a reason you need to be even more disciplined and committed to working out. And in this post, I’m going to give you a complete workout routine to help you build muscle over 40.

Not only will you get a complete program in this post, but I’m also going to show you some specific methods on how you can train more effectively and without injury. As a result, this is going to help you build more quality muscle as well as get leaner.

My Short Story: At the time of writing this post, I’m 45 years old (or young!). I started lifting weights when I was around 14 and it became a true passion.

But even with a long history of training, I started feeling more joint pains and aches in different places. So I had to start taking a different approach after turning 40.

Since I’ve applied these techniques that I’m going to share with you, I’ve been able to train pain-free while still building muscle. And so will you!

Pilates Bar Upper Body Workout

3 Conscious Methods of Building Muscle Over 40

3 conscious methods of building muscle

Before we jump into your workout routine, I want to prep you with what I the 3 conscious methods of building muscle over 40. It’s all about your mental approach to building muscle at our age. You’re literally locking in a mind-muscle connection through these three pathways:

  1. Extreme focus
  2. Controlling the weight
  3. Forcing your muscles to work harder

All three of these conscious methods work in conjunction. And they’re actually in order as one leads to the next.

  • You must develop an extreme focus in order to control the weight during your workouts.
  • And you must control the weight in order to force your muscles to work harder.

I’ll explain each of these in more detail. But, in short, adhering to these principles will allow you to train injury-free, or at least with far less risk of injury, which is crucial when you’re over 40 (because we take a bit longer to heal these days).

It’s also going to allow you to develop true strength and muscularity simply because of your mental approach, which leads to the way you’re going to perform each exercise.

So let’s break down each of these conscious methods of building muscle over 40…

Extreme Focus

You don’t want to just show up at the gym and go through the motions. Sure, that’s better than doing nothing at all. But if you’ve read this far into the post, you know that’s not going to cut it because you’re determined to go for much more. And you’re going to get it!

So you need to make sure that you have the proper intent before stepping foot into the gym. You need to dial in that extreme focus.

This actually happens before you even get to the gym. For me, it happens first thing in the morning because that’s when I train. And I’m going to give you a quick ritual to follow as a guide.

This is going to help you get in the right mindset to where you’ll be able to go in there and kill your workout.

Do these things 30 minutes before you go to the gym:

  • Listen or watch something motivational, something that inspires you.
  • Write down your goal for that specific workout. You may already have a high-level plan, especially after reading this post because I’m giving you one below. But write down some further details on what you plan to accomplish for this specific workout.
    Example: This could be something like increasing the weight on your squat or doing two more reps than last week for incline bench press.
  • Don’t listen to or watch anything that’s negative before the gym, like the news or social media. In fact, don’t scroll through social media at all before your workout (unless you’re posting something motivational!).
  • Don’t engage in any negative conversation and don’t entertain any negative thoughts before you train.
  • Take about 5-10 minutes to meditate on your workout and visualize yourself going through the motions in the gym. Also, visualize yourself having the physique that you’re training for!
  • On the way to the gym, get super-focused, and mentally pump yourself up!
  • When you get to the gym, you can say hi to folks but don’t engage in chit-chat. Get in there and get it done, and stay hyper-focused!

Much of this is stuff you can apply throughout the day, in general. But it’s more than just staying positive, although that’s important. Those 30 minutes before the gym, you really want to dial in 100% focus on what you’re about to go do, and that’s train hard.

**This is also the time to slam down a pre-workout drink PreFierce is one of my go-to pre-workouts and you can read more about Pre-Fierce here: Pre-workout for Extreme Focus.

Controlling the Weight

Remember, each conscious method leads to the next. You’re going to now apply that focus to each and every rep you perform in the gym.

This is the difference between your younger days of lifting weights to how you need to train today, being over 40.

You’re not just trying to move a bunch of weight from point A to B anymore. And you’re not doing sloppy reps for the sake of ego. Instead, you’re going to control the weight.

Here’s how to control the weight in the gym:

  • Slow your reps down a little. They don’t have to be super slow but make sure that you’re not jerking the weight, using momentum, or allowing the weight to just fall back into the starting position.
  • Take a little more time to focus on the eccentric part of the rep (this is often called the negative).

Naturally, this means you’ll go a little lighter. But that’s okay because now you’re truly building your muscles.

**In all reality, many younger bodybuilders are seeing the need to focus more on controlling the weight rather than trying to lift heavier weights with poor form.

And that’s not to say you can’t lift heavy. But remember, heavy is relative.

It’s better to make lighter weights feel heavier by the way you perform the exercise, controlling the weight. This puts the stress on the muscle, where you want it, not your joints.

As you know, this is super important for bodybuilders and weightlifters over 40, and really for anyone.

Forcing Your Muscles to Work Harder

You’re focused and you know how to control the weight during your workouts. Now it’s time to take all of that to the next level and force your muscles to work harder.

This is essentially done by controlling the weight. Take the eccentric part of the rep, for example. This is when the weight plus gravity is against you. When you’re controlling that weight, you’re making your muscles work harder which equates to building more muscle.

But there are some other tactics to force your muscles to work harder. And this is going to give you the benefit of building quality muscle as well as burning more body fat during your workouts.

Here are some ways to make your muscles work harder:

  • Do slower negatives (take 3-5 seconds on the eccentric part of the rep)
  • Do drop sets (perform a set, reduce the weight by about 30%, and immediately do another set)
  • Do rest-pause sets (perform a set, rest 15-20 seconds, and perform another set using the same weight)
  • Pre-exhaust your muscles (this is done by starting your workout with an isolation exercise before going to a compound exercise)
  • Flex the muscles you’re training between sets

You don’t necessarily have to apply all of these weight training tactics in the same or every workout. You can choose which ones you want to do and you can alternate them. That’s another thing about building muscle at any age; it’s always good to change up your workouts every so often, even if they’re just subtle changes (anywhere from every 4-8 weeks).

Also, many of these are to be used towards the end of your workout with the exception of pre-exhaust. However, you should always be conscious of controlling the weight throughout each exercise, every set, for every rep.

Over 40 Muscle-Building Workout Routine

Incline Barbell Press chest

Now it’s time for your workout routine! This is a 5-day routine and you’re basically training each muscle once a week as a typical bodybuilder.

However, you’re going to do some extra work for certain muscles on that 5th day, and I’ll talk more about that later.

Also, before we get into the workout details I want to share something that may help you make more progress at building muscle. It’s a natural testosterone booster created specifically for men over 40 called Prime Male.

You can read more about Prime Male (and where to get it) in my post: Jason’s Prime Male Review and Experience

Training Schedule

  • Monday: Chest and biceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Back
  • Thursday: Shoulders and triceps
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Legs and back
  • Sunday: Rest

This is only an example of a training split you can do for this routine. Feel free to adjust the days around to cater to your schedule.

For example, if you want to do that last workout on Friday so that you can have the weekend off, that’s fine.

Workout 1: Chest and Biceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Incline Bench Press2 x 10 (warm-up), 3 x 8-10
Dumbbell Press3 x 10
Hammer Strength or Machine Chest Press3 x 12
Cable Crossovers/Flyes3 x 15
EZ Bar Curls3 x 10
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3 x 12
  • You may notice that you’re not starting with the typical flat bench press. That’s because doing incline bench press is going to help build your chest muscles more.
  • You’ll still do some flat or regular bench press movements. But focusing on the incline press first will give your chest better shape and development.
  • For your final set of cable flyes and dumbbell hammer curls, try using the drop set or rest-pause method.
  • You can also flex those muscles between sets for a bigger pump.

Workout 2: Legs

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions3 x 15 (warm-up)
Squats2 x 12 (warm-up), 3 x 10-12
Leg Press3 x 12-15
Stiff-leg Deadlifts3 x 12
Single-Leg Leg Extensions3 x 15
Lying Leg Curls3 x 15
Standing Calve Raises6 x 15
  • You’re going to spend adequate time warming up your quads before your first working set of squats. This is mainly to prevent injury, especially with your knees.
  • This will also serve as a pre-exhaust, which will force your quads to work harder throughout the remainder of your leg workout.
  • Try doing drop sets on the final sets for single-leg leg extensions and lying leg curls.
  • Keep your rest to only 20 seconds between sets of calve raises.

Workout 3: Back

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows2 x 10 (warm-up), 3 x 8-10
Dumbbell Rows3 x 10
Seated Rows3 x 10
Lat Pulldowns3 x 12
Cable Pullovers3 x 12
Dumbbell Shrugs3 x 12
  • Applying extreme focus is the most crucial for building and shaping your back muscles.
  • Pay closer attention to the eccentric part of each rep when training back.
  • Use drop sets or rest-pause sets for the last four exercises on the final set.
  • You’ll end with a few sets for your traps, which are the muscles that tie into your upper back.

Workout 4: Shoulders and Triceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Overhead Press2 x 10 (warm-up), 3 x 8-10
Seated Dumbbell Press3 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 12
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extensions3 x 10
Rope Pressdows3 x 12
Single-Arm Cable Pressdowns2 x 12
  • This workout for shoulders and triceps are going to be similar to your first workout for chest and biceps as you’re training a smaller muscle after a large muscle.
  • The difference is you’re doing one less exercise for shoulders than chest, and one more exercise for triceps that you did for biceps.
  • Your shoulders get a lot of workout from training chest and back, but you still want to do some direct work for them.
  • Your triceps are the larger part of your arm muscles so it’s important to put a bit more focus on triceps than biceps.

Workout 5: Legs and Back

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions3 x 15 (warm-up)
Single-Leg Leg Press3 x 15
Squats3 x 12-15
Reverse-Grip Barbell Rows3 x 12-15
Pull-ups3 x 12-15
Seated Calve Raises6 x 15
  • You may be wondering why you’re training legs and back for a 2nd time. These are the largest two muscle groups in your body. And they’re also the two most neglected body parts by many bodybuilders and weightlifters!
  • So I want to put you ahead of the game by having you hit those muscles a 2nd time towards the end of the week!
  • And as you go through this routine you may decide to change out some of the exercises. That’s okay! Just make sure you’re giving your legs and back that extra attention. Those muscles are where the bulk of your muscularity will come from.
  • You can also play around with different techniques we discussed earlier to make this workout more intense.

Lifting Free Weights Over 40?

Stiff Leg Deadlifts back and hamstrings workout

You may be surprised to see that you’re not straying away from free-weight exercises in this routine. Some of the so-called experts may tell people over 40 to do more machines because free-weights can cause injury.

The truth is any exercise can cause injury if you do it wrong and you’re not focused.

Machines have their place, and as you just saw, you’re doing some machine exercises in this workout. But doing free-weight exercises is going to help you build more muscle because free weights allow you to work more overall muscles (more bang for your buck). The caveat is applying the conscious methods we just talked about.

On that note, I want to address weight. Though strength is important, don’t focus on how much weight you can (or can’t) lift.

Rather, go back to those conscious methods of building muscle over 40 and focus more on the actual muscle you’re training. Because the amount of weight you lift is not near as important as how you lift it.

Bodybuilding and Lifting Weights Over 40 Helps You Stay Young

There’s no doubt that training will help you feel and look younger. But more importantly, it’s going to help maintain good health and lessen the risk of many problems that plague older folks.

The problem is that most people stop working out as they age. From there, it’s just a downward slope.

But that’s not you. You’re going to continue to be strong, healthy, and look amazing. And I truly hope that this workout and the post, in general, helps you do that!

**Remember to take a look at my recommended testosterone booster for men over 40 here: Jason’s Prime Male Review and Experience

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!