Strength Training for 40-Somethings: Building Muscle Safely

(Last Updated On: April 13, 2017)

Time can be a real bummer: most guys attain their peak mental and physical shape after 30, but from that point on, the ride gets a tad rocky for both the brain and the physique. Once you turn 40, grey strands will become a highly likely prospect for your morning hairline inspection rituals, and your breath can get a bit shorter halfway through a routine your younger self used to slay pain- and panting-free. The tooth of time will also start to chip off small chinks of your muscle mass, and your bone density will begin to slowly decline as you age. Nevertheless, you can still trick the God of Time and keep up your strength workouts with just a few minor tweaks. Here are a few basic guidelines on how to adjust your strength-building routine and preserve a lean figure without compromising your health.

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Go easy on the spinal loading

The fact that you could lift every other day and get away with it unscathed when you were 20 or 30 is truly impressive, but now that you have moved on to the 40-something pool, your lower back and spine may go on strike if you expose them to weighted squats and deadlifts frequently. As your skeletal structure begins to deteriorate through aging, the lumbar spine will require longer rest periods to recover from heavy strain, so you should reduce either the frequency of lifting sessions or weight per lift (or both). If possible, move intense spinal loading exercises to one day a week to allow your back ample time to recover.


Swap a lower body workout for cardio

After you turn 40, cardio becomes more important than strength training, so consider swapping lower body workouts for fat-busting, heart-friendly sessions such as jogging, rope jumping, hiking, and aerobic exercises. On top of boosting your cardiovascular health, low-impact cardio will spare your knees from the excess stress that accompanies high-intensity sports, and you need to keep the leg joints pain- and damage-free to stay mobile for as long as possible. As for lower body training, you can reduce workout frequency to once a week without much worry about leg muscle size and strength.

 the rock cardio

Go light on heavy pressing

Yes, the military press is a great excercise for building shoulders, chest, pecs, and triceps, but it also entails great strain on wrists and elbows, as well as shoulder tendons, ligaments, and rotator cuff muscles. As a member of the 40+ crew, you may want to limit heavy press workouts to once a week to keep your joints ache-less and your muscles sore-free. If you really want to work on your upper body bulk more often, you can try joint-safe exercises such as dumbbell presses and suspended pushups.


Warm up well, and do not forget to stretch

If your 20-something gym cheat sheet involved skipping warm-ups in favor of more on-bar time, you will be very disappointed to hear that your habit will simply have to vanish once you blow out the 40th birthday candle. Failing to warm up properly before a tough training can increase the risk of injury and post-workout muscle damage, so if you want to stay both fit and free from ache, you should devote at least 10-15 minutes of your gym session to warm-ups. The best pre-lifting exercises for Hulks aged over 40 include mobility drills for shoulders, knees, and wrists, light calisthenics, glute and shoulder muscle activation drills, and dynamic stretches. Also, do not forget to stretch well after the workout so that you muscles could cool down gradually and re-adjust to low intensity movements.

 Janet Lynn West

Low-rep sets have to go out the window

Heavy weights may be a go-to for bulk building, but do not underestimate the power of Mother Nature just because you think your muscle mass is shatterproof. Tough low-rep sets can beat up older lifters pretty badly, and if you adamantly refuse to listen to your body, you will easily wind up seriously injured or bed-locked for a few days. For optimal strength training results, stick to 8-12 rep sets as these are excellent for preserving, as well as building muscle mass. Also, you may want to drop weight per lift in favor of longer, lower-weight sessions: this way, you will be building strong muscles, reducing post-workout recovery time, and sparing your joints at the same time.


You cannot reverse the hands of the biological clock, but you can minimize the impact of aging on your physique by smart training adjustments. Before you hit the bars, it would be a good idea to schedule an online doctor consultation and get a reliable medical assessment of your overall health and shape: after all, safety should always come before muscle size, regardless of your age and individual training objectives.


About the author:

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life. Check out his website and follow him on Twitter.