How your training needs to change after you turn 40.
As you age, your body will change and you may not feel the same as you did, especially when it comes to your time in the gym. Getting older is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re acquiring more wisdom and life experiences. On the other, you’re stuck with achy joints, slow recovery, and you will have a harder time putting on muscle mass and an even harder time shedding body fat. Long gone are the days where you could get away with skipping warm-ups and maxing out at every session. Once something to look forward to; training has become a chore – an uncomfortable, but necessary task. Fortunately, you don’t have to hang up your lifting belt and straps just yet. Although your training routine is going to be significantly different when you’re older, this article will show you can how to improve your physique after your 40’s with these training methods below.
Something to keep in mind is that you want to stay away from people who generalize everyone over 40 and want them to believe that every individual is in the same condition all across the spectrum. Some people may not have any issues with training at 40, while some may have issues far before that.
You Can Still Build Muscle After 40
Although many people will say that you peak in your 20s, there is no doubt that you will have the ability to build muscle in your 40s and beyond. As you get older, you will experience greater anabolic resistance, which basically means that your body will not respond as well to resistance training as you age. No, this doesn’t mean you’ll make no gains. What it means is that there has to be a greater emphasis on doing things right.
Let’s explore how to go about that.
A Change In Priority After 40
If your goal is hypertrophy and putting on muscle, your best bet would be to build as much muscle mass as you can before you turn 40. Sarcopenia hits in when you’re around the 40-year-old mark, and you will lose muscle naturally as you get older. While this is unfortunately a natural occurrence, you can work to control and combat how much muscle you lose, and when you start losing it.
With age, your workout intensity will drop and you shouldn’t be lifting heavy weights if you want to maintain your joint, muscle, and bone health. Focus on starting big and maintaining the muscle mass rather than trying to add on weight as you get older.
Do Not Skip Warm-Ups
During your 20s, flinging your arms across your torso a few times before benching might have sufficed as a good warm up. In your 30s, you might have gotten away with five minutes on the treadmill prior to squatting. Try that in your 40s, and your body may not be as happy with you.
The value of warming-up before exercise cannot be overstated. A well-designed warm-up will elevate body temperature, increase blood flow to working muscles, heighten nerve impulse, improve joint range of motion, and prime the central nervous system (CNS)1. In short, the purpose of a warm-up is to enhance your performance, mentally prepare you for training, and decrease the likelihood of injury.
An intelligently structured, purposeful warm-up will contain five phases: a general warm-up, mobilization, activation, CNS priming, and a specific warm-up.
The general warm-up usually consists of a brief period of low-intensity aerobic work1. Examples include walking, jogging, jumping rope, cycling, or performing a few calisthenics in a circuit. Don’t overthink this one; simply pick an exercise to do for five to ten minutes, or until you break a light sweat.
Mobilization refers to performing mobility drills that are joint-specific. The purpose of mobility work is to improve the range of motion at joints, specifically those directly involved in the workout. For example, if today’s main exercise calls for bench presses, it may not be necessary to mobilize your ankles. Mobilizing your shoulders would make more sense. Mobility work can be further divided into self-myofascial release, such as foam rolling, and dynamic stretching, such as walking knee hugs. Therefore, choose three to five mobility exercises that will target the tissues surrounding the joints you plan to use during your workout.
Activation involves performing exercises that will up-regulate muscles that have otherwise become down-regulated. In other words, activation exercises “wake up” muscles that have become “dormant”. For example, suppose you sit at a desk all day at work. Your hamstrings and glutes have likely become weak and inactive due to being seated for prolonged periods. Performing a set of glute bridges to activate your glutes and hamstrings would be the ideal thing to do.
Activation exercises also help deepen the mind-muscle connection. If you have trouble feeling the target muscles being trained, try performing specific drills that will isolate the muscle you’re trying to target. As an example, most people feel their biceps taking over during rows. A set of straight-arm pulldowns to isolate the lats may take care of that issue.
Central nervous system priming is performing movements that will “excite” the nervous system. These are explosive-type of exercises that recruit the most motor units (i.e., muscle). Examples include sprints, jumps, and throws.
To test the effectiveness of CNS priming exercises, try performing a handgrip dynamometer before and after an explosive movement. For instance, perform a handgrip dynamometer test before and after a few sets of low-rep box jumps. Chances are your handgrip strength will improve significantly because the box jumps will heighten your CNS. With your CNS switched on, your performance will improve.
Lastly, the specific warm-up involves performing exercises that train the same movement patterns as your main lifts. The purpose of a specific warm-up is to ingrain the technique required for the lift’s proper execution. For example, if your main lift calls for barbell front squats, grab a dumbbell and perform a set of light goblet squats, followed that by stepping in the squat rack and performing a set of front squats with an empty bar as a specific warm-up.
The bottom line is, do not skip your warm ups when you are training over 40.
Use Basic Movement Patterns
Unlike most other sports, an individual can pursue bodybuilding for life, if they train properly and prioritize recovery, as it will help them stay injury free. Bodybuilding also has the possibility of improving at ages when most athletes in other sports have called it quits. Don’t be surprised if you find a person who started bodybuilding at 15 and peaked at 40 or beyond.
Mike O’Hearn is a prime example of this, as he started out young and even with his age he still looks great and moves impressive weights. Bodybuilding is a lifelong pursuit and everyone can work from the same basic set of principles. One way to stay in the game long term, is to utilize basic movements.
Let’s get into some of the basic movement patterns that should become the cornerstone of your training.
The horizontal push is when you push something away from your body. Exercises included with this type of movement are typically chest focused movements such as push-ups, bench press, and flys, among many others.
Plant your hands just below your shoulders and put your feet together as if it were a plank position. Engage your core and when ready, gently lower to the ground and explode back to the starting position.
The horizontal pull movement is any exercise that is moving a weight towards your torso from out in front of you. Examples of this movement are typically focused on back thickness and include various types of rows, among others.
Example: Seated Cable Row
Set your desired weight and attachment and position your feet on the platform. When ready, grab the handle, sit tall, and engage your core. Bring the attachment towards your body, really feeling a squeeze in the lats. Return back to the starting position with your hands out in front of you.
The vertical push movement will be an exercise that moves the weight away from you in a pressing type way and in a vertical fashion. Examples of this exercise are those pressing ones like the shoulder press.
Either sitting or standing, engage your core and put the weight (most likely dumbbells) next to your head. When ready, tighten your core and push the weight overhead, locking out your arms. Gently lower back to the starting position.
The vertical pull movement will be opposite of the vertical push in that you are pulling something in a vertical fashion, focusing on back width. Examples of this would include exercises like chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns.
Grab the bar with an overhand grip and let yourself hang with your feet off the ground. When ready, engage your core and pull yourself so your head is over the bar. Gently lower back to the starting position.
Example: Back Squat
Rest the barbell slightly across the upper back and position your feet about shoulder width apart. When ready, tighten your core and lower into the squat position, really getting the most out of your range of motion. Explode up, driving through your feet and repeat the movement.
The hinge movement stems from the hips and is very common in both sport and functional movements. For exercises, this could include the deadlift and back extensions.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and grab the barbell with your desired grip. When ready, brace your core and keep your back neutral as you lift the bar off the ground, keeping it as close to your shins as possible. Hinge at the waist so the bar is about thigh level and lower back to the ground.
Switch Up the Intensity
Once you hit the 40-year mark, switch your focus from hitting PRs on the bench press or deadlifts, to longevity within your lifts. There is no problem with utilizing compound movements such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift, but your workout program should have a higher number of reps, meaning slightly more volume. You’ll get better muscle stimulation if you keep your working sets within the 8-15 rep range, with less risk to your joints and easier recovery.
How would you know if you’re making improvements? Look for an improved form and a better mind-muscle connection. You should have shorter workouts and a better pump, or a better overall sense of well-being when you leave the gym after a workout.
Prioritize Recovery When Training Over 40
As you age, your body certainly does not recover like it did when you were younger. When you are training in your 40s, even if your intensity is nowhere near what it was, your body will still need to take some extra time to recover. This can be done through a few different ways, such as:
- More rest days
- More stretching
While taking a few extra rest days and stretching more are pretty self explanatory, the supplementation part is where many people lack. A perfect diet is key to getting nutrients into your body to help repair muscles, but using supplementation helps to go the extra mile and speed up the recovery process is even better for having you feel like new.
Some supplements to help recovery you can use are:
Crucial Supplementation for Training Over 40
When it comes training over 40, supplementation is huge. Certain hormones decline as you age, such as testosterone, and they can cause you lose muscle mass, decrease bone density, increase fat levels, amongst other issues. There are certain supplements that you can take to help combat these effects.
Testosterone is a vital sex hormone that helps aid in muscle growth and development, hair growth, and other important daily functions for both men and women. Men have far more of this hormone in their bodies, and when levels are decreased, it can lead to a variety of unwanted side effects such as poor sex drive, decreased masculine energy, loss of muscle mass unwanted body fat.
With modern medicine, there is the option of testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT for short. TRT is medically prescribed testosterone enhancement, commonly in the form of injections, but this option is not for everyone. An alternative would be natural testosterone boosters, as they can come to your aid to boost testosterone levels and your overall masculine health, especially for those men over 40.
Over time, consistent hydrolyzed collagen supplementation can even deliver visible reductions in skin wrinkles and sagging. Recent evidence exists suggesting hydrolyzed collagen may also aid in recovery for athletes, bone structure, and joint health.
A less talked about topic is collagen, and it is actually the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen functions as one of the major building blocks of things such as bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. I is essential for your overall physical health and performance, especially for athletes who constantly put their bodies through repeated wear and tear.
The human body contains 16 different types of collagen and each one performs its own unique function, but on the whole, this protein makes up the structure of those bones, skin, and tendons, is found in cartilage to cushion joints, and supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries. As an essential protein in the body, it would be a huge disservice to neglect the importance of collagen, especially if you are into weight training or any other form of strenuous physical activity.
Things to Avoid When Training Over 40
While we can go endlessly about the things you should be changing in your workouts and recovery protocols after you turn 40, knowing about the things you shouldn’t do in the gym will set a better groundwork. These are the things you should avoid:
- Exercises that put your shoulders in mechanically risky positions (dips, behind-the-neck presses, barbell upright rows)
- Exercises that put your elbows under uncomfortable stress (elbow injuries always take longer to heal)
- Ballistic or explosive exercises (kipping pullups, Olympic lifts)
Turning 40 may feel like a turning point but it is not. You can still lift effectively and get the most out of all your workouts. By prioritizing these movements, what you will find is a great workout is at your disposal and you can see gains even as you age.
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