It is definitely possible to build muscle fast after 40. In fact, it may be much easier than you think.
However, 40 can be a very tricky age.
You’re not old yet, but you’re not young, either. Our bodies start to lose muscle mass around your age due to sarcopenia, which can accelerate dramatically as the years go by especially if you’re inactive.
Even still, you are far enough from your peak that it doesn’t make sense to pretend you’re still in high school and able to recover quickly from a ton of physical abuse.
Resistance training has always had a bit of a competitive edge to it. How much you can lift equals how strong you are compared to others. Right?
Clear Your Mind, Start Fresh
Try to clear your thinking on this score. How much weight you use really does not matter — except that it is enough to bring you to failure in 8-12 reps.
Nor does it matter how you create the resistance. Free weights – great. Machines – great. Body weight – great. Resistance Bands – great. It’s all good. You’re muscles only feel the tension, they don’t care how you made it.
Studies have shown definitively that lifting light weights in the 8 – 12 rep range is superior to trying to push around super heavy weight — if your aim is to build muscle tissue.
Our egos tend to tell us that more weight equals more strength equals more muscle. Wrong. Unless you’re trying out for the Olympic team, forget about your weight totals.
Muscle grows in response to tension placed on it that does microscopic damage to the tissues. With proper rest and nutrition, the fibers are repaired a little stronger and thicker than before. Hypertrophy is the process. You feel it as a “pump” while you’re working the muscle and perhaps after. It’s NOT pain. It’s a satisfying pumped up feeling as blood rushes in with nutrients, flushing out toxins, and starts building the muscle up.
To those points above there is general agreement.
Focus on Failure
Where I diverge a bit from others is that I believe in focusing on a specific muscle group with enough sets in order to take it to “failure” — rather than mixing up various muscle groups on each workout day. Again, our primary goal is to build muscle tissue.
Failure occurs when you cannot complete another clean rep without cheating. Don’t cheat on any rep.
If you’re focusing on biceps, for example, I would stay on biceps until you’ve reached failure. In my case, this equates to 5 sets each of 3 separate exercises. Bicep barbell curls x 5, bicep dumbbell hammer curls x 5 and bicep rope curls on a machine x5.
NOTE: If you’re just starting out, start slower with fewer sets. See articles below for more details on how to get going.
Keep a Mind/Muscle Connection
You want to focus on the muscle being targeted and feel the tension in that muscle as it moves through the range of motion. It’s easier said than done.
Too often, people will focus on throwing the weight around to finish the rep, as if that’s the ultimate goal. Or, they will strain and use body english to move a weight that is too heavy.
We want to cause “hypertrophy” in the target muscle. That means putting a controlled strain on it that causes blood to flow in bringing nutrients and flushing out toxins. You can actually feel this happening if you concentrate. Back in the day, they called this “The Pump.”
The amount of resistance is key. You are going to focus on getting 8 – 12 clean reps for each set you perform. If you can do 12 in the first set and need to drop to 8 by the last set that’s ok. In fact, if you can only get 5 reps in the last set, that’s ok, too.
Your focus is on the feeling not the numbers.
Add resistance whenever 12 reps becomes too easy on that first set. It’s that simple, numbers wise.
But finding the ideal resistance can be challenging because our minds get involved. It is key to really get your head into this process and focus on how the target muscle feels as you perform the reps.
Beware! There is a little devil on your right shoulder who will call you names for using weight that is too light. And there is another one on your left shoulder who will tell you whatever weight is just way too heavy.
Ideally, you can tune those devils out and find the ideal weight range that takes you to genuine failure on each set. Tune them out by really focusing your mind on the target muscle. Feel the motion. Feel for the pump. When you feel it, you’re there.
More Detail on How to Do It:
Also, see the article below “Building Muscle After 60” for more on how you can build muscle regardless of your age: 40, 50, 60 and up.
And see below “A Workout Routine: Resistance Training to Build Muscle, Lose Fat” for a sample workout to get you started now.
Also see “Lifting Light Weight vs. Heavy Weights” bottom below for more details on the benefits of lighter weight/higher reps.
If you’re a woman concerned about “bulking up” please see this on women building muscle. This method works for men and women.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on building muscle after 40. Please share them below or drop me a line at Brian@BoomerMuscle.com