This is a guest post kindly written by Dr Carl Juneau aka ‘Dr Muscle’, a University of Montreal, London, and Harvard alum and former trainer for the Canadian Forces. He has a PhD in Public Health, with a focus on Exercise Epidemiology.
One thing you’ll notice from this post is that the solutions aren’t sexy, but that’s the point. They work. Besides, if you have 40 years of wisdom under your belt, you’ll be able to sniff magic bullet solutions a mile off. Take it away, doc:
So you’re in your forties, and you want to build muscle.
Think it’s too late? Think again. Sure, you don’t recover as fast as you used to. And you might have a few stiff joints. But fear not: with some discipline and a dash of determination, you can still build an impressive physique and get in top shape. Especially if you apply the 5 proven, time-tested tactics we’re about to share.
But first, let’s face it: you’re not your younger self. Building muscle will be harder, and you can’t just wing it anymore. You need a safer, more systematic, and smarter approach. Up to it? Let’s dive in.
Avoid “sexy” training programs
Not sure where to start? Start with the basics and train 3-4 times a week. Don’t focus on individual muscle groups like “chest/triceps” or “back/biceps”. Sure, these training programs with body part splits sound sexy. But there’s data to suggest you’ll build muscle faster if you train each muscle at least twice a week (Schoenfeld et al. 2016). Plus, body part split programs have more moving parts, so you’re more likely to screw something up. You can train your full body 3 times a week, or train your upper-body and your lower-body 2 times each on the Propane Protocol program. Later, when you have a strong base, you can play around with body part splits. Save those for later.
Warm up before you work out
Yes, you’re in your 40s. Your joints are getting stiff, and back pain is just around the corner. Think you can jump right into a heavy weightlifting session? Think again. Fortunately, there’s a solution. Warm up. And warm up some more. Warming up raises your body temperature and lubricates your joints. It also “wakes up” your nervous system and primes you for a better workout (and bigger gains).
Warming up can seem boring or like a waste of time. But trust us: 10-15 minutes warming up is better than 3-4 weeks stuck in bed after you pop a lumbar disk. Dedicate 10 minutes for light cardio at the start of your session, and 5 minutes spread out throughout for warm-up sets on your heavy lifts. You’ll be warmer and more flexible. This will help you avoid poor posture, bad technique, and the chiropractor. Do it! For detailed instructions on warming up (applied to the squat), see 5 tips for a better squat (Part 1 – The Warm up).
Work out less
More bad news: your muscles and tendons lose elasticity as you grow older. You lose strength, and become more injury prone. Not surprisingly, your recovery is also slower, and you need more time to recover between workouts than your high school kids and their friends on the football team. That’s especially true when you push hard. Chances are, your joints ache and your muscles are sore the day after your workout. You should pay close attention, especially now that you’re in your forties. Prevent that by working out less often (take a day off when you feel beat), by keeping your workouts short (20-40 minutes is a good starting point), and by keeping 2-3 reps in the tank at the end of your sets (don’t lift until you absolutely cannot move the weight anymore).
Oh no! Your body’s metabolism has started to slow down. Lifting weights will keep it up, as will regular bouts of cardio. They will your body fat in check, and lower your risk of 26 chronic diseases (Pedersen and Saltin, 2015). Like heart disease and cancers, America’s number 1 and 2 killers. Cardio also helps with mental health, keeping you sharp and focused. To start, you should primarily focus on low intensity cardio workouts. Jogging for 15-20 minutes, 2-3 times a week will get you started without destroying your knees or giving you shin splints. Do that for 2-3 months, slowly increasing your speed and/or duration.
At first, just taking it easy, and congratulate yourself for starting. It’s truly the hardest part. Once you are more experienced with jogging, you can start alternating jogging with running. One minute running, one minute jogging is a good start. As you gradually get into better shape, you can spend more time running, or run faster during the intervals you do. And when you feel ready for it, transition to high intensity interval training (HIIT cardio) for major gains in less time.
Eat more protein
If you want to build muscle, and you’re just starting out in your 40s, chances are your diet needs a good clean-up. Sounds intimidating? It can be. So for now, we’d rather have you focus on one small change to get a quick win. And that change is to eat more protein. Protein builds muscle, it’s true. It also keeps you full, so you’re less hungry (that’s probably why people who eat more protein tend to be leaner). You can get your protein from animal sources like eggs, fish, chicken, and red meat. And also from non animal sources like nuts, beans, and soya/tofu (you’ll have to eat a lot). For a deeper look into protein, check out The Propane Practical Guide to Protein.
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So there you have it.
Five smart tactics for men who want to gain muscle in their 40s. To recap, you don’t need 73 exercises to build muscle when you begin training for hypertrophy (olympic weightlifters build a ton of muscle with just a few basic lifts). You don’t need a fancy body part split program. And you don’t need to work out all the time. You just need to be smart, start with the basics, and stick to them until they stop working. At that point, and at that point only, should you start experimenting with more advanced tactics to build muscle. In the meantime, you can get started on the Propane Protocol program or try a smart workout app that automates all of this for you.
Dr. Carl Juneau, PhD
Website: https://dr-muscle.com/ – we recommend starting with this post from him here: Coronavirus, Exercise, and Health: An Evidence-Based Guide for Athletes & Lifters